Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Business & Economics/Unions

My CFI friends and I are discussing unions today. Here is my take on that. Please note that my father was the personnel negotiator for two companies during two very contentious strikes in the 50's and 60's. For one of them, at Florida plants of Virginia-Carolina Chemical, he and other executives had to be helicoptered into the plant for their own safety. When not at the negotiating table, they worked the lines in order to keep the plants open.

Unions helped our nation, starting around the '30's as they began to gain traction. Somewhere around the '50's, the scale began tipping the other way in many industries. The problem today is, we're stuck with the public distaste of excessive union abuse from the 50's-80's, but legitimate need for strong unions in some fields even today.

I think it would work out a lot better if more companies were run like Nucor (a steel manufacturer). Nucor managers had to intervene for the safety of outside union organizers at one of their plants - because the workers were on the verge of physical violence! Now THAT is a company that understands Enlightened Self-Interest. By treating their people well, the people feel no need for the protection of a union.

Southwest Airlines is another famous example. They actually have MORE unions than any other airline (little-known fact), but have better labor relations - and they are singularly profitable. My pal Dr. Jody Gitell wrote a great book on the 10 reasons for that, The Southwest Airlines Way.

Neither companies nor unions are inherently good or bad. They're all just collections of individuals. It is the leaders who are good, bad, or (sometimes) indifferent.

Management whose workers choose to go union deserve a union, bottom line. I think the technical term for such managers is "knuckle-head." Currently, a large local employer is a fascinating example of this brand of leadership.