Beer, neoliberalism, and unions

fat_tire Matt Yglesias returns to the subject of beer and the deregulation of the beer industry during the Carter industry. I’m going to take a bit of credit for the debate that was sparked around the subject last year. I’m glad to see it resurfacing since I think a lot about both the political and economic lessons of this deregulatory push and a lot of time drinking really tasty craft brews that weren’t available thirty years ago.

Matt links to Erik Loomis, who writes:

By 1979, most of these local brewers were no more. I remember a few from growing up in the Pacific Northwest–Henry Weinhard, Olympia, Rainier, Lucky. Friends of mine a bit older could remember beers like Great Falls Select. But most were gone. However, in that year, President Carter deregulated the beer industry, allowing the sale of malt, hops, and yeast to home brewers. Thus began the microbrew revolution. From the perspective of Miller executives, this sucks because they have to produce an ever-increasing number of beers to keep control of the market. I mean, if everyone just drank piss, we could make so much money!

From my perspective of course, this is an unadulterated good. Not only has it allowed the United States to become second only to Belgium in the production of quality beer (and I’ll take an argument that the US is #1), but it has opened the minds of even people who would normally be happy to drink crappy beer. I mean, Shock Top and Blue Moon are not good beers, but they are better than Bud Light.

Matt makes a smart follow up observation:

So here’s the thing. You may not like Miller or Bud Light, but Miller and Anheuser-Busch both run unionized breweries. And as Loomis notes, one consequence of the cartelization of the American beer brewing industry was to generate monopoly profits for the large breweries. This was good not just for “Miller executives” but for all the stakeholders in the enterprise. When a unionized firm is in a non-competitive marketplace, the union is in a strong position to force the firm to share some of the monopoly rents with the workforce. When the market becomes more competitive, not only does the unionized firm lose market share but the union in general loses leverage. The craft breweries are basically the charter schools (or foreign-built trains) of the beer world. Personally, I don’t think that’s a good reason to maintain a non-competitive market in beer any more than I oppose charter schools or imported trains. But I do hear a lot more from people who think of themselves as being “to my left,” who seem to me to spend a lot more time talking about the desirability of being more supportive of labor unions than they do talking about what concrete steps they want to take to achieve this mission. In a highly competitive market, there’s not much surplus for unions to get a share of.

Maybe this is just a sign that I’m privileged and I’ve got mine or something, but I wouldn’t trade the good craft brews of today for the piss beers of yesteryear (okay they still dominate the market somehow, but their grip is slipping) just to get the good union jobs back. Hell, I’d rather work at New Belgium than Coors. The New Belgium brewery, while not a union shop, is about as green as any brewery in the country, and I’m not sure but I think an environmentally friendly outfit that makes high quality, unique American beer somehow represents the liberal ethos better than mega-corporations who employ union workers.

Maybe there is a way to make unions and a highly fluid, highly competitive market work together. It just isn’t the old model of corporate or state-backed unionism we’ve become accustomed to for the past seventy years.

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111 thoughts on “Beer, neoliberalism, and unions

  1. I’m sure every leftie would agree to a world where the large corporations that hold 70-80% of a market have unionized workers and the small competitors that only have a a small percentage of the market don’t have unions. That would immediately increase union density by insane amounts and would be a positive good.

    But of course you’re privileged. I bet you’ve never had your hours mysteriously cut after complaining about safety conditions at a workplace, been fired for asking why there’s toxic material on a job site, or not been paid your correct wages and been told to basically, “too bad.” In all of those things, a union would be helpful.

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          • I know this because I’ve known several people who’ve worked for small businesses. In general, they don’t offer benefits, or you have to pay an inordinate share of the benefits, overtime rules are loosely followed if at all, etc.

            The problem with the “compete for quality workers with other outfits” theory is that most small businesses are just hiring who they can get, precisely because they can’t provide the same benefits (and salaries, in a lot of cases), that larger employers get. This means high turnover, of course, but except in specialized fields (say medical billing, but physicians and dentists are two of the worst types of small business owners to work for, in general), the supply stream is fairly steady, so that’s not a huge issue.

