Ah…Unions!

Across the street from my office building in mid-town Manhattan is a building that is being renovated.  Every so often the union shows up to protest the fact that non-union labor is doing the work.  This week there were two demonstrations.  Additionally, as I was walking over to a Chamber of Commerce event, I passed another union demonstration.  This got me thinking…

Let’s just say that I have a search for a CEO.  And let’s assume that I submit eight candidates.  Obviously, seven are not going to get the job.  Why don’t those seven (OK, they don’t know each other but, come on, don’t break my train of thought!  Don’t let facts and logic get in the way of a perfectly valid argument!) get together, form a picket line, and protest that they were not hired?  It’s not as stupid a question as you might think.

Here’s the scenario.  Joe buys a building on West 36th Street.  It needs to be renovated.  He puts out a bid.  Contractors respond.  He chooses the best bid for him which happens to be non-union.  The union has a perfect right to be disappointed, but if they protest the implication is that they feel they are entitled to the work.  There is no such entitlement.  This is a free country.  Anyone can hire anyone to do anything that they want – as long as the “anything” is not illegal and the “anyone” chosen was chosen on a non-discriminatory basis.

I have been involved with a number of building/construction/renovation projects, as well as having worked at a union shop (a nursing home in the Bronx).  I have never heard anyone ever use the word “quality” to describe unions.  The only thing I have ever heard anyone say is, “It’s not worth the fight.”  In other words, unions apparently bully their way into companies and non-profits.

Let me tell you my personal union stories.  At the nursing home we had a community services organization offering, among other things, case management services and a Meals-on-Wheels program.  I liked our union staff.  We got along very well.  No doubt this was because I did not supervise any union people.  Because I did not have to deal with their nonsense, I was immune from their actions.  One day I saw some of the organizers and union workers in the lobby.  I was aware of the fact that for a couple of weeks, almost daily, they were filing frivolous grievances (all rejected) against managers.  I went over to them and said, “You guys owe me an apology!  I’m part of senior staff!  I’m a manager!  How do you think it makes me feel that you’re filing complaints against everyone else but me?  I want a complaint filed, I want a hearing, I want everyone to show up (they would attend meetings as a group!) and I expect you to provide a nice lunch… and it better be kosher!”  They all laughed and I think I got my message across.  They were good people acting like babies.  And they knew it.

A few weeks later negotiations began on a new contract (thus the grievances…).  I walked by the board room where the negotiations were being held.  The door opened and out came smiling faces.  “Bruce!  We won!  We got a 15% raise!”  (To be honest, I don’t remember if it was 15%, but it was high.)  To which I responded, “Congratulations!  But just one question: You all work on programs funded by the City.  The contracts are up for renewal.  Our biggest  competitor is non-union.  Their staff is probably going to get a 3% raise.  Our bids for the new contracts will probably be rejected because now we are not competitive.  So tell me, where are you going to be working?”

They all looked at me, still smiling,  and assured me that I did not know what I was talking about.  Of course, I did…

First to go was Meals-on-Wheels.  Now here’s the interesting thing: With unions, it’s last in first out.  So not all of the Meals-on-Wheels staff were laid off.  Some of the case management people lost their jobs and  the (now former) Meals-on-Wheels people who were remaining had to be trained for case management positions.  But soon that contract was also lost.  The union got them their raise, and cost them their jobs!

At my previous consulting firm a woman came into the office.  She met with the firm’s president.  I was passing by his office and he called me in.  He introduced me to the woman, handed me her resume and said, “She’s having a problem getting a job and doesn’t know why.”  I looked at the resume, noted that she was in financial services, look at her and said, “You’re kidding, right?”  She said, “What?”  “You don’t understand why you can’t get a job?”  She replied, “No.  I don’t.  I’m very good at what I do.”  “I believe you,” I assured her.  “But who wants to hire a union organizer?”  With a straight face she said, “What’s wrong with unions?”  She simply did not have a clue.

Draw your own conclusions!

Oh, and the reason my rejected CEOs would not picket the employer?  Simple.  They’re mature professionals…

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