Do Unions Really Protect Bad Workers from Getting Fired?

Seattle Worker AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2018-page010

By Lindsay Mimir

We should stop thinking about unions from the boss’ perspective. The bosses love at-will employment, where they can fire anyone for any reason. Unions force bosses to establish just cause to fire someone, a very reasonable demand that unions make to employers. If the bosses can’t even get enough evidence to establish just cause, then that’s management’s fault and those workers probably aren’t that bad in the first place. At-will employment uses the threat of getting fired to keep us in line and keep us desperate. Don’t take the boss’ side against your fellow workers.

Unions protect all workers from getting fired. So many people are living paycheck-to-paycheck that having job protection can ensure that people don’t become homeless, lose access to healthcare, or suffer food insecurity. Forcing the bosses to establish just cause can be life-saving protection when we are all one or two paychecks away from disaster. And no one deserves to be out on the street because they aren’t perfect employees. Everyone makes mistakes, whether that’s being late for the bus, taking a long lunch, or forgetting an important task in their department. No matter how frustrating a coworker might be to work with, they still deserve a living wage and meaningful employment.

And unions protect good workers from getting fired too. What about people who do great work by bending or even breaking company rules? Everyone knows that teacher who violated a policy to help a student in need; everyone knows that cashier who accepted an expired coupon to provide excellent customer service; everyone knows that food server who gave free food to hungry people who couldn’t afford it. Getting caught doing something good for the community shouldn’t mean people are automatically out of a job.

Unions also ensure that loyal and hardworking people have recourse when their employers get greedy. People who have earned raises through loyalty don’t deserve to be fired because they “make too much money.” Workers who are good union organizers are dangerous to management. Workers who are over-qualified, have a lot of experience, and who mentor younger people are dangerous too. They deserve to have their wages and jobs protected. Having a union–a body of fellow workers who can intervene before a worker gets fired or demand a worker get their job back–keeps the bosses in line.

[Originally published in issue 3 of the Seattle Worker]

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