Defend unions at those holiday parties!

“Those unions have a lot of nerve asking for more money and more benefits. Don’t they know the economy is in bad shape?”

“Anyhow, unions are just out for themselves – and they are undemocratic outfits run by big bosses who don’t let the workers have any say.”

“Union workers are lazy and bad for business.”

“Cities and states are broke because the public worker unions got too much.”

You will be hearing a lot of this stuff not just from political enemies but from family members, friends, co-workers and associates at parties and other gatherings this holiday season.

They will say these things because they don’t understand that unions are actually the key to fixing the economy and rebuilding a strong “middle class.”

And there are some easy and quick responses you can give that will go a long way to changing their minds on these important issues.

American Rights at Work, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, put together a guide to counter commonly held misconceptions about unions and to help you, the pro-union activist, clear up popular misconceptions. Here’s a summary of the most important points:

Are union workers really lazy? Are they bad for business?

The truth: Unions and profitable business go hand-in-hand. Unions raise productivity by 24 percent in manufacturing, 16 percent in hospitals and 38 percent in construction. Unions raise professional standards because they make it easier for members to get training, something which many unions actually offer themselves.

Are unions asking for too much? Shouldn’t people be thankful these days for any job?

The truth: Good paying jobs mean a stronger economy, and that, in turn, means even more jobs.

The notion that unions are asking for too much is being pushed by the same bankers and corporate leaders who ruined the economy. Now they want to take advantage of the weak economy and our fears to give themselves even more money than they have already grabbed. The proof: They are sitting on trillions of dollars in profits – the biggest ever and they are not using it to create good-paying jobs.

Why should the people pay the bill for a Wall Street party to which they were not invited? If people cannot afford to buy the things they produce the economy will get only worse.

Unions can make our salaries and benefits grow, enabling us to spend more and strengthen the economy, creating more jobs.

Do unions really only care about their own members?

The truth: Unions improve the lives of all workers. Unions are the reason for many of the things we take for granted at our work places every day: the minimum wage; the eight hour day; child labor laws; health and safety standards; and yes, even the weekend itself.

“That may be true,” some will say, “but what do we need them for now?” Well, the fact is that today unions are on the front lines to defend all of these gains and to fight for more basic reforms including paid sick leave for all and increases in the minimum wage.

Aren’t public unions to blame for the budget crises in the states and cities?

The truth: Public workers actually earn less in salary than private-sector workers in similar jobs. On the question of benefits, private sector workers should be angry about the inadequate benefits they receive. The solution is not to take benefits away from the people who keep our communities strong (teachers, firefighters, police) but to improve benefits for everyone else, and that’s where unions come in.

What’s bad for public workers is bad for the entire economy.

The Center for Economic Policy Research reports that freezing federal workers’ pay will mean a loss of 2.5 billion dollars in consumption by 2012. 18,000 private sector jobs will be lost as a result.

Aren’t unions just like companies – outfits that are run by overpaid bosses?

The truth: Unions are run by workers. A union is a group of workers who get together to deal with workplace matters so they can improve their lives.

Unions are democratic institutions. At all levels – local, state, and national – leaders are elected by majority vote.

Photo: Ed Yourdon CC 2.0




John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.