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Booktalking "'They're Bankrupting Us!' and 20 Other Myths About Unions" by Bill Fletcher

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Historically, there have been conflicts between employers and labor unions. Labor unions exist to bargain on the workers’ behalf for better working and living conditions. They are democratic in structure, and the officers are elected by voting members. The success of unions depends on their leadership and the participation of members in union meetings and political advocacy, such as attending rallies and lobbying congress people and city councilors on behalf of worker-friendly legislation. The majority of workplaces in the United States are not unionized; in non-unionized workplaces, employment is considered “at-will,” meaning either the employer or employee can end the worker’s job at any time for any reason.

Myth #1: Workers are forced to join unions.

Labor unions are created in companies when the majority of workers decide that they want one. Some people who are active in unions fear retaliation from company management.

Myth #2: Unions bankrupt us.

Sometimes wealthy people report their perspective of the economy. Business management have largely opposed the activities of unions, which emerged in the 1830s. There is a widening income disparity in the United States at present. There are also loopholes in corporate taxes. Companies need to keep in mind that they would not be able to produce anything without workers, and it seems fair that the workers be able to share the profits of successful business.

Myth #3: Unions are run by “labor bosses.”

Labor unions are not organized crime. Union officials are elected by members. Some unions act in a similar manner to the company management, in terms of company culture.

Myth #4: Public Sector Unions Cause Budget Deficits.

An attempt was made to create the New York City subway system by a private company, which went bankrupt. The public sector was then able to accomplish the feat, and it is one of the best public transportation systems in the country.

Labor - International Ladies Garment Workers Union - Robert F. Wagner, Eleanor Roosevelt and David Dubinsky (President, ILGWU) at U.S. Government Building
Image ID: 1676673

Myth #5: Unions make unreasonable demands that cause workers to strike.

Reasonableness is in the eye of the beholder, and workers and employers have different priorities. Strikes are much less common now than they were in the 1950s, partially because working conditions are better in general. Also, striking workers can face termination and other negative consequences from employers. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter fired almost 200 postal employees who were involved in a wildcat strike, which is a strike not approved by the union.   

Myth #6: Unions were helpful in the past, but they are not needed now.

Working conditions have improved, but inequity still exists in many workplaces. People can lose their pensions, cost-of-living raises are sometimes not given, and companies can contract out jobs in order to save money. Without unions, workers are at the mercy of what employers decide to do, as long as they are not violating any laws.

Myth #7: Unions are only for troublemakers.

Diligent, good workers can be subjected to unfairness. The company can also be bought by another party. Having a union is like investing in life insurance; it is good to have just in case.

Myth #8: Unions utilize members’ dues for political advocacy efforts.

Political action can improve workers’ lives.

Myth #9: If I join the union, I will never be promoted.

Most unions have a collective-bargaining agreement that ensures equity in work and salary standards. Oftentimes, employers want to hire younger workers in order to save money.

Myth #10: Unions are corrupt.

Corruption occurs in every type of organization, but it is not common in unions. However, regulations helps prevent fraud and misuse of union funds.

Labor - Harvey Gibson speaks to Electrical Workers Union at Local No. 3 Day
Image ID: 1676657

Myth #11: Unions have a shady history, and they were created by troublemakers.

There is a belief that the activity of unions is disruptive. Unions are not ideological organization, and members sometimes must participate in rallies and the like in order to enact change. Employers describe their workplaces as families, but most are authoritarian.

Myth #12: Unions are racist against minorities.

African Americans are more likely to join unions than members of other races, and they are more likely to have pro-union ideas. However, some unions do have discriminatory policies, which should be abolished.

Myth #13: Unions are sexist.

Women have been involved in workers’ rights activities for the last two centuries. In 1824, women weavers and men workers waged a strike in Rhode Island. Today, women comprise 45% of union members.

Myth #14: Unions only deal with wages, hours, and working conditions.

Unions are very politically active, and there are many other issues that affect workers’ lives.

Myth #15: Unions help their members, but hurt everyone else.

Most non-union workers would like to join a union or form one. Providing workers with fair pay and conditions makes them more productive and loyal to the company.

Workers' Educational Association of Australasia, Sydney.
Image ID: 1192926

Myth #16: Unions and corporations are too large and do not care about workers.

The reason for union existence is to advocate for workers’ rights.

Myth #17: Unions are powerless.

Unions have been instrumental throughout history in improving workers’ lives.

Myth #18: Unions either ignore immigrants or they ignore non-immigrants.

Many immigrant workers obtain low-wage jobs, and they are most in need of union protection and support. Latino membership in unions is increasing as more emigrate to the US. However, undocumented workers pose a challenge for unions.

Myth #19: Unions are not good because they are not growing.

Employers have much money and power in our society.

Myth #20: Unions always take the Democratic party side in policy issues and elections.

Democratic ideals tend to be more in favor of helping the working class, but unions are prohibited from being ideological by law.

Myth #21: Unions cannot be that good because they are not prevalent in other nations.

Other countries in the world may be run by dictators or other types of government that lends fewer freedoms to workers than they have in the United States.

“They’re Bankrupting Us” and 20 Other Myths About Unions by Bill Fletcher, 2012

The author grew up in a family that strongly supported unions, and I learned a lot about the history, purpose, and activity of labor unions from this book. I also like the rally on the cover and extremist title! Despite the title, there are 21 myths listed in the book.

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