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The Organizers


I've been shaking my head over The News-Gazette's editorial from last week regarding the Chicago teacher's strike. It's not that I disagree with their overall negative opinion of the strike (I mean, I do, but it's ok to disagree). No, what upsets me most is that the N-G engages in what has become a national pastime of late: union bashing. It's not that unions aren't without fault, just that their faults are common among other organizations, yet unions are often uniquely on the chopping block because of their issues.

Take, for example, the following passage from the aforementioned editorial:


The Chicago school district is in debt by roughly $1 billion, and now it's agreed to spend another $74 million. How can the city do that? 
It can't, and that's why the Emanuel administration already has leaked stories to the news media that indicate the school board will close more than 100 schools. That, of course, raises a question routinely addressed to union leaders — how are they serving their members' interests when they negotiate salary and benefit increases that result in management having to lay off some union members to pay more to other union members.

I've bolded the portion that sticks in my craw the most. It's not that the question posed is a bad one. It's not necessarily out of line. Simply put, it's a question rarely posed to other organizations. Take, for example, the ongoing list of companies that have used this very same strategy in order to shore-up their finances and survive: Best Buy, Yahoo!, Motorola, HP, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, American Airlines, Bank of America, etc. The list goes on.

It's not that cutting jobs while also increasing pay & benefits for remaining employees is a particularly great thing. That's certainly a debatable strategy. But it's also a very common business practice. So common, in fact, that I'm surprised to see a newspaper editorial singling it out. Then again, this is an editorial about a union, and so everything's fair game. Unions seem to make good boogeymen of late.

Take, for example, an anti-union argument I've often heard. It goes something like: 'Employees at [x business/organization] don't have a choice. They're put into the union, and that's it.' This is brought up as some sort of hideous infringement upon workers' freedoms. And perhaps it is. But, again, it's common. It's a rule of certain organizations. I suppose that, if you don't like the rule, you can opt not to work there. That's your freedom of choice. Most places of employment have a certain set of rules by which you must abide (health care provider & payroll deductions, pay rates, job responsibilities, etc). At some places, 'being under a union' is a rule like any other.

I dunno. As stated earlier, unions aren't without their faults. I'm not here to argue that unions are perfect, or that they're a fit for every type of organization. I am here to argue that they shouldn't be singled-out when it comes to discussing their pros and cons. Unions do, after all, exist for a reason, and are dismissed often at one's own folly.

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