Friday, October 8, 2010

Bargaining with a Giant

Bargaining when you are forced to take an offer and only have one person you can take it from gets pretty crazy.  I was thinking about this issue in regards to the recent posts I have made about unions and strikes and in particular the comments I got on them.  The thing is that in the sort of job market I have always found myself in the idea of needing a union was pretty ridiculous because everyone taking a job had literally a thousand other companies they could work for doing similar work.  When you are a salesman you can always find a job and the idea of a single employer monopoly is pretty ludicrous so you don't need protection from a company that wants to offer you terrible compensation.  If a company tries to pay its sales force 25k a year they are going to end up constantly turning over people and employing only those who are too wretched to be working anywhere good.  If they pay 75k they can be fairly choosy and only keep the people that perform well so there isn't any need for worker protection that goes beyond the basics that government offers, the system corrects itself.

However, (and this is where my particular experiences let me down) this is not true in situations where there are monopolies on hiring, especially when the cost of getting trained for the job is substantial.  Most salesmen are perfectly able and willing to do other work and their 'training' for their job consisted of learning to talk to other people so they give up virtually nothing to exit the field or swap jobs.  In the case of skilled tradesmen or teachers, among others, the situation is different because the person in question spent a lot of time and money getting the specific training they need so they can't easily go to another job or industry.  It is much easier in that situation for an employer to be in a monopolistic position so it is entirely reasonable for the employees to respond by setting themselves up as an opposing monopoly in an attempt to level the playing field.  There are other times when an employer, whether it be a government or a company, ends up in a monopoly and the only way to avoid the employees getting really reamed is unionization.

So if you are a teacher, like my brother Matt, you can't easily swap professions logistically even if you weren't emotionally committed.  You also face a government employer that would happily chop your wages and benefits to nothing to balance budgets if they could get away with it so you need some bargaining power to prevent that.  If you are a salesman like me you can swap employers or fields with minimal cost and can negotiate with a thousand different companies for the best terms so you need nothing to support your negotiation other than your own skills.  If you are a garbage worker in Toronto you have minimal investiture in the field, you can swap jobs easily and yet you have a union working for you that regularly gets you into strikes, takes a chunk of your wages and gets you 18 sick days a year.  In the first situation a union exists and seems necessary, in the second no union exists (I would *love* to see someone try to set up a salesman's union, that would be comedy for the ages) and is patently unnecessary, and in the third a union exists and it is a terrible mess.

So I was wrong.  There is a time and a place for unions.  However, many of the unions out there right now aren't useful entities preventing monopolistic disaster but simply leeches on the system, producing nothing of value of their own.

No comments:

Post a Comment