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Unions - need some help here

I am an adviser to small woman-owned business. Her business is struggling to survive and she's questioning the value of the union. What should I tell her?
Her business employs about 5-15 people depending on the season. Her former advisers told her she'd be making money if it weren't for all the union benefits. I haven't fully analyzed this but don't doubt the analysis has some merit.

Most of the people in her employ are family or like family. She bends over backwards to help. She doesn't use a time clock and is trying to stay afloat. She feels like the union does nothing to help her, costs them lots of money and essentially screws the workers.

If they don't work 100 hours in a month, they have to pay $500-$600 out of pocket to cover their own insurance. This is true even if they work 95 hours and come up just 5 hours short.

The jobs she bids on are competitive. She has to compete with non-union shops on most jobs, unless it is prevailing wage government work.

I'm going to meet with her next week and am torn what to do. I know all the reasons unions are important on meta level, but at the micro level, the bureaucracy and costs are killing her.

Unions - need some help here 26.Nov.2007 22:35


Brother Brian,
There are just two words that your friends needs to say to the fellow workers she employs--profit sharing. If she can impart to the union workers, who can create a profit for the company (her), that they share in the wealth, or the dearth, AND the FWs get it...then all should go well and equanimity should reign. At least in theory.
happy trails

"i think of us as a family" 27.Nov.2007 03:13

and other head games

This may sound trite, but the fact is that the employer's opinion about the "value" of the union isn't relevant. Unions are not about creating "value" for employers, they're about creating power for employees. If the employees value their union, they'll keep it, and if they don't it'll go away.

the problem with capitalism is just that 27.Nov.2007 11:58


conflict of interests between owner and worker (no matter how small the enterprise) lie at the heart of capitalism.

How to be 'just' to your workers and stay competitive? YOU CANT!!!!!!!

thats the crux of the problem.

my advice:

make it a worker owned and controlled workplace.

Let those who create the wealth control it; that goes for all of society too!

Good comments 27.Nov.2007 14:14

Brian the Green

Thanks for all your comments.

One advantage she has owning the company is some governmental preferences as a woman owned business.

I'll talk with her about the employee ownership model. However, I know that is sometimes hard when 1/2 the employees just want a paycheck for their time the other 1/2 care but the owner/leader is the one who really puts their life and blood on the line.

I'll let you know after I meet with her next week.

re: Brian 28.Nov.2007 13:37


this comment comes straight from the ruling class handbook:

"the one who really puts their life and blood on the line".

this is a classic justification for a exploitative economic system, and shouldn't be repeated by anyone who considers themselves 'left'.

Re: Max 29.Nov.2007 12:53

Brian the Green

I'm a leftist and have no problem acknowledging that in any given enterprise, some work harder, contribute more, are smarter and better trained, take addititional risks and/or care more. These factors have to be worth something?

How do you deal with the fact that some people are more invested?

The woman who owns this place has mortgaged her house. Yes, her "life" is on the line. The guys getting a paycheck will simply move on if this enterprise fails. They aren't losing sleep worrying how to make payroll and cover the taxes like the owner is.

I take it you've never run a business before. It isn't easy.

I'm dedicated to moving beyond explotation. I don't think this woman wants to exploit her workers/family members. She doesn't want to lose her house either.

mortgaging your house for gambling money? 29.Nov.2007 16:03

oops i took too much risk

> I'm a leftist and have no problem acknowledging that in any given enterprise,
> some work harder, contribute more, are smarter and better trained, take
> addititional risks and/or care more. These factors have to be worth something?

Throwing "taking additional risks" in there, code for having more wealth to start with, is pretty clever all right.

> How do you deal with the fact that some people are more invested?

I guess you bust the union to save the boss's "life" and her "blood," new Green Party jargon for her precious land equity. Surely those enormous union dues will be the difference between success or bankruptcy for this business, which would otherwise be making money hand over fist forever.

The way you deal with the fact that some people are more invested is you figure out which side you're on. This is something that liberals in general and Greens in particular never bother to do, as they wander around scavenging leftist rhetoric and ideas, co-opting them to support a capitalist agenda.

Rhetoric 29.Nov.2007 20:17

Brian the Green

Have you ever tried to run a business? It's obvious the answer is no. It isn't easy.

How do you know she started with more money? That's a rather big assumption on your part.

While you apparently want to divide people into classes and pit them against each other, I am interested in leaving that paradigm behind and working towards a partnership paradigm.

This woman isn't rich. She's running a struggling little business that provides income and health care to 10 families. In my dream world, they'd all be working together to make this business work.

The fact of the matter is 9 out of 10 people go home with a paycheck while she goes home with nothing. I know it fits your mental model to assume that business entrepreneurs must all be rich, must all be exploiting workers and and are all making tons of money. Too bad it isn't so.

I really think you should start some alternative enterprises so we all have an opportunity to buy goods from you. I'm serious, I love shopping and buying from alternative organizations. I look forward to seeing how you handle working 80 hour weeks for next to nothing while your coworkers clock out at 5pm with paychecks and health care.

You're Making Green Look Bad, Brian 29.Nov.2007 22:55

Green Socialist

Brian is clearly burdened by capitalist ideology, but not all of us are.

From Participatory Economics by Michael Albert:


We want equitable distribution of assets and circumstances. Instead of competitive or authoritarian allocation which expands the profit and power of ruling classes, we want cooperative, self-managed allocation that expands social well being, development, and justice.

The economic alternative called Participatory Economics, or Parecon for short, is built on four key values, and it uses four defining institutions to fulfill those values.

The first value is Solidarity. Economies affect how people interact. They affect the broad attitudes people have toward one another.

The second value we want a good economy to advance is Diversity. Economies affect the range of options that people have in their work and in consumption.

The third value we want a good economy to advance is Equity. Economies affect the distribution of output among actors. They determine our budgets or what share of the social product we receive. In a Participatory Economy for those who can work, remuneration is for effort and sacrifice.

The fourth and final value on which Parecon is built has to do with decisions and is called self-management. Economics affect how much say each actor has in decisions about production, consumption, and allocation.

i love shopping too ! 30.Nov.2007 04:18

damn those union bureaucrats

all you non-business-owners just shut up and listen to the REAL GREENS

we are "moving beyond explotation"

and "making money"

by getting rid of "union benefits" !!!

So far I haven't heard a viable solution 30.Nov.2007 21:15

Brian the Green

First, it isn't my decision. Second, no one said she's getting rid of the union.

While I agree that Participatory Economics is a preferable alternative, it's 2007 and today we live in a capitalist system. I'm doing my best to change it. But the reality is she has to pay taxes, rent, and all the other expenses associated with the business. There isn't a lot of participation going on. If the business fails, no one has a job or benefits.

While I agree that more participation would be better, these aren't my decisions to make and each player has responsibility for the situation. I know it sounds easy to blame the "boss" but that is only part of the truth.

I support unions, but I also see situations like this where a small business is stuck in an unsustainable situation. Union related expenses run between $600-$1,000 per employee per month.

I know it's easy to read books and articles about economics and talk about different economic models. Have you actually started or led a business?