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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Strong unions can be good for business

Strong unions have a definite place in making a better world. Not only do unions play a vital role in collectively bargaining for decent wage rates and conditions for workers, but they can be a vehicle for improving business performance. One of the most successful restaurant and hotel workers union is Local 6 in New York. This union was founded in 1938 and organises 23,000 restaurant and hotel workers. The union has created, with the Hotel Association, a hotel workers’ health plan that is a model for what a health care system should be – effective, humane and efficient. A healthy, efficient workforce is the result.
What business-owners can gain from a professional relationship with a strongly organised union is also shown in the New York hotels. Those that are non-union suffer from the continual, unmediated conflicts that plague all-too many New Zealand workplaces as well. The union-sites in New York are, in contrast, relatively conflict-free. In the hotel industry petty corruption and favouritism is rife. Organised workers have rights and these are respected by all when the union is known to be strong enough to enforce them. Demoralising disrespect of workers, and corruption, are ferreted out to the benefit of company and employees alike.
As a veteran waiter at one New York hotel put it: “The union takes jobs and turns them into professions. It makes better managers out of management. The good ones get better – the bad ones don’t survive.”
What’s more, the fact that all the good hotels have to pay the union-negotiated wage rates means that hotels are competing on an even playing field when it comes to labour costs – the union takes wages out of the equation. This means that the productivity benefits from better paid more contented workers are shared by all hotels. It also means that rapacious, profit-gouging REITs (real estate investment trusts) cannot wreak the havoc in the hotel industry that they do in other “less regulated” markets.
Thirty years of failed neoliberal policies have empowered the very-rich classes at the expense of the rest of us. It is time to try a new way to run our businesses, and our world.  

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