Are unions doing more harm than good to the economy?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Labor unions came into existence for entirely legitimate reasons.  The abuse of workers early in the 20th Century, with abysmal and often physically dangerous working conditions, longer than humane hours, and minimal or no benefits, created the conditions for the growth of organized labor.  There is no question that unionization was essential to the values that Americans hold dear, even if it came at the expense of the profitability of some industries.

Over time, however, unions became abusive to the workplace to the extent that worker rights became excessive and just plain absurd.  Anyone, including this educator, who has worked in a union factory knows the extremes to which unions went in demanding, and winning, "rights" for their members that exceeded any reasonable standard.  For example, the prohibition on a manager or worker performing the simplist task, like hammering in a nail protruding from a wooden pallet, because he or she is not the union's designated carpenter, and that carpenter may do little or nothing most of the workday because of the narrow description of his duties, created a situation where labor costs in the United States became artificially high.

To that extent, unions have had a negative effect on the economy.  The problem, however, is a little more complicated.  Corporations in all countries move their factories to whereever the labor costs are cheapest, even if that involves factories that mirror those that lead to the rise of organized labor in the United States 100 years ago.  Factories in Southeast Asia and China, for example, have been heavily criticized for their substandard working conditions -- by U.S. standards.  There is no question, however, that some of those factories, and some of the corporate practices in those countries, are unsatisfactory by any reasonable standard.  That is why many in Congress always insist that new trade agreements the U.S. Government signs with less prosperous countries include provisions requiring the other country to have labor and environmental practices reasonably similar to those in this country.  Otherwise, U.S. companies would set up manufacturing facilities in those countries and avoid the costs associated with complying with U.S. laws.

On the whole, union demands have adversely affected the competitiveness of American companies.  Balance in all areas of life is important, and that balance shifted too far in one direction within some industries.  It is important to note that some foreign automobile manufacturers that have built factories in the United States, mainly in the South, have successful resisted unionization of their work forces.  They have done this by treating their labor force properly while instilling management practices and principles that allow for the proper balance between the interests of labor and those of management.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an hot button issue. And in all controversial issues, there is a complex answer. 

On the one hand, unions do harm the economy, as people know how to take advantage of the system. This is why we read about retired people making a few hundred thousand dollars from a former a city job. This presupposes that there is constant growth, which is not possible. This has lead to counties filing for bankruptcy. I will attach a link below. When people take advantage of the system, unions are harmful. 

On the other hand, the rich keep getting richer. With all the talk about the poor economy, the stock market is hitting all time highs! Someone is making some serious money. Unfortunately, the wealthy often do not want to share this wealth with others. 

In short, we live in a broken system. In such a system, I think unions are a necessary concept, even if it has many problems.