August 20, 2007

Proud to Be Non-Union

Justin Katz

Commenting to my initial mention of my latest Providence Journal op-ed, Michael writes:

I wonder why you find satisfaction in the "non-union" designation. I've worked for years in the construction trades and for the most part found union carpenters and their non-union counterparts have equal skills and ethics, only the union guys are making a fair and decent living and the non-union guys are struggling to make ends meet. Also, I've never seen an incompetent union carpenter, some non union contractors hire people with little or no skill.

The first thing to note is that I (in addition to my clients, I might add) am a manifest beneficiary of non-union contractors' willingness to "hire people with little or no skill." I'll add to that their willingness to throw employees into situations for which they are not clearly prepared. I've been doing this work for about two and a half years, before which time I scarcely knew how to denail a 2x4, and market demands threw opportunities at my feet that never would have come my way in a controlled system. Before my first year of experience was complete, I was running a job (under my boss's close watch, of course), and I had gained sufficient experience to begin finishing basements on the weekends. I suppose that some shifts in union tectonics might have yielded the same results, but I suspect that I'd still be "doing my time" and would certainly be further from the realistic possibility of going out on my own.

This ties into an overstatement on Michael's part, which in turn recalls the central argument of my column: some "non-union guys" are doing just fine — many of them because they have become contractors themselves. They earn a healthy living by fostering a healthy market, by which I mean one with competition.

Although space constraints didn't enable me to expound upon the "establish players" to whom my piece makes reference, union shops are clearly among them (perhaps chief among them). As Milton and Rose Friedman explained in Free to Choose, "A successful union reduces the number of jobs available of the kind it controls." The relevant method of accomplishing this reduction is through licensure and other requirements for working. Increasing the regulations that weigh down an industry will increase the value of an organization that addresses those impositions, and the cost of overcoming the obstacles (and then some) will be passed on to the consumer.

Why am I satisfied to be non-union? First, because I can advance as quickly as my talents allow, even razing my own career path. And second, because I am not part of a system that is ultimately unhealthy for society and exploitative of consumers and the workforce both.

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Please place me among the proud ranks of those who rise and fall on their own merits and not because it's my 'turn' or because some thick-necked union thug negotiated me a raise.

Posted by: Greg at August 21, 2007 7:56 AM

I never expected the folks here at Anchor Rising to be pro-union, but the depth of misunderstanding concerning orginized labor and the willingness to serve as lackeys to powerful corperate thugs is unbelievable. When will people realize that most of us will never be rich! Our system, once fair and healthy now works against the individual. We are not the "investor class." Without orginized labor we'll be no better off than the slaves in China. Unions are not the enemy.

Posted by: Michael at August 21, 2007 9:10 AM


There are miles of difference between a private union and a public sector union.

Posted by: Greg at August 21, 2007 10:02 AM

I have no desire to defend public or private unions. I only speak of my own experience. My union leaders are not thick necked thugs. Local 799's president is a front-line highly decorated and respected firefighter and an attorney, our vice-president is a fellow Bishop Hendricken grad, class of '80 and a class act, our secratary treasurer is one of my best friends, a great firefighter and better rescue lieutenant and a CPA. The image of unions as a bunch of thugs who care nothing about anything but themselves is plain wrong. My employer, the City of Providence has claimed to be broke since I was hired and will always be broke until somebody with integrity, skill and honesty takes over. I don't see that happening any time soon.

Posted by: michael at August 21, 2007 4:05 PM


Every time I see a public employee union advocate such as yourself claim the “can’t you see that we’re all in this together against the wealthy” thing, I always get a sense of a serious disconnect. Since I am not wealthy, the way I see it, every advantage that someone such as yourself claims as a result of collective bargaining comes out of average, working families’ pockets in the form of unnecessarily high taxes, among other things. 90% of the hardworking taxpayers are not benefiting from anything extra you may have gained at the bargaining table. To the contrary, we are being harmed financially. And to top it off, when you consider that public employee unions conspire to elect those that they will be sitting across from at the bargaining table, well that doesn’t sit all that well with us either. And since we have no choice but to pay our inflated property tax bills, which continue to grow faster than our incomes, or risk losing our homes, well, again, I just don’t see what the typical, not wealthy, non union, hard working taxpayer has gained from your union’s presence.

