Unions: "There's nothing you can do about it."
By Al Berrios
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> Calling The Union
> The Taylor Law
> Unions Violate My Constitutional Rights & Destroy Ambition
What is it with union people? Everything irritates them. Any question sets them off. As faculty at a public university, the city automatically withholds a fee from my paycheck that goes towards a union, whether or not I'm a member of the union. The problem is, they never told me about it.
So I called the union office to find out how this could have happened. (Sounds like something anyone with a functioning brain would do, right?) Well, the receptionist answers, and upon asking where I can get more information about this fee on my paycheck, she goes into irate-mode, becoming the resident "expert" on unions and the legal system.
I ask about information on this fee. Her reply was, "There's nothing you can do about it." Wow! I'm on the phone 1 minute and I'm already exasperated. Am I supposed to feel better with that reply?
Once I get a grip on my own feelings, I tell the receptionist that it's ok, I understand what she's telling me, so would she be kind enough to transfer me to someone in membership so I can join. (Of course, I'm not going to join, but I needed to get past this obstacle.)
Membership tells me, "It's the law, there's nothing you can do about it." (No, it wasn't a recording. They just share the same brain, it seems.) Again, they failed to answer my question, which was, what law, statute, or authority makes this fee possible and can I get information on it? (It's pretty much what you'd ask, too, right?) The runaround I was getting for the last 3 minutes on the phone felt like I had been working in a lumber yard for 36 hours straight and I couldn't go home until I chopped down one last tree. (Yeah, it was that bad.)
I guess it was fortune that membership got tired of repeating the same thing to me over and over, so they dumped me back to the receptionist. This time, I decided to zig instead of zag and asked to speak to the only people in the office who could possibly know anything about what I'm looking for - the union contracts department. Before she transferred me, she reminded, "It's the law, there's nothing I can do about it."
Finally, a person that can hopefully tell me what's the name of this law and why my right to not have a fee withheld from my meager paycheck has been taken away from me. The law is called the Taylor Law of New York City, and it allows teachers to unionize, but not strike. It forces the city to negotiate with teachers collectively, basically providing some semblance of job security for public employees.
Turns out, I was supposed to have been told of this during an orientation. (I wasn't.) And it appears that I'm automatically covered by this law upon being employed by the city. Although I didn't sign a contract, nor any documents waiving my rights to self-representation, it appears my choice was taken from me without my knowledge. Oh yeah, and the contract dept. person didn't forget to mention that, "It's the law, there's nothing I can do about it."
I was raging mad at this point, but I know that all these union people had highly volatile tempers, so how could I address my anger? I got it, "What are the benefits of this fee if I'm not a member of the union?" And all of a sudden, a smile and cheer from the other end, as the person is describing to me the wonders of this amazing negotiation: medical benefits, job security, extra compensation for office hours (which I don't get), and much, much, more. Did it ever occur to the union that maybe some of the employees they claim to represent are covered by spouses, don't need job security for a part-time gig, and don't care about the money as long as students learn?
Throughout the industrial age, unionization of employees has irked employers. It drives up their costs, and reduces their productivity. Throughout our lives, if you're an employee, you're taught that unions are the greatest thing since the invention of shoes. When I discussed my situation with my mom, she vehemently defended the union as a great defender of the common worker (or grunt). As a union member for over 20 years, she depends on them to defend her against her employer and provide her with certain rights she believes she's entitled to (for weekly dues, regardless if she ever actually needs their assistance).
But what about me? I don't need anyone else defending me against "unfair" treatment by an employer. First, I understand the concept of "fairness" from the employer's point of view. Second, if I truly believed the employer is at fault, I'd know how to express what's wrong and confront the employer directly. Third, if all else fails, I move on (or sue).
Just because I'm a public employee, I shouldn't be generalized under this law. My needs are unique, yet the law doesn't address them. What's ironic is, despite this law, department heads still find ways around it, by simply not giving part-time faculty enough assignments to qualify for many of the union's vaunted benefits. To make it worse, knowing about all this makes part-timers that don't qualify feel as though they're being treated unfairly by their department. Fascinating manipulation by consequences, no?
I've argued once before that unions routinely antagonize employers when negotiating from a single, narrow point of view. A recent example is P. Diddy's Sean Jean apparel line being accused of exploiting labor in Honduras. Turns out that an anti-trade unionist caused a ruckus based on a exaggerations because unions don't like their jobs going overseas. That's why they're bad for business. But now, despite its democratic foundation, I can confidently say that unions are also bad for employees - especially those of us that provide the ideas that fuel the economy.
I understand that unions provide security to workers who are risk averse. In my experience, not everyone is willing to question the system or strike out on their own. But that's been my question all along - why not? Why are we so risk averse? Why do we fear life without a steady paycheck? I hypothesize that education, religion, entertainment, and even constructs like unions, social security, and welfare are all devices that contribute to our docility and risk aversion. Why? Simple, there can't be too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
AL BERRIOS & CO. ARTICLES
> "Education is Bad for the Economy"
> "Preventing Service Professionals from Unionizing"
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