The threat of unions to workers

A sign outside the Amazon Fulfillment Center Bessemer, Alabama, after meeting with workers and organizers involved in the Amazon BHM1 facility unionization effort, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. Jenny Jarvie/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Sitting far away in the White House, President Joe Biden recently cheered for a union to be formed at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama. By a two-to-one vote, workers said no thanks, that they weren’t all that upset by this whiz of a company and would rather work out any differences without another organization in their face. As quoted by The New York Times, a couple of them said paying dues for fewer results did not appeal to them.

Despite this setback in trying to help union campaign contributors, however, Biden still embraces a really, truly bold idea of how to strengthen them while depriving workers of their rights to choose. The scheme is to outlaw right-to-work laws in those 27 states that have them. What those states prohibit are private union contracts that say you can’t get a job at a company unless you pay these union dues that some identify as a moral obligation. After all, it’s said, the money serves all workers by wrestling successfully with the urges of greedy CEOs, and you ought to pay for what you get.

What the money actually does in some instances is provide an embezzlement fund for such people as a former president of the United Auto Workers and other criminally convicted union comrades who stuck $1 million in their pockets awhile back. They’re not alone, seeing as how millions more have been swiped by union executives over the years.

Dues have other advantages, however. For one thing, unions then get money to support the campaigns of politicians making laws employees want. Along with the possibility of genuine sympathy, that could be a reason we have a Biden plan for an extreme, national $15 minimum wage that a lot of companies would not be able to pay. One million workers could lose their jobs. Innovative Jeff Bezos, the primary owner of Amazon, already pays that minimum wage and is for such a law that would weaken his competition.

Unions having a tight handle on government can also be seen in teachers unions being able to keep so many schools closed to in-person teaching during the COVID-19 crisis. According to most experts, the schools are safe and students can be adversely affected for the rest of their lives by the absence of in-person instruction.

None of this means that unions haven’t ever played a positive role. Trade unions got started in this country as early as 1794 and have informed our culture ever since. They may have been overly under the influence of socialists, communists and anarchists for a while, but they certainly were crucial in converting early industrialism from its worst aspects. They fought back against inhumane treatment at what sometimes could be a deadly cost and made a major difference in wages and working conditions over the years.

Despite my criticisms, the unions’ impact on government has had numerous positive effects, not least on the end of child labor. I might mention I am also hugely grateful for the five-day work weeks and eight-hour days that laws demanded. Unions did discriminate against Black workers and women like so much of the rest of America before World War II, but then improved and contributed to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Private unions have been going away, dropping from a high of 35% of all workers in 1954 to 6.2% in 2019. I don’t want them dead but neither do I want politicians hurting workers in general on their behalf and I do think they need to be less dogmatic. Some should more carefully consider that helping to meet their companies’ competitive needs can often be the best way to meet employee needs.

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tribune Wire


Recommended for you

(2) comments


Unions redress a power imbalance. An individual worker cannot negotiate on anything like equal terms against a corporation because the corporation is a composite of many owners. An individual is competing with a crowd, and a bigger crowd who are more affluent, more able to compete in the money driven kind of competition (including legal) we use within a civilized market based society rather than fighting physically (usually, in theory). However, competition makes the dynamics work. Businesses have competitors, and government, to deal with, as well as customers and stockholders and workers. They can't usually get away with being too high handed unless something is broken about the checks and balances of competition. If unions across an industry are a monopoly, however, they get an unfair advantage over individual companies. Then the shoe is on the other foot. So probably the best approach to unions would be to find some way to allow competing unions. Workers would have to belong to a union to work at a closed shop (I believe is the term) but there might be more than one union they could pick from. As for Amazon, it's a (relatively) benign dictator right now. The king we have is pretty good for everybody, though there are some issues they are minor compared to many other horrors in the world. But a benevolent autocrat is a stroke of luck. You can't count on it forever, and the when the Prince takes over he may be a monster with absolute authority. That's why we set up systems to mitigate concentration of power. Even though it's good when it's good.

Joseph Savoca

The column writer does not mention the embezzlement of the Bannon wall fund, the National Rifle Association, the Trump voter fraud fundraising campaign, Trump's entire business career, the CEO's of companies, etc.

The column writer does not mention that the Trump campaign, the Trump administration, Trump himself, the National Rifle Association, the Trump insurrectionists at the Capital, QAnon and the Republican party may have been overly under the influence of Vladimir Putin and Russia.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.