Unions are basically privately owned companies. They should be treated as such, regulated as such, and it's a bad idea to let them donate money to politicians for the EXACT SAME REASON.
Think about it. They take dues from workers, making them paying customers, and deliver services: wage negotiation. So a union is not somehow a hole in free market capitalism. It's just a niche for another business. The only thing anti-capitalist about unions is that they tend to give massive wads of cash to politicians to make them look the other way as the union forms draconian (and sometimes abusive) local monopolies.
The problem I have with any company, unions included, giving money to a politician is not just that it feels incestuous, but that money rightly belongs to your stakeholders. The company should give that money to its constituents--be they shareholders or union members--and let them make that decision. It's exactly like the leadership doesn't trust you to give their buddies in Washington the correct cushy bribe when the money's yours and not some fictitious company's.
The other problem is taxation. Let me use Wolf's logic in reverse.On paper my wage washing dishes was $8.50, but let's take a close look at one of my checks to see what's actually going on:
Qty: 21.01 (# of hours)
Rate 8.5 (my wage)
Current: 178.64 (that week's pay)
Federal Withholding: 14.00
Social Security Employee: 11.00
Medicare Employee: 2.60
GA Income Tax: 4.41
Net Pay: 146.56
So...because of taxation my effective wage that week was 146.56/ 21.01, or $6.97 per hour.
Granted, I got a fair bit of that back...BUT WAIT! IT GETS BETTER! See the ones labelled "Employee?" Those are withholdings the employer has to match. Crunch the numbers for those...my employer sees my wage as at least $9.15.
I hope you're starting to see the issue. Wages didn't just stop increasing in the 70s; what's keeping them flat or on the decline is the government abusing their ability to hide taxation on the employer's ledger. True wages--the difference between an employer's books before and after an employee works--have been increasing slowly, but at the same time taxation has been marching upwards, too.
So, on to discussion.
I also think it's unfair that companies can outright fire their entire staff if they attempt to form a union -- I think it's unethical that companies can even require you to sign a waiver like that. Unions -- like any organization -- can become corrupt with power. But I think they're an essential part of functional capitalism. So all the union busting that went on in the 80's? Really came home to roost. Because that's when a lot of the pay stagnation started. People at my old place of employment used to have near-full time jobs and decent benefits. Yeah.... that ended. Hardcore.
I kinda have this "necessary evil" view of unions. Unions aren't exactly a pleasant thing. They have a long history of death threats, intimidation, and make eyebrow-raising campaign donations...but at the same time they do increase wages and improve working conditions.
The problem I see is that unions are very much in bed with political machinery, especially on the democrat side. Blocking unions from donating to political entities may be the technically correct thing to do, but you know as well as I do that the major unions will act like end times have come and make death threats galore over it.
I know that most unions aren't that bad, but you never need to regulate the good ones. How do you regulate something that can go that sour? I know what I would do if I were starting again from scratch, but that's not a choice here, is it?
This doesn't even cover the fact that fast food jobs of any kind have and never were meant to be sustaining for anyone lower than manager. It's grunt work at best, I would know after the years I worked at McDonalds. The idea is that you work there for a bit and then move on to something after they see that you're competent enough to get a job and work in a professional setting. It was never meant to be long term unless you had plans to move up in the company (which is possible depending on your restaurant). But given how fast food is the only work many people can find these days, a lot of people are left stuck on this level because there is no other place to go.
Yeah, the whole "stuck there" thing is very unpleasant. I have a college degree now and I just about got stuck washing dishes for the rest of time.
If I had to ask for something which made sense, it would be employee training and employee scholarship programs. You know that most of these fast food joints are well connected enough to arrange something for their medium-term employees to make sure they don't truly get stuck flipping burgers. Heck, even just some online courses with certifications would be a great step forward, and you know that wouldn't cost too much in bulk when most of their employees won't use it.
EDIT: Continuing the post.
To me, conversation about wages boils down to one major question:
Do companies in a capitalist market in a first-world country bear any social responsibility?
If they do not, then they are driven solely by greed, and wages go down. The goal is to find ways to extract as much money from the market as possible, and keeping wages as low as they can while still finding employees is part of that.
If they do bear social responsibility, then they should be proactive about calculating a living wage, and pay their workers that. They have responsibilities beyond profit and market share. They have to deserve to be part of our society.
If our government has allowed companies to become 'too big to fail' to the point where our tax dollars now becomes an insurance policy to their own failings, then they absolutely have a social responsibility. It would be an entirely different matter if they were smaller companies that competed on a local level and thus were subject to rising and falling based on their own merits.
Somehow I don't think the Feds will ever bail out fast food. Particularly not this administration.
The social responsibility thing is something I'm half onboard with and half off. Strictly speaking, a corporation with social responsibility can't feed its customers revolting grease-bombs, even if they sell.
I really want these companies to meet half-way. I seriously doubt that most fast food companies can survive paying their whole staff $15 an hour, at least not without laying a third of them off and running the whole thing more efficiently. That said, I do think they should do something--like employee training; see above--which helps people along.
I don't think you can judge a company's social responsibility on just the wage they pay, but the effect they have on their employee's future. A good company with social responsibility may have, for example, unpaid interns, but I won't complain because the interns are gaining meaningful skills and experiences and are better workers because of it. That's not true here. Workers coming out of McDonalds and BK gained few meaningful skills or experiences.
That's not how it should work. You want to use our labor pool? Return the workers to the pool better than they were when you acquired them.
Either the workers will be well paid or they gain skills and experiences from you which send them in a positive direction. Ideally both would be true, but I will settle for one or the other.
In the UK we all pump our own petrol. In supermarkets, we pack our own bags. Heck, supermarkets are even trying to get us to check out our own goods. Today, when I was at the supermarket I didn't go to one of the manned checkouts; I had already scanned everything myself as I went around the aisles. All I had to do was load the scanned data to the checkout machine and feed it the required amount of money. The machine gave me my discount coupons (£0.96, yay!), my change (or at least, it would have, if I hadn't paid by card) and calculated everything else.
Yes and no.
Technology isn't a substitute for human labor so much as a mechanical problem solving aid. You make technology replace human labor when you frame the issue correctly.
For example, in twenty years I think we'll have drones automatically pick up groceries for us. Give it a list of items, it asks for transaction approval, and then it goes to the store and fetches the order. There's no need to get into a vehicle and travel there when this is a mundane task you can delegate to a computer.
That last bit is my point. We aren't replacing labor so much as re-delegating the mundane and repetitive aspects, which frees the human labor up to move higher in the intellectual chain. For example, I now work in line-editing manuscripts for a university press, reading them in great detail to ensure there are no missing words or grammatical errors. It's a tedious and difficult job, in part because there are at least two styles in just American English you can edit toward; Chicago style and Associated Press style.
Eventually, a computer will be able to do my job for me. I don't think that will be soon because language inherently involves ambiguity and judgement calls, but it will happen. When that happens, my sort of labor can move up one notch to manuscript review and acceptance, which is more about abstractions.
What technology is doing is not replacing human labor but DISPLACING it. It's forcing it away from mundane and repetitive tasks and toward intellectual abstraction. It feels the same in the short run because you lose your job, but in the long run it is a completely different thing.
Edited by Egann, 08 September 2014 - 02:38 PM.