Posted by: Frank at August 21, 2007 5:09 PM

I am not a public employee union advocate. I am a firefighter. There are no privately owned fire departments. Insurance companies used to hire fire departments to protect their interests, that turned out to be a fiasco.

I have a great job. I could go into detail about the lives I have saved (there are many) and property I have protected but I would rather not. The reason I do what I do and risk my health and my families welfare is because my union negotiates benefits that our elected officials would take away in a heartbeat to fund somebody's friends project, create a job for somebody's cousin or simply line their pockets. As taxpayers we should want the best equiped, staffed and trained personell available. Instead, the sentiment in business, more for less, has pervaded our public safety agencies. Don't think for a second that thousands would line up for my job if I quit tommorrow and there was no reward. My job is hard, as I'm sure yours is. I'm not wealthy but I make a good living and have my union to thank. That my living is funded by taxpayer dollars does not make me less worthy. I have no intention of quitting unless things get so bad I can no longer afford to be a firefighter. If that happens, I'll get by, I always have. I made a lot more money before I became a firefighter.

Posted by: Michael at August 21, 2007 5:45 PM

Okay, Michael. I'll give you that police and firefighters need to be handsomely rewarded. I don't disagree.

Now, explain why I can't get some 19 year old kids to work in the DMV and do as good or better a job than the overpaid slouches that work there now.

Explain why we can't hire temps at $12/hour to do clerical work.

Explain why I have to pay Pelosi's pension after we find out that he spent most of his time getting drunk on MY dime.

Explain why an office clerk deserves a lifetime healthcare package and pension that I have to pay for while I have to scrape and save for MY retirement.

Ready? GO!

Posted by: Greg at August 21, 2007 5:54 PM

I am not an advocate for public employee unions.

All good questions I have asked myself, and many more

Posted by: Michael at August 21, 2007 6:01 PM

But you would at least admit that we as overtaxed taxpayers have a reasonable right to at the very least ask hard questions from our state employees?

Posted by: Greg at August 21, 2007 7:02 PM

Unions aren't for everybody. Depending on your circumstances, they might not be right for you.
In a perfect world, we wouldn't need unions. But as we all know...

Posted by: rhody at August 21, 2007 11:20 PM

Michael said, "Also, I've never seen an incompetent union carpenter, some non union contractors hire people with little or no skill."

I have. And furthermore, as someone who has done residential contracting for years, I conclude that a carpenter's abilities don't necessarily depend on the number of years he or she has plied the trade. What I have also found is that, at least as far as the residential end of things go, non-union carpenters are more vesatile than their union counterparts. Maybe this has to do with the fact that union guys are more practiced in the arts of hanging drywall and framing with steel studs than they are in woodwork. Nevertheless, if one's goal as a tradesman is simply to make a secure living, then being in the union is the way to go. The pay scale is excellent, raises are predictable and the retirement and medical benefits are generous. But if job satisfaction and opportunities to use one's creativity on the job are as important as bringing home a paycheck, you'd probably be happier on a non-union gig. At any rate, private sector carpentry is a tough gig in RI. There are a lot of hacks in the mix, doing sloppy work but at ridiculously low prices. Many people don't seem to realize that when it comes to home improvement, you usually get what you pay for.

Posted by: Rocco DiPippo at August 22, 2007 8:11 AM

We can and should be asking hard questions. Our elected leaders should be able to justify every position on the payroll, if not that position should be eliminated.

I certainly don't have the answers. This is only a blog. I enjoy offering my opinions and defending them when necessary, hopefully learning something and maybe even teaching something along the way.

Posted by: Michael at August 22, 2007 8:14 AM

"We can and should be asking hard questions. Our elected leaders should be able to justify every position on the payroll, if not that position should be eliminated."

And, as I suspected, with some hemming and hawing we have found common ground.

Posted by: Greg at August 22, 2007 8:46 AM

Maybe things aren't hopeless after all...

