The value of unions

To the Editor:

It’s time to weigh in on the value of unions. A hundred years ago, unions were desperately needed. At that time factories were hiring anyone for any wage, and wages were so small kids were pulled out of school to go to work and help the family pay bills. This was wrong, and unions helped.

But, now? Union members get paid more than anyone else. So have unions fulfilled their purpose?

Let’s look at a clear example. I have a good job that is not unionized. Every year each employee has an interview with his boss, and they talk about how work is going. Then they decide whether a raise is warranted based on merit. This is a good system.

What would happen if my workplace became unionized? If I felt I deserved a raise, could I go to my boss and talk to him about it? No. I would have to wait for the union to negotiate a new contract for everyone. All the workers would get the same wage.

But what if I knew that I did my job a lot better than someone else? Too bad. The union says everyone at the same pay grade gets the same wage. This system discourages initiative. If union rules prevent the bosses from firing anyone, then responsible work practice is discouraged, or those with responsible ethics grow resentful. No wonder such a small fraction of jobs are unionized now.

So, let’s look specifically at teachers. I am impressed with the outstanding quality of teachers on Martha’s Vineyard. I have very little to quibble about. I think this is true because of the size of our community. Everyone knows everyone else, so teachers know the parents of the students and want to do their best so the children succeed.

But in large cities, are things different? They might be, but they needn’t be. When teachers and parents are close, then teachers want to do well in the classroom. If teachers are doing a good job, taxpayers will want to pay them a fair wage. This is what we do in town meeting.

So, are the teacher unions doing a good job in Wisconsin, where the legislature is trying to balance the budget, and teachers are striking because their benefits are better than anyone else’s and they don’t want them cut back? I doubt it.

Jim OsbornVineyard Haven

The writer is a member of the production staff at the Martha’s Vineyard Times.