Monday, February 6, 2017

Time for a union?

On this weekend's radio show, we got a call from someone I'll call BQ suggesting chemists to
Unions always have the most interesting
patches. Credit: fffound
unionize in order to raise wages during the second hour. 

I've gotta admit, I'm skeptical. Private sector union membership has been in decline for decades*; I doubt that chemists could reverse that trend. But ever since the election, I am downgrading my ability to predict the future. I am more open than ever to be told that I am wrong - readers, have at. 

It seems to me that the time to create a union for chemists would be a time where individual chemists had power to exert over employers, i.e. employers suddenly have a high demand for chemists, and individual chemists forced employers to negotiate with a newly-formed union. Chemists would have to spend a lot of time organizing that union and signing up all the new graduates, etc., etc. 

Anyone have a different scenario? Let's have it. 

*This has been an active move on the part of private corporations - it did not happen in isolation.

21 comments:

  1. It's always seemed to me that unions are dying a slow death because they haven't changed in decades. They don't serve their members very well, and the adversarial position they take (often reflexively) doesn't benefit employers.

    It seems that a new model...one in which the union took charge of safety, training, and professional development as well as negotiating compensation and benefits...would generally benefit both the worker and the employer. I can see chemists and chemical engineers joining something like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with this, many unions' ways are outdated, but that doesn't mean that the concept of unionizing has no merit.

      I am sure there are pros and cons, but I don't find the Chemjobber's arguments very convincing. Union membership has been declining - therefore unions are not useful? Knowing that legislation has severely curtailed the power of unions for decades, I would be careful making a causality out of a correlation.

      The second argument: employees should be in a stronger position for a union to be successful. This could easily be turned around by saying unionizing gives employees a stronger voice. Also, given the automation of many jobs, I am not optimistic that the employees will be in a stronger negotiating position in the future.

      Delete
  2. While I do see many benefits of a bench chemists union, I'd prefer not giving any more reasons for my industry to outsource our jobs.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I haven't seen many examples of unions actually benefiting their members or their industry lately. Seems to me that many unions are just a way to make money (by forcing the employees to pay them) while advocating for their own causes, which may or may not reflect the opinions of their members. As a bench chemist, the last thing I need is another layer of bureaucracy slowing down my work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think unions benefit their workers: this, http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2012/12/17/closer-look-at-union-vs-nonunion-workers-wages/ suggests to me a significant financial advantage---to employees---of union membership (clearly the zero-sum side of this is disadvantage to employers). A better comparison would be to look at union versus non-union wages in the auto industry: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-09-15/u-s-autoworkers-get-paid-the-same-as-everyone-else.

      As always, it pays to remember the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules.....

      Delete
  4. If you want a union, join the ACS. You pay dues for nothing. Large salaries for those on the board. No real connection to those actually in industry. They love the academics who claim the answer is more STEM and will push for it because that is where the money is at. The ACS is a joke just like all the other unions out there. Lots of talk and little action to actually help the situation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i agree that the ACS is a joke, but i seen no vaild comparison between ACS and a union

      Delete
    2. The ACS tries to represent themselves as a chemists' union, but in reality they're a publishing house disguised as a nonprofit for tax purposes.

      Delete
  5. I understand this may piss people off, but as far as I can tell there might as well already be a union for industry chemists. The point of a union is to keep out 'scabs' who would work for cheap under miserable conditions. But already there's a widespread agreement not to hire out of the pool of disgruntled eternal postdocs, despite their often extensive skillsets and proven willingness to work long hours for cheap. At least, there was a few years ago, back when I was still trying for an industry position. Anyway, I say that you might not call what's going on a 'union' but it is. The mandatory '3-5 years of INDUSTRY experience' you see in nearly every job posting is probably not the work of the Big Boss - it's probably put in there by nervous mid-level salarymen who do not want to compete with some Ramen-eating starveling.

    And now I'm a member of a union, one widely vilified in media and politics, but I'm happy to pay my dues. Because, in the end, they were willing to let me in. And I'd rather deal with a union that admits what it is and what it does then some shadowy gentlemen's agreement to keep the riff-raff out. Oh they just wouldn't be fit for the corporate environment, don't you know, they'd probably fuck up their TPS cover sheets and hit Reply All to every email.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Unions don't just argue for better wages. They do many, many things for their members. For chemists this could include an educational campaign about the real future awaiting most chemistry majors, lobbying local governments, provide legal advice to members, etc.