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              • No, of course not. I’m making a generalization, obviously. That still doesn’t change the fact that small businesses tend not to have the resources or the systems in place to treat employees as well as large busiensses tend to. There are disadvantages to large businesses: you’re relatively anonymous, and it’s easy for them to lay off large groups of people without giving it a second thought. But in most cases, I think the advantages of better benefits, better HR systems, etc., tend to outweigh those. Again, these are generalizations. I’m sure there are plenty of small businesses at which it’s quite pleasant to work.

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  2. Dear lord I would never privilege paying less for beer over having more people able to maintain a middle-class standard of living. I’d imagine this were a ham-fisted anti-American parody if I didn’t know better.

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      • Erik, you’re definitely not unaware of the significant, if potentially silly, movement among many bourgeoisie-leftists (I know, I know) who willfully pay more for things because they believe the purveyors treat their employees and the environment more humanely than do larger businesses with cheaper products.

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          • Yeah I’m one of those people, when my finances allow it.

            But I misunderstood the dynamic here and should correct myself. It’s not cheaper, no, it’s more variety.

            I think if this were something else besides beer it’d be easier for me to come at it with less cultural baggage.
            And it’s all about degrees. If the choice is between more consumer products vs. unions maintaining, say, comparatively extravagant benefits — well, then I’m going to be fine with tipping the balance the other way.

            But if the choice is between a product and the dissolution of a union, I’m going with people over product every time.

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            • Which people? And how? Do we maintain strict regulations that serve no other purpose than to prop up large corporations because they employ union workers? Does this qualify as going “with the people” over the product? What about people who want a specific product but can’t choose it because of the legal regime? Those people matter as well, as do the people who want to make and sell that product.

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              • A person’s desire to have a product is not equivalent to a person’s desire to send their kid to college without saddling them with exorbitant debt. I don’t think it’s close. We all have rights to various things and desires for various things and they’re inevitably going to crash — so it’s about balancing. In my imagination, the people in unions need to be demanding the maintenance of quite a lot for me to tip the balance towards the dude who wants some fancy beer without paying high import prices; or the guy who wants to start his own brewery but doesn’t want to have to move to do it.

                But as a commenter below me says, it’s not even clear that this dynamic is necessary rather than the product of terrible and restrictive law. A good result of making it so damn hard to unionize in this country is forcing pro-union people to defend positions like what I’ve outlined above, which is essentially patriarchal, rather than emphasizing how it’s an initial act of government regulation and control that got us into this mess to begin with.

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                • You’re not answering the question, you’re dodging it by implying that supporting big corporations that hire union workers means that people will be able to send their kids to college. Why is that? I’m asking if you think that we should legally protect those corporations *because* they employ union workers at the expense – not of people being able to buy fancy beer – but of people being able to buy *and* sell what they want. This is not about fancy beer, it’s about people being able to decide about what they can or cannot do with their lives based on legal limitations.

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                  • I think his argument is even worse than that, as he seems to be implying that good labor conditions *only* come from unionized shops, which is both plainly false in general, and particularly false in the beer industry.

                    Dovetailing with my comment below, I invite a comparison between the wages and benefits of a union worker at a typical Anheuser-Busch plant with the employees of Dogfish Head, Avery, or similar.

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                  • What? Obviously I consider unionization a key part of reducing income inequality and maintaining a large middle class. I think that’s a positive good of more importance than whether or not someone can sell or buy beer. You can gussy it up if you want by saying this is about what we can or cannot do with our lives — as if we’re talking about the right to worship or love or whatever — but I’m not buying it.

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                    • You are continually dodging any concrete answer to any of my questions. This isn’t about a right to worship. I’m asking you specifically: should we place legal protections around big corporations that employ union workers that would quash non-union competitors like small craft brewers?

                      If you think this, does it matter whether or not the union workers actually earn higher wages and better benefits than the workers in small breweries (not to mention the loss of consumer choice, entrepreneurship, etc.)

                      In other words, do you support corporatist policies that benefit unions simply because you view union density as a net positive that outweighs the positive goods I’ve described?

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                    • I think what I’ve just posted might be answer enough but: no, I don’t think a union is good because it’s a union. I do think that it’s important to recognize whether or not we’re in an environment where unionization is available for those who seek it.

