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« Preaching to the choir, disgusting the undecided? | Main | John Kerry's economic plan: putting a band-aid on a gaping injury? »

June 23, 2004


Kevin Heller

Are new non-union jobs that drive down wages for other workers in the community really better than no new jobs at all?

And is buying a few token shares of stock in Wal-Mart really a substitute for a company investing its profits in the community?

Tung Yin

Non-union jobs that drive down the wages for other workers are worse for the other workers, but better for the formerly unemployed who now get to work. This is one of the inherent paradoxes of unions -- they benefit their own members by sacrificing the interests of non-members. Maybe that's desirable, maybe not. Given the degree of federalization of labor and employment law today, my gut instinct (which can be easily persuaded otherwise by evidence) is that it's probably better to achieve wage/benefits through federal legislation than through unionization.

Consider the baseball players union, which is probably the all-time most successful union, always whomping on the owners in salary disputes. Who is hurt by the current system? Rookie players and undrafted free agents trying to enter the marketplace. Who's to say that the interests of the current baseball union members outweighs those of the others?

As for investment in the community, again, I think this is something that the community can decide for itself. If the local community really thinks local investment is that important, **they can refuse to shop at Wal-Mart.**

Kevin Heller

But it's the classic free-rider problem: because of Wal-Mart's economies of scale and reduced labor costs (via union-busting, for which the company is legendary), it's cheaper for individual consumers to purchase their household goods at Wal-Mart -- despite the fact that if every consumer does so, the community as a whole suffers through profit repatriation. It's capitalism at its "best": short-term rationality leads to long-term dysfunction.

By the way, I agree with you about the baseball union. But I think it's difficult to argue that rookies and undrafted free agents would be better off without a players' union; the answer, it seems to me, is in convincing/pressuring the union to treat rookies and undrafted free agents more fairly.

You'll probably reply to this -- with justification -- that internal change is unlikely to take place, given that the union is controlled by the super-rich players who have little incentive to care about the financial needs of rookies and undrafted free agents. That's the problem, as Marx himself pointed out, with unions that attempt to embrace workers with such vastly different pay-scales. If union members do not have (generally) the same economic interests, membership cohesion is impossible.

The same is true, it's worth noting, of the Writer's Guild of America -- low-level writers simply have different interests than high-level ones. Which is why I think it really is more of a guild than a union.

Kevin Heller

Another quick point: does anyone (other than the editors of the WSJ's editorial page) really believe workers are better off in right-to-work states than they are in states with strong, if flawed, unions?

Tung Yin

Again, it's a question of *who* is better off. The union workers are probably better off, because they are extracting higher wages/benefits from management. But they (sometimes) do so at the expense of unemployed workers who might otherwise be hired but for the union's extraction of higher wages/benefits.

We've glossed over the other thing that unions do, which is provide job security. Unfortunately, to maintain cohesiveness, unions end up defending job seniority, rather than performance merit. Perhaps in jobs where you really can't tell the difference between one worker or another, that makes sense. But if not, why shouldn't productive workers be protected over unproductive ones? While it would not be impossible for a union to bargain for merit based security, does any union do so?


2 things:

1 - What was the outcome? That was so unfair of you Professor, to keep us hanging like that.

2 - Stephanie likes this certain type of orange juice. At Smith's supermarket, a half-gallon carton costs $3.89. At the Wal-Mart, the same exact thing is $1.97. Why on earth would I buy it at Smith's? To support a union worker? OK, if that's so, why do I have to use the auto-checkout because there is only 1 cashier on duty and the 3 people in line have 100 items each?

Wal-Mart is nothing more than the new boogeyman. They aren't hurting anyone, except professional victims. You said it best:

As for investment in the community, again, I think this is something that the community can decide for itself. If the local community really thinks local investment is that important, **they can refuse to shop at Wal-Mart.**

What makes me laugh the most is the fight against Wal-Mart (i.e. in Chicago) in low-income minority communities. These are the same people who complain that no business wants to locate in these areas. Why shouldn't everyone have access to lower Wal-Mart prices?

I'll continue to save $$ by shopping there, and I won't feel one bit guilty for doing it.

Tung Yin

Brian, I was hoping that the result of the appeal would be obvious from the opening of the opinion. Doesn't it sound like the class counsel are just a bunch of greedy, rapacious jerks? They got more than 30 percent of the settlement fund, but they want almost 50 percent.

Jeff Findel

People always complain about the service at big scary chain stores like wal-mart also. The fact is, I always prefer to do my shopping at home depot or Lowes than at a small town hardware store. The staff doesn't put nearly the pressure sales on you and they would do anything for you. They get paid by the hour, they'd just as soon carry stuff for you or cut materials. The local hardware store owners don't give a crap about the $2 steel you want cut and that hurts them in the long run.

As for local grocery stores, bad produce, bad meat, high prices, poor selection. I'd drive 10 mins out of my way to go to a Meijer(which is the big grocery store chain in MI)

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