Managing unions with cement shoes

By Greg Ellis

“That’s what unions do. They get money, they can get support, they get power.”

-James P. Hoffa

Living in Alberta, the province with the lowest rate of union participation in the country, I am amongst friends. While unions had a purpose in times before occupational safety acts, unsafe working conditions and the absence of employment standards legislation they have now overstayed their welcome. Accordingly, let’s offer them a hefty severance package to go away for good.

Business schools present working dichotomies that enrich our education but perplex us too. You can’t go a semester without at least one case study on Wal-Mart: God’s answer to capitalism, human rights abuser, labour rights extortionists, a master of efficiency, hallmark of supply chain management, and the largest purveyor of plastic vomit and Pepto-Bismol worldwide. Much of Wal-Mart’s enormous success can be attributed to keeping unions out and letting market forces regulate wages.

Perhaps nowhere was the absurdity of unions seen but in the NHLPA. Bob Goodenow overlooked the union as salaries rose from a median of $200,000 per year to $1 million per year just slightly above the rate of inflation, as each and every NHL team continued to take massive losses. A big paycheque may be better, but no paycheque is far worse.

The idea of a union rests on the proposition to level the playing field of management vs. employees. Unions gain their strength through numbers and concordantly adopt a ‘pack’ mentality. It becomes less about what is right or sensible, sustainable and fair, and more about winning and sticking it to the men and women occupying the corner offices upstairs. As outlined in Eric Scholesser’s book “Fast Food Nation” about McDonalds, corporations will go to great lengths to keep unions out. Vilifying corporations for avoiding unions is akin to labelling an animal defending itself in the wild selfish. As witnessed most recently with General Motors vis a vis The American Auto Workers Union and almost every U.S. airline, unions can mean the difference between a bottom line and bottoming out. They would much rather see the company collapse than give up on their principles of earning 15-20 per cent more than employees in their same category in other companies. After all, they took the time to sign those cards, and elected Gus the left-wing limousine liberal, who can give a pep rally just as easily as he can win a hot dog eating contest. Follow your leader. Never pretend they are not entitled to their entitlements. You’re trying to save the company from its demise? Too bad.

The quote at the outset of this article is illustrative of one of the most successful union leaders in history. Jimmy Hoffa, president of the Teamster’s Union from 1957-1971, was also a reputed mafia crime boss. Maybe unions have more in common with corporations than even they realize.

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