                      I think too often the discussion of unionization in the blogosphere happens without recognition of whether or how hard it is for workers to unionize under the American legal system, if they so choose. Arguing about whether or not unions are great or terrible in the abstract without focusing on this more important point doesn’t help much other than offer justifications and rationalizations for not doing something about making it easier for people, who so choose, to unionize. I don’t think that’s useful.

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                    • Elias: The disconnect in your argument, at least for me, is your lack of specificity on what “unionization is available for those who seek it” would look like in a typical small company, and what benefits would supposedly accrue to these employees.

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                    • That’s true. It was my mistake to operate as if it were. I think I did so because it seems to me to be the question. If we lived in an environment where everyone could unionize if they wanted to, I think the landscape would be enormously different, and arguments like the one Yglesias puts forth would be much less salient.

                      ETA: It’s your post, though, and I don’t want to side-track it further. So this one can wait for another time.

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    • This is about paying more for better beer, not paying less for beer.

      And I’d want to know more about how craft breweries actually treat their workers before I made any judgement calls on this. Having a non-unionized workforce does not invariably mean treating your workers poorly or having low wages.

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  3. In other words, a market environment which is good for unions is also bad for small businesses. Similarly, people who like unions don’t seem to care all that much about small businesses.

    I think we already knew this.

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  4. The argument that smaller shops means fewer unions doesn’t make sense. There’s no difference, really, in the underlying dynamic. In fact, smaller shops may be less able to resist unionization because of brand damage, insufficient staff, etc.

    The decline of union breweries, if there is one, would likely have more to do with the fact that union formation has slowed to almost nothing. New entrants won’t have a prëexisting union and are unlikely to acquire them later. Moreover, like you said, the new entrants may also simply pay better and possess better work environments; we shouldn’t underestimate this factor, newer companies are often more responsive to newer workplace norms, lacking a conservative old guard (compare HP, MS, et al with any startup).

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    • “The argument that smaller shops means fewer unions doesn’t make sense. There’s no difference, really, in the underlying dynamic.”

      There’s a huge difference in the underlying dynamic, as both Loomis and Yglesias explain.

      When markets are monopolies (or oligopolies or cartels or similarly non-competitive markets), the dominant companies have strong incentives to ignore the wants and needs of both their customers and their labor force, which is a main driver of unionization.

      Smaller companies, or even larger companies in competitive markets, on the other hand, have stronger incentives toward labor and customer satisfaction, providing in turn a disincentive for union formation.

      In concrete terms, Sam Calagione’s workforce would look at you like you’d grown a second head if you suggested to them they needed to unionize.

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      • This doesn’t disagree with me at all and, in fact, reiterates a point I made above.

        My point, which should have been extremely clear, was simply that there is no underlying dynamic in monopolies vis-a-vis smaller firms that itself prevents unionization. Nothing about firm size should impact unionization. Nothing.

        From there, I went to suggest that declining unionization is the product primarily of new entrants and nodded to the idea that they offered better pay and environments than older companies were ever inclined to as a byproduct of their newness.

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        • I think it does disagree with you substantially, as I’m positing that the primary incentives for union formation are much less likely to exist in small companies and competitive markets precisely because of the underlying dynamics of these markets versus non-competitive ones.

          Unions form in company/factory towns because of the underlying dynamics of a non-competitive labor market, and the reason employees of firms like New Belgium or Dogfish Head don’t unionize isn’t because of artificial barriers to unionization, but rather because there isn’t value in it for them.

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        • “My point, which should have been extremely clear, was simply that there is no underlying dynamic in monopolies vis-a-vis smaller firms that itself prevents unionization. ”

          Nobody’s disagreeing with you about this. We’re disagreeing with your contention that the reason so few small breweries are union shops is an overall decline in unions across the board.

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          • But no one has yet raised a reliable contention against this. The baseline presumption would simply be that the slowdown in union formation, which precedes the competitive environment being discussed, implies that future union membership will be lower and that new entrants will cause this decline to accelerate for *wholly mechanical reasons*.

            My further contention is that this has little to do with competition and much to do with culture; newer entrants bring new ideas about pay and work environment uncommon when older executives began their careers. Competitive pressure may even be absent here: craft brew may be wholly cultural with no amount of potential market demand able to actually create craft brew otherwise.