Posted by: Michael at August 22, 2007 11:45 AM

Allow me to begin with this is the first blog I have ever commented on, but the some of the responses have made so angry that I must respond and stand up for my beliefs.

I AM UNION CARPENTER! allow to me PROUDLY type that again...I AM A UNION CARPENTER!! It is the choice I made and here is why I made it; I chose this postion not because I was forced into it by some thick head labor union thug ( I'm sorry all you right wing nuts, but this is not your Mccarthy era 1950's mob boss union.). The choice to go union opsed to non-union is more prevelant now then almost ever (including the meat packers of "the jungle" and the fallen members the triangle shirt fire.) I say that with all sincarity.

Unions are needed now more then ever because of big business for the follwing reasons:
1) working conditions- working conditons though regulated by osha are often not followed by employers and employee's are not made aware of the standards. Union members are required to be OSHA trained and made aware of these so we can go home to our families.
2) The cost of living vs. wages- this is actually 2 topics onto itself, so allow me to rant for a few minutes. As companies grow the cost of living will go up due to inflation and other reasons, but why are wages going down, well on the non union side. the answer is because companies take the cheap way out to increase profits, is that bad? hell no make money thats what you do, no one starts a bussiness to lose money, right? You see you hire 3, 4, or even 5 immagrant carpenters for the cost of 1 union carpenter, sounds good but is it really? Most immagrants or non union workers are good to the craft but are they masters of there craft do they go through the same training, apprenticship and certifcations as thast union carpenter?, they may get it done and cheaper labor wise but is it really better? For example the cheap housing in the south would they still be standing after hurricane Andrew or Katrina? Maybe if they took they time and trained there workers on proper ridge board fastening or tie down framing instead of hiring cheap labor or any joe with a pick up truck and a hammer , so they could sell houses for the boom, all those people might still have there homes, but then again Proper techinque costs too much.

so by hiring the the guy who is proud to finish basements and is out on his own ( see comment above) what is he going to fall back on when he cant find a basement to make "wicked awesome". I'm glad he is on his own thats cool but he is going to become a master carpenter because he slaps some board up against a concrete slap he dosent even know who to form, pour or finish?

which is the next point: healthcare

4: Healthcare- ANYONE AND EVERYONE THATS READS THIS DO ME A FAVOR GO TO YOUR DOCTOR/DENTIST OR WHATEVER AND ASK WHO HAS THE BEST HEALTHCARE AROUND! or i can save you the trouble and tell any trade union and its free just pay yours dues and go to work. I have never paid anymore then 5 dollars for a prescrption and they cover almost anything. How is MR BASEMENT doing on health covered? How much does it cost you for your family per month? mines free and when I retire at the ripe old age of 49 and collect that huge pension and annuity check I'll still have my health care? so yes non union man you save 20 bucks a month by pocketing those union dues but what does it cost you in the end?

those are just a few reasons why AMERICA needs to unions it is to keep the system in check if not soon the wages vs the cost of living will be so out a wack even right wing rat baggers will take notice and we will be at the depression all over again.

so inclosing why go union over non union? Pride, Knowledge, training, job security, heathcare, and saftey. we dont make too much all we want is " an honest days pay for an honest days work" remember you may love your boss and think he may never fire me or lay me off no never it WILL happen then what, find a new job negocaite your wage down from the $15.75 your buddy was paying you down to $8.00 atleast MY UNION will find me work and when I do get hired I KNOW what my rate is, and you know I also love my boss and the company i work for and I know that day will come despite the 2 solid years I put in, but I'm not worried. BECAUSE I AM UNION!!!

kyle LOCAL 94

Posted by: Kyle at September 7, 2007 4:09 PM

Ha ha
all the nations that kick our ass have more unionism that we do- Europeans are buying up US companies left and right, Japan has been kicking our ass for decades, all with much more union density (esp. Europe) than we have hear.
if you hate unions there are plenty of countries in sub sahara africa that have never had a labor movement.....yes, lets make our nation like those...

Posted by: Kern River at July 6, 2008 4:32 PM
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