The recent supermarket workers’ strike has gotten me thinking of back when I used to be a union carpenter’s apprentice for AFL-CIO Local 727 in Miami, Fla. It has also gotten me thinking as to why these workers are striking and the outcome that possibly waits once a contract settlement is reached.
Let’s begin by saying that it’s no secret the economy sucks these days. The cost of living is high and wages remain low. But if you think that the only victim of the economy is the average worker, think again. Businesses are paying the price of the stagnant economy as well, and this too is no secret.
I remember when the union carpenters in Florida went on strike for a pay increase and a boost in benefits, which was achieved. I can also remember that after the strike a lot of mom-and-pop companies filed Chapter 11. That’s bankruptcy. The carpenters got their raise and benefits, but in the process they also lost many potential employers, thus jobs became harder to find.
Ever wonder why anything that says “Made in America” has such a high price tag? Simply because unions have made it so that labor works less for more money.
The multitude of benefits enjoyed by union labor amounts to higher prices for the consumer, and in times of a bad economy this will accomplish one of two things: Companies will either go out of business or export labor to other countries.
The big losers are consumers – who have to pick up the tab in terms of unemployment benefits for the laid-off workers – and the workers who had it good for some time but later have no job. And these are just a few of the effects.
Are there any winners in a union labor dispute? Yes. They’re called union business agents. When there’s no work due to a strike or the loss of a company, they still get their money in the form of dues from the union members. By the way, these dues go up whenever a labor dispute is settled.
So what use are unions, other than to overprice labor and drive businesses to go bankrupt or leave the country? To be perfectly honest, I really don’t know.
Labor unions have become a dinosaur in terms of effectiveness and representation. Their beliefs have become an outdated mantra boasting solidarity among workers. But the legal and financial reality of modern-day economics renders union policies useless.
There was a time in labor history when unions were a necessity since workers were exploited in many ways and muscle was needed to correct the injustices. But those days are over.
There are so many laws on the books these days protecting the American worker that unions just offer a cushy redundancy to the equation. There are laws protecting minimum hourly wages, overtime pay, equal hiring and firing practices, sanitary and safety issues, pension plan protection, as well as employee insurance requirements and unemployment benefits. And these are but a few of the items covered by existing laws.
The union behind the recent strike claims that the supermarket chains want to charge employees $5 per week for a single worker, or $10 to $15 per week for a worker with a family, for insurance benefits.
There will be no pay cuts and raises will remain unaffected. In terms of what employees in many other companies pay for decent insurance coverage, this is minimal. Personally, I pay $15 per week for a single employee. And one has to take hourly wages into consideration as well.
Current wages in supermarkets are, on average, $15 per hour. Don’t forget the fact that working in a supermarket isn’t as hazardous as working in construction or in an industrial facility, where the risk of having to use your insurance is much higher due to injury and/or illness.
All it really amounts to is a failing anti-business institution trying to force businesses, their employees and the consumer into a no-win scenario. If there is a win for the employees, it is solely in the short term.
I have nothing against those walking the picket lines in front of the supermarkets. In fact, something in me sympathizes with them. Up to this point I’ve honored their protest. But my grocery bill is something to take into consideration as well. Something is going to give soon and I have a sneaky feeling that it will be my will to honor the picket lines. After all, there are bills to pay and one of those is for the food I eat, and I’ll be damned if my food bill will go up in order to support a union business agent.
Henry Sarria is a longtime Isla Vista resident.