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            • You seem to be disagreeing with EDK and then agreeing with him. First you say that microbrewery union membership is simply following the rest of the labor market. Then you say that the union membership in the labor market is declining because employers have internalized the things that unions were striving for–which is exactly what EDK (and Matt Yglesias) are saying.

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              • And I’m insisting I don’t disagree with him; in fact, I seem to be doing that every third comment.

                Where I disagree is the monopoly/firm size argument. I think it’s new entrants *by virtue of newness* that are driving changes in employer behavior because newer companies tend to be headed by “younger” people in terms of age or career in an industry. Their ideas about employee relations, ethical business practices and so on will reflect that and be reflected in how their business is run.

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                  • No. That’s the argument from Loomis and Yglesias that Kain actually semi-rejects at the end:

                    “Maybe there is a way to make unions and a highly fluid, highly competitive market work together. It just isn’t the old model of corporate or state-backed unionism we’ve become accustomed to for the past seventy years.”

                    And, strangely enough, I agree with this statement very strongly.

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    • In addition to what DarrenG ably pointed out, unions impose pretty high costs on employers in terms of added benefits and loss of flexibility. Miller and Busch can deal with that, because they’re multi-billion-dollar operations. A startup can’t, and as such, unions can actually operate as a pretty effective barrier to market entry.

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      • Not really. Only post-NLRB and within that system is this actually true because it requires a bureaucratic shop procedure with contract negotiations and so on. Pre-NLRB unions did not function this way and, generally, a strike was for a specific list of easily met demands. There was no continuing element to this system.

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  5. I’m gonna agree with the hyena here. There’s no reason the smaller breweries wouldn’t unionize unless 1) the rules for unionization are too strict or 2) the smaller shops are really good at treating their workers so that there aren’t unionization pressures.

    Do we know how unionization looks in other countries with different union laws.

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    • This strain of argument seems to assume union formation is something that happens organically within any labor market that doesn’t have artificial barriers to unionization, rather than unionization being a response to conditions prevailing within a particular labor market.

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      • No, the position is clearly stated: there’s nothing about firm size or monopoly which in itself creates incentives to unionize. It’s useful to disentangle our ideas from each other, especially since if you assume that monopoly is the source of unions, then you have to figure out why unionization existed before the post-War settlement.

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        • I’ll admit to not being an expert on the history of the labor movement, but most of what I know about the rise of the movement in the U.S. in the late 1800s supports my claim of unionization as a response to non-competitive markets like those that prevailed among the railroads, mining industry, and company towns run by heavy manufacturers like McCormick.

          I think there’s a reason that unions arose in certain industries and markets and not in others.

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          • The auto-industry unionized. So too did meat packing. The Teamsters formed in an environment that was actually dominated by individual contractors. The AFL was an organization that went around organizing regionally, creating union monopolies within competitive industries. (For example, competing steel mills might all have the same union. They are the ones who formed the modern unified Teamsters union.)

            So, yeah, competitive industries had unions. In fact, there might have been more unions under competition than later under conglomeration.

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            • I suspect similar labor conditions prevailed among the auto manufacturers and meat packers that unionized (the UAW and CIO came along well after the first major wave of consolidation in the auto industry and didn’t touch smaller manufacturers for a very long time).

              I will formally chicken out of discussing the AFL, IWW, and similar organizations because I fear what will happen to this otherwise-interesting and productive thread if we bring collectivist labor politics into it :)

              The Teamsters is an interesting case, although I would assert it’s not a particularly helpful one for the pro-unions-for-small-business cause, given the history of that organization even in its pre-mafia days.

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              • I don’t see what the “pro-union cause” has to do with any of this.

                My point is simple: the labor conditions are clearly independent of firm size and even competitive pressure. The reason labor conditions are such-and-such a way is in large part cultural, as that shapes basic preferences.

                New entrants ipso facto move an industry towards whatever the prevailing norms are. If norms are less adversarial towards workers, then new entrants will push the industry there *even if the competitive pressure never changes*. For example, if it were Coors and every decade there was a new competitor who would operate only for ten years, then be magically replaced, norms would still advance in half the industry.

                It’s a subtle point but it’s important and I think borne out by experience with and observations of newer firms.

