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Answers For The Workplace E-Memo

Union, or No Union?

In some industries, unions are absolutely necessary to prevent excessive demands on employees and emphasize safe working conditions. In other places, unions have worked hard to create an “us versus them” mentality that gives a union more members, but do little to help employees or the company. That is, In some cases, the ripple effect of bringing in a union makes things worse, not better, for employees.

One story by Reuters in late August of 2003 pointed out that many unionized supermarkets are suffering while Wal-Mart is gaining ground (Wal-Mart is not a union company). Why do people shop at Wal-Mart? Lower prices. You can be guaranteed that if Wal-Mart were unionized, prices could not be that low.

It is arguable that Wal-Mart’s average $8 per hour is not a living wage (whereas unionized stores pay an average of $10.35). But then it is also arguable that Wal-Mart is to supermarkets what fast food is to restaurants. Many people get their first jobs at lower-paying (i.e. fast food) companies, and then move up as they gain skills and become more valuable to employers.

There is no clean-cut answer on unions, other than, “it depends.” If your company is considering one, think hard about the ripple effects. It may be the best thing you ever do, and then again, it may not.

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