Proud to Be Non-Union
Commenting to my initial mention of my latest Providence Journal op-ed, Michael writes:
I wonder why you find satisfaction in the “non-union” designation. I’ve worked for years in the construction trades and for the most part found union carpenters and their non-union counterparts have equal skills and ethics, only the union guys are making a fair and decent living and the non-union guys are struggling to make ends meet. Also, I’ve never seen an incompetent union carpenter, some non union contractors hire people with little or no skill.
The first thing to note is that I (in addition to my clients, I might add) am a manifest beneficiary of non-union contractors’ willingness to “hire people with little or no skill.” I’ll add to that their willingness to throw employees into situations for which they are not clearly prepared. I’ve been doing this work for about two and a half years, before which time I scarcely knew how to denail a 2×4, and market demands threw opportunities at my feet that never would have come my way in a controlled system. Before my first year of experience was complete, I was running a job (under my boss’s close watch, of course), and I had gained sufficient experience to begin finishing basements on the weekends. I suppose that some shifts in union tectonics might have yielded the same results, but I suspect that I’d still be “doing my time” and would certainly be further from the realistic possibility of going out on my own.
This ties into an overstatement on Michael’s part, which in turn recalls the central argument of my column: some “non-union guys” are doing just fine — many of them because they have become contractors themselves. They earn a healthy living by fostering a healthy market, by which I mean one with competition.
Although space constraints didn’t enable me to expound upon the “establish players” to whom my piece makes reference, union shops are clearly among them (perhaps chief among them). As Milton and Rose Friedman explained in Free to Choose, “A successful union reduces the number of jobs available of the kind it controls.” The relevant method of accomplishing this reduction is through licensure and other requirements for working. Increasing the regulations that weigh down an industry will increase the value of an organization that addresses those impositions, and the cost of overcoming the obstacles (and then some) will be passed on to the consumer.
Why am I satisfied to be non-union? First, because I can advance as quickly as my talents allow, even razing my own career path. And second, because I am not part of a system that is ultimately unhealthy for society and exploitative of consumers and the workforce both.