    I think there is need for some kind of labor organization among industry chemists. However, there are many different ways that it could be implemented.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I want to make this comment regarding Unions. I work for a fortune 500 company, and while sitting around the lunch table this topic came up. To give a sense about the people sitting around the lunch table I am at they are probably being compensated 250-450k/yr. When asked whether unions were a good or bad deal, they agreed unions were good. Not only do unions push the wages up for the factory workers, this also gets translated to the salaried workers to be compensated well. I will even go so far to give a specific example. At one particular place of employment (company A) the laborers earn in the mid 20s/hr, and receive excellent benefits. This translates into scientists making in the 90s, senior scientists in the 120's and so forth. I am not going to say all places act like this but typically this is what is found in a company that has a strong union. Now lets say we have company B and they pay there laborers 10 plus an hour and have no union, the scientists will not be compensated like they would have if they worked for company A. Typically unions want 2.5 hrs of your pay per month. Now if I do the math and if you make 15 dollars an hour at company b assuming a 40 hour work week, and a 4 week month, your gross pay would be 2400. Lets say you now work for company A making 25 dollars an hour with the same math. Your gross pay is 4000, but you have to pay those pesky union dues which is 2.5 hrs worth of your work which now drops your gross to 3937.50. How terrible it is to pay those union dues when you make 1537.50 more a month. The only people who don't want to join unions are those who do not want people to make a decent living, or those too ignorant to know better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. A poorly administered union can be as worthless as the ACS, but a functional union can be a powerful advocate for workers. My father was an IBEW member (Int. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and they really took care of their people during hard times and the union leaders were respected members of the community. On the other hand, my wife has been associated with a teacher's union for years and it's been one debacle after another. I'd gladly shift my ACS dues to a real union if such a thing existed. That being said, my last company (a fortune 50 that rhymes with "cow") would have absolutely shut that sh** down.

      Delete
    2. Just a question out of curiosity. Do you think Dow would of shut it down because they would of been held to a higher standard? I

      Delete
    3. I don't think it's about standards, just top-down control. Dow uses a forced ranking system to award bonuses, raises, promotions, etc. As a collective bargaining group, unions don't really fit into that "individual performance accountability" bucket. If Dow's leaders or HR rep won't take a meeting with the union rep, what's the point of the union?

      Delete
  8. They started a grad students' union when I was at UIUC in the early 2000's. The problem is, it strictly covered only grad student teaching duties and not our research work. Grad students in humanities departments had legitimate complaints of overwork in their TA assignments, but the chemistry students generally had light or nonexistent teaching loads. We resented being forced to pay dues to a union fighting for things that didn't really apply to us.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Union for bench chemists?

    GREAT. only members of a certain job classification will be able to DO reactions in round bottom flasks. Another classification will cover jacketed reactors. Yet another classification will be needed for distillations and another for extractions.

    Hmmm, I wonder if you need a distillation or extraction person to run soxhlet extractions?

    I'm sure there will be several Union Stewards roaming around to sort everything out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know an ex-DuPont chemist who told me their lab technicians were unionized (not the scientists), and it created an added level of bureaucracy. You had to give the technician a written procedure to follow rather than informal verbal directions, which made it a pain to make changes on the fly. Sounds to me like a good way to encourage the technicians to be robots rather than active participants and contributors.

      Delete
    2. we have technicians who demand that type of instruction where I work and we are not unionized. We are not empowered to decline that request.
      In all honesty, if they want it in writing, are you seriously going to be able to tell a technician no if they say its a safety issue or if they want to get HR involved? Not having a union does not mean you suddenly have an engaged, curious lot of technicians or even scientists for that matter.

      Delete
    3. I think they want written procedures to be covered in case they are blamed if it goes wrong or doesn't work. It is easy to say "I told so and so to do it this way and then it didn't go as planned. WIth a written procedure it is clear what was supposed to have been done.

      Delete
    4. that's one way to get there. A tech has an a-hole boss who berates him/her when things don't go well or the tech missed something that the that boss assumed "everyone knows".
      i guess my point is that a little understanding and empathy can go a long way in work relationships. in the absence of that understanding, documentation rules the day and flexibility frequently suffers

      Delete
  10. A lot of Unions have contracts regarding who gets canned first when layoffs happen. Usually it is first in/ last out. Which would have been a benefit to many chemists who are now unemployed after they are 40. I think one of the issues for the Union would be limiting the entry of foreigners into the country to do these jobs. Obviously not a popular idea for some big name groups with armies of foreign PhD's and post-docs to grind out their synthesis grinds toward the B ring of Whocaresmycin.

    ReplyDelete