As you may have noticed, I am taking longer and longer breaks between blogs. Now that the Christmas season is quickly passing, I hope to make more frequent contributions to everyones favorite source of news and insight.
I hope to also update my blog more often.
On with the show…
Over Thanksgiving, I was discussing unions with my brother from another mother. This is a topic that we usually hit on when we get together. It would be fair to say that we appear to be on opposite sides on the topic. He is pro-union, and so am I.
The problem lies in the fact that we seem to be pro-union for different reasons. I guess it is somewhat like being a vegetarian either because you love animals so you don’t eat them, or you hate plants and want to kill them. (Not really, but that is the best I can come up with).
So, before I launch a more detailed view of what I see be right and wrong with unions, please read the following following exerpt from the Cathecism of the Catholic Church. I chose this because it does a pretty good job of summing up why I think unions are necessary:
(note: you won’t burst into flames if you read this. And the rest of the blog won’t much sense if you don’t read it. Not that it will anyway)
IV. ECONOMIC ACTIVITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
2426 The development of economic activity and growth in production are meant to provide for the needs of human beings. Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community. Economic activity, conducted according to its own proper methods, is to be exercised within the limits of the moral order, in keeping with social justice so as to correspond to God’s plan for man.
2427 Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: “If any one will not work, let him not eat.” Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ.
2428 In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work.
Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.
2429 Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all and to harvest the just fruits of his labor. He should seek to observe regulations issued by legitimate authority for the sake of the common good.
2430 Economic life brings into play different interests, often opposed to one another. This explains why the conflicts that characterize it arise. Efforts should be made to reduce these conflicts by negotiation that respects the rights and duties of each social partner: those responsible for business enterprises, representatives of wage- earners (for example, trade unions), and public authorities when appropriate.
2431 The responsibility of the state. “Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly. . . . Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society.”
2432 Those responsible for business enterprises are responsible to society for the economic and ecological effects of their operations. They have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits. Profits are necessary, however. They make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment.
2433 Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants. For its part society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment.
2434 A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. “Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.” Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.
2435 Recourse to a strike is morally legitimate when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit. It becomes morally unacceptable when accompanied by violence, or when objectives are included that are not directly linked to working conditions or are contrary to the common good.
2436 It is unjust not to pay the social security contributions required by legitimate authority.
Unemployment almost always wounds its victim’s dignity and threatens the equilibrium of his life. Besides the harm done to him personally, it entails many risks for his family.
See, that wasn’t so bad!
Now that you have a better context for my beliefs, let’s a more concrete example…
I have a good buddy in Las Vegas who is in the Carpenters Union Local 1977. The 1977 performs several vital functions for both it’s members and the community. It makes sure that members have retirement and benefits. It helps negoiate a fair wage for its members. It screens the workers to make sure that they are compentent in their jobs. (That item, in my opinion, it the most critical. I like to know that the buidling I am in was built by a guy who knew what he was doing…)
Where I run into problems is when a union will try and infulence a business above and beyond what is necessary to benefits its members. For example, if a union attempts to shutdown a job or to disrupt normal business to gain a disproportionate benefit. I struggle with the idea the union would have the right to audit a business to verify that the business does not have sufficient funds to support a pay raise.
To be clear, a business, in my mind, has the greater burden as the controller of resources used to create economic benefit. To whom much is given, much is expected. I can point to many examples where that responsibility was violated; however, that does not change the fundamental relationship between the employee and the employer. The employer has a duty to treat an employee fairly, with justice and compassion. The employee has a duty to treat the employer fairly, with justice and compassion. When that environment exists (and it absolutely can) then the nature and relationships that drive economic benefit towards its naturally equalizing goal can be best achieved.
And so it goes.