For a short time I worked as a union officer for the office workers’ union at Walt Disney studios. It was a very educational experience and one thing I learned is that people have a strange attitude about the relationship between unions and business management. All too many business managers think of the union as their enemy, and unfortunately too many union members think the same thing about management. The sad part of it is, both sides are working toward the same goals. Employees need to be working for a successful and prosperous company and the company needs to be a place where employees can be happy and productive.
In today’s business climate this partnership is even more crucial. We have a problem in this nation – too many gigantic corporations are hogging all of the business, putting smaller business owners out of business. And these corporations don’t hire the union employees. Instead they outsource the jobs to foreign countries where they can get labor for pennies on the dollar.
Unions were originally formed to protect employees from the abuses of large companies. It is beneficial, I believe, forsmall business owners to support this fair play because in the process of promoting fair play for labor, they are also promoting fair play for business in general. Without mentioning names, the largest retailer in the nation has been accused of busting unions so they could continue to pay lower wages and less benefits. This same company sells products which are manufactured largely in China and this practice has cost a large number of American jobs. When this company moves into a new locality, small business owners go out of business.Small business and labor are both victims of the same corporate greed.
If small business owners could team up with labor, they could fight this evil together. It requires some sense of responsibility on both sides. Union members cannot expect a local furniture store, for example, to pay the same wages as they would expect somebody like GMC to pay. And the small business owner has to realize that it is this employee who is helping him to make a success of his venture. That employee cannot do his best work if he is worrying about foreclosure or eviction because his wages don’t cover the basic cost of housing. The trick is for both labor and management to make small business’s prosperous and then share that prosperity.
If you are a small business owner and your employees express a desire to form a union, my suggestion is, talk to them and to the union officials and see how you can make it into a mutually satisfactory partnership. If an employee comes to you with a grievance, don’t think of it as a personal attack. Think of it as an invitation to open up a dialogue to resolve small problems before they escalate. On the same token, if you arean employee, don’t think of the union as your way to stick itto your boss. Think of them as a tool to help you to help your boss become more prosperous and share his success with you.
Sure, unions have had their problems. There have been instances of corruption and abuses toward business. But for the most part, they are a good thing – not only for employees, but for the business community as a whole. Let’s use them as the beneficial tool they were designed to be.
Ron Coleman is retired and spends most of his time working as a freelance cartoonist and writer. He has served as a union officer in the office workers union at Disney Studios and has sold several pro-union cartoons to labor publications. His work can be seen on his website: http://www.coleman-cartoons.com