Unions “Complify” Business

I have coined a word to describe the impact of unions on organizations. They “complify” the situation. “Complify” is my pet word for the opposite of simplify. In a time where every organization is struggling to remain viable, the presence of a third party between management and workers is an inefficiency we can no longer afford as a society. I believe the automobile industry got that message last year.

In addition to complifying things, the unions add non value adding management jobs, which raise the costs of things. They also create significant work for lawyers, who we all know make a pretty good buck. You have to pay the salaries of the union officials and the people who work for them, including the lawyers and the people who work for them. That cost is paid out of union dues, which lower the standard of living for the workers. So, the union officials bid up the salaries to allow the workers to not take the brunt of their expenses, but that makes the organization less able to compete – i.e. the automobile example.

Here is a note from a student of mine in an online class. This scenario is so typical it has been mentioned by numerous people who work in a union setting.

Well we have a union at the Post Office for the carriers, but honestly other than if you get fired, they don’t seem to interfere or help out too too much. And yes I think rewards and pay should be based on the quality of the work you do. Too much with the unions is based off of seniority. You can be lazy, but if you’ve been there longer than someone else, you get most everything over them. I don’t think that is right. Unions need to have some sort of penalties and accountability for their members who don’t pull their weight.

I once worked in a union factory as a non-unionized engineer. I witnessed some of the ways this system drains money and time away from the vital work of the organization. The workers got to vote on which union to have represent them every three years. When I was there, it was time for an election.

The campaign seemed similar to a High School election where people were putting up posters and giving out trinkets supporting their candidate. It turns out this election was unusual because there were normally only two groups running (Party A, and Party B). In this election there was a third Party C that was known to be linked to a communist organization. The Party C group had infiltrated the society for several years preparing for this moment to take control of the factory. By this time, they had placed some highly capable people in key slots within the organization. The campaigning was fierce, and there was a lot of mud being slung around.

The election day came, and when the votes were counted, Party C had the most votes at 41%. The rest were split between Parties A and B. The plant manager was highly disturbed that a known communist group had taken over his operation, but was powerless to do anything about it because the election was done according to the rules. But this plant manager was clever enough to go back and re-read the rules one more time very carefully. He picked up a loophole that the lawyers had inadvertently placed in the contract.

The plant manager summoned all workers to a large meeting to announce the winner. He got up and said. “In this election, Party C received the most votes at 41% while Party B got 31% and Party A got 28%. That leaves us with a large problem because the Union rules in paragraph 4.3.b state that ‘There shall be an election every three years, and the party which receives more than 50% of the vote will be the ruling Party for the succeeding three years.’ Unfortunately, none of the parties in this election received more than 50% of the votes, so this election is void according to the Union Bylaws. We will have another election in two weeks to see if one Party can gain more than the required 50% of the votes.”

Of course Party C shouted all kinds of foul language at the manager, but he had the upper hand because he was only going by the contract. Starting the next morning the HR manager of the plant took the leaders of Party C one by one into the office and told them their services were no longer required at this plant. For months thereafter, there were people carrying signs outside the plant about unfair practices.

I am sure this particular situation hardly ever comes up, but my observation is that there was a lot of dither and wringing of hands that took the focus off the critical work of the plant for months. This would not have happened if there was no union in the organization. While this example is rather extreme, I think it is illustrative of how the existence of unions, serves to “complify” things in an organization. That raises costs and lowers efficiency at the very time when organizations are feeling the competitive pressures from global competitors like never before.

3 Responses to Unions “Complify” Business

  1. Tom Gill says:

    I had to study the history of unions in the US during college. That helps a person not to become reactionary in their thoughts. Your communication conveyed that type of thinking. Find out why unions were created in the first place and you can see why they were useful and necessary for the worker. However, when unions become corporate entities unto themselves they stop serving the reasons they were created. Corporations have the mission of being profitable. Unions become profiable from union dues, the more members the more dues, the more profit.

  2. Peter McGee says:

    I see unions as providing balance to a system that may become unhealthily one-sided in their absence. Maintaining balance helps the system and society avoid the severe negative impact of an abrupt correction. Unions provide a collective voice for a workforce balancing the negotiation position between labour and capital. Without unions there would be a greater likelihood that capital would force conditions of low pay, safety and amenity on its labour force at times when supply of labour is high, this situation would continue until the disenchantment of the labour force make a radical ‘adjustment’ to the status quo resulting in poor outcomes for the workers and the owners of resources. I see no reason to believe that children would not be working in mines if the decision was left purely to the business owner. Sure you and I may not be a party to that outcome, but I fear the world may not be overpopulated with scrupulous investors; one only has to look at the work the international childrens’ charities undertake to know that life is not all butterflies and rainbows for many children.

    It is within this framework that I see responsible unionism facilitating the lubricant for the negotiation between management and employees. I acknowledge that unions will exploit their position when they can, just as management does. The capacity to exploit a position is often based on the context of the situation and this context changes from one side to the other over time; so I think that a longer-term view needs to be taken to assess the value of unions in the workplace. In many ways they may not be different to management; neither always good nor always bad. I feel that the overall situation is enhanced by the existence of unions.

  3. amit says:

    I agree with ur opinion to a great extent particularly in case of government establishments where there is job security.Many times i have seen unions put unnecessary demands & bound the management to accept them by hampering production.But, at the same it depends on the management how it plans future actions to ensure that the organizations objectives should be achieved.

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