The Eagle Blog

Kevin's Version of 21st Century Unions

In a couple of blog entries lately I have been rather scathing about the unions. It may however surprise some people to know that I grew up in working class Liverpool, and that my family were all union members so I was raised to believe in the need for unions to protect “the worker”.
The journey I have taken through various careers and life experiences has caused me to modify opinions over time, sometimes more than once! In the case of the unions I have gone from the “believer” to the “non-believer”, but it is based more on the role that the unions play rather than on their existence … or their potential!

I think that there is a place for unions but the current role and “typical” operating model of the unions is not consistent with my vision of the value unions could bring.

So … if I were to side with unions (for at least this blog entry) this is what I would say:

1. Management has not proven itself to be capable of consistently running corporations with a good balance of providing shareholder value and building corporate capability for the future. When a cost has to be paid, it is the “worker” who typically pays it with their job.
2. Government is not responsible for protecting the jobs of workers … they like to think so, but in a global economy they can’t.
3. So … “the worker” needs to look out for himself. This is consistent with everything I blog about, we are ALL responsible for ourselves. The formation of unions has been one way that “the worker” has protected themselves.

OK … so unions COULD be a valuable asset to the worker, BUT in my world they need to be a POSITIVE asset and NOT a NEGATIVE force.

What do I mean by that? Here are some thoughts …

1. What if unions were represented on company boards?
2. What if unions worked hand in glove with management with the goal of helping companies to be successful and profitable … hence creating employment.
3. What if unions recognized when global forces were at play, calling for compromises in order for companies to remain successful? What if management worked with the unions to share any profits?
4. What if unions employed their own resources that could provide independent advice and guidance to companies?
5. What if unions used their resources to provide their members with training that helped them to be more productive and thus help their companies to be more successful.
6. What if management shared the numbers with the union management in an open book format?
7. What if union management was comprised of MBAs, business people and leaders capable of working together with all stakeholders towards a common goal?
8. What if the value brought by unions was so great that companies would seek out unionized labour rather than fight it?

There was another “scouser” who grew up in working class Liverpool, John Lennon … I guess we are both dreamers!


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8 thoughts on “Kevin's Version of 21st Century Unions

  1. Hello UncleKevin –

    Some unions do do some of this. MY union does – apart from the MBA stuff – it works closely with management on issues like health and safety, it’s a positive force for good making the institution we work in a better place to work AND study. Union officials get “facilities time” to do this work, typically a few hours or half a day a week, and given that much of it is therefore done voluntarily, you can probably understand that it’s not a post that attracts many MBAs. (They’ve nearly all got PhDs though:-) The union is currently campaigning on many issues which are going to affect the university we work in – for example, new immigration regulations that will cut the number of overseas students – it’s bad for the staff, it’s bad for the university, and it’s bad for the country. The union doesn’t have an official seat on University Senate/Council (I don’t think), but the elected seats always include several union people. Hey, there’s an idea for you – do you have elected positions on your board? 🙂

    We’d certainly love it if management shared the numbers with the union, but to be honest, we seem to find out fairly quickly anyway… and there really is quite a lot of what we call “partnership working” – the union line is that you can’t be a world class university without world class staff terms and conditions.

    But you have to understand that the partnership working and the talking nicely is something that cuts both ways: when the boss gives himself a 10% payrise, then asks staff to take a 0% payrise (and make 5% cuts in expenditure), we’re gonna get all 1970s on his ass.

    h

  2. Hello UncleKevin –

    Some unions do do some of this. MY union does – apart from the MBA stuff – it works closely with management on issues like health and safety, it’s a positive force for good making the institution we work in a better place to work AND study. Union officials get “facilities time” to do this work, typically a few hours or half a day a week, and given that much of it is therefore done voluntarily, you can probably understand that it’s not a post that attracts many MBAs. (They’ve nearly all got PhDs though:-) The union is currently campaigning on many issues which are going to affect the university we work in – for example, new immigration regulations that will cut the number of overseas students – it’s bad for the staff, it’s bad for the university, and it’s bad for the country. The union doesn’t have an official seat on University Senate/Council (I don’t think), but the elected seats always include several union people. Hey, there’s an idea for you – do you have elected positions on your board? 🙂

    We’d certainly love it if management shared the numbers with the union, but to be honest, we seem to find out fairly quickly anyway… and there really is quite a lot of what we call “partnership working” – the union line is that you can’t be a world class university without world class staff terms and conditions.

    But you have to understand that the partnership working and the talking nicely is something that cuts both ways: when the boss gives himself a 10% payrise, then asks staff to take a 0% payrise (and make 5% cuts in expenditure), we’re gonna get all 1970s on his ass.

    h

  3. Thanks for the comments Hannah, and yes I know that unions do some of this (sometimes) … I also know that management is not always (very often even) willing to work this way.

    I also believe that the academic world is somewhat different.
    It is hard to measure the ROI on a university. Could I get my education by correspondence or “distance learning” through some other institution.
    What is a world class university … did they turn out all those people who tanked our financial markets for instance?
    If I am paying “big salaries” to lots of professors and teachers can my GDP support that? Should I spend the money on health care or the military?

    Unions generally tend to operate at a myopic level and we live in a global world. If losing a couple of dollars(pounds) in pay, or working an extra hour or two (when vacations are so generous) would save jobs then why not?

    This is a fascinating topic and could lead to long discussions … perhaps over wine when we visit this Summer?

  4. Thanks for the comments Hannah, and yes I know that unions do some of this (sometimes) … I also know that management is not always (very often even) willing to work this way.

    I also believe that the academic world is somewhat different.
    It is hard to measure the ROI on a university. Could I get my education by correspondence or “distance learning” through some other institution.
    What is a world class university … did they turn out all those people who tanked our financial markets for instance?
    If I am paying “big salaries” to lots of professors and teachers can my GDP support that? Should I spend the money on health care or the military?

    Unions generally tend to operate at a myopic level and we live in a global world. If losing a couple of dollars(pounds) in pay, or working an extra hour or two (when vacations are so generous) would save jobs then why not?

    This is a fascinating topic and could lead to long discussions … perhaps over wine when we visit this Summer?

  5. Ah the old “generous vacations” canard; I get 25 days a year. Just ’cause the students aren’t here doesn’t mean we don’t work.

    And yes a glass of wine in the summer is a definite possibility, I don’t know where I’ll be living or working though. It definitely won’t be Leeds, though, and it probably won’t be the UK. There’s no stability in academia at the moment, particularly not at the bottom end where I find myself!

  6. Ah the old “generous vacations” canard; I get 25 days a year. Just ’cause the students aren’t here doesn’t mean we don’t work.

    And yes a glass of wine in the summer is a definite possibility, I don’t know where I’ll be living or working though. It definitely won’t be Leeds, though, and it probably won’t be the UK. There’s no stability in academia at the moment, particularly not at the bottom end where I find myself!

  7. Maybe you’ll have to come over to the dark side! Spend some time away from academia, build some new exciting “in demand” product and experience the entrepreneurs world!

  8. Maybe you’ll have to come over to the dark side! Spend some time away from academia, build some new exciting “in demand” product and experience the entrepreneurs world!

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