Thursday, June 03, 2004

Troy McClure--Union Buster

A little while ago I made a negative comment about a potential part-time faculty union at NKU. My one-year old just fell asleep so I have time to explain.

The two unions I paid into (and received virtually nothing) soured me a little on unions. Some unions--farm workers, coal miners, etc.--were and remain as vital as the 13th Amendment. If not for unions, companies would still be paying in script.

However, no one can claim unions are flawless. Maybe the connections to Junior Soprano are fictitious but a real degree of corruption exists. For many unions that's just a necessary evil. For others, it's no so necessary.

When I substitute taught for Cincinnati Public, the Teachers' Union raked my salary without any real benefits. Substitutes aren't long-term draws like full-time teachers and the union knew where their main source of money came from. In a sense, you can't blame them but they were essentially shorting a minority to help the majority.

The Grocery Workers' Union is far worse. Most employees at Kroger don't seem to last very long. (Where I work, in the Deli, a girl started on Friday and quit by Monday.) I doubt if the 14-year old bagger thinks he's in a life-long career (God help us if he does).

The union knows that the majority of its members (at this store at least) are not there for the long haul. However, they also must realize that since young people rarely vote, they're even less likely to hassle the union office if improperly represented. Virtually all the benefits offered are heavily skewed to long-timers.

The union regulates that workers receive health insurance and can't be forced to work Sundays. For an older, religious employee, that's great. For the students who already have health insurance (as well as many employees who get it from their spouses), this isn't so important.

I'd be happy if I was given the choice: higher pay or health insurance. Some of the workers have no other source of insurance so I'm glad it's available but I'm paying for a benefit that I'll never use (and Libertarians don't even like that about the government).

The workers at Biggs don't have a union. They make considerably more per hour than do workers at Kroger. The baggers at Biggs that I talked to want to keep it that way.

So finally, my point. If part-timers at NKU got a union, it wouldn't take long for union reps to recognize where the money comes from. Many grad students teach a few years before moving on to something else. I can't see them getting a fair shake. Often I feel marginalized because I teach nights and weekends. I doubt if that would escape a union's attention.

Ultimately I'm not trying to bad-mouth all unions. Many professions desperately need them. Without unions, we'd probably still be on the six-day, twelve-hour work day. Some jobs have such an odd make-up that a union just wouldn't be able to help everyone.

What would solve all the part-timers' problems would be if colleges hired them to teach full time (many of them already teach more than full-time course loads). Of course that would either raise taxes or tuition so it wouldn't happen.

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