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                • If you have empirical data that supports the claim that “labor conditions are clearly independent of firm size and even competitive pressure” I’d love to see it, as that seems to be the major sticking point here.

                  I don’t believe this claim is true at all, but that’s based on personal experience and anecdata, not any comprehensive quantitative information.

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                  • Please don’t demand “empirical evidence” in a thread where I’ve done nothing but describe the history of unions and the conditions under which they formed in the pre-War period. I’ve been doing quite a lot of that.

                    If you don’t like my evidence, don’t agree with it or whatever, fine. That’s your right. But don’t go acting like I haven’t given you specific examples.

                    I’m not going down to the LA Public just so I can generate a full list of citations for some dude on the Internet. I kind of went forward with that same level of charity for you.

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                    • I don’t think your list of anecdotes about union formation has established a clear de-linking of company size and market characteristics from union formation, as I’ve attempted to illustrate (most of your examples have, in fact, been of unions forming in large companies in non-competitive labor markets).

                      And LA Public? Really? There’s this new thing called “Google…”

                      I had hoped you were repeating your assertion that there was no correlation between company size, labor market, and unionization rate because you possessed more persuasive information than what you’d posted so far. Bad assumption noted.

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              • Recall that for a long time the AFL and the CIO were different models of unions. The AFL really was a modernization of the old guild system. It favored craft unions, such as plumbers, electricians, locomotive engineers etc. So you had a union for all the skilled workers. The CIO on the other hand was for unionizing all workers at an enterprise including the unskilled (who were nothing to the AFL unions).
                In many respects its the issue of the semi-skilled and unskilled that comes up in these discussions, not so much the craft unions.

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            • I think that one of the things thats led to marginalization of the unions is each company’s employees are a seperate entity. When the Ralph’s (a local grocery in SoCal) employees went on strike, other employees in other stores, and in other regions of the country didn’t join in the strike. This has greatly reduced their effectiveness and thus their appeal.

              As to unions being a “barrier to entry”, In consider them a cost of doing business, just like light bulbs. And just because a company doesn’t need unions today, doesn’t mean it won’t need them tomorrow (Sam Walton didn’t need unions, but his heirs sure do! Right now, In-and-Out Burgers doesn’t need them, but they might down the road.)

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          • +1 DarrenG. These things get abstracted in a hurry, and there was a constellation of factors that made unionization c1850-1950 a necessary good: the quick rise of exponentially more productive but still labor-intensive industry; monosopy of labor in a given locale, hence low wages; near-complete disregard for worker safety and health.

            Still, through WWI, union membership hovered only around 10%, and how many of those factors sustain today? We do have minimum wage laws and OSHA, etc., as documented by the below Mises take on labor history and labor law, perhaps helpful for the libertarian-minded:

            http://mises.org/daily/3553

            [I agree w/EDK—a very good discussion. Cheers to all.]

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              • Not beer—chocolate! Shocking labor abuse from Hershey’s, although it appears it was a subcontractor.

                http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/us/18immig.html?_r=3&hpw

                Thing is, the conditions sound like what once was the norm in company towns, and why unions had traction.

                I dunno about craft breweries, which isn’t as good a gig as L’il Abner’s as a mattress tester, but it doesn’t sound bad. To unionize such a decent gig [if we assume it’s like Ben & Jerry’s except with beer], the question is why unionization is any more than a theoretical or aesthetic good rather than a necessary good.

                And if I were Jen & Berry’s Craft Beer Co., I’d say fine, unionize if you want, but no more free beer. Your call.

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  6. I think it adds something ironic – but not really important – to the debate going on here to note that NB is actually a privately held [company–ed.] where employee own 43% of the company. Workers there went right past unions to become part-owners of the means of production.

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      • What happens in a generation or two when NB is still a going concern (I hope) and there isn’t equity room for the next crop of workers?

        multiple places. You seem to believe that it isn’t possible in the US for unions to form. I don’t know the laws in NZ, but there’s a rather large dept. of gov’t here called Labor with its own cabinet position that pretty much guarantees the right to unionize. Now the dems want to “enhance” the right by taking away the ability for workers to cast private votes. Given the strong arm tactics unions used for decades, this isn’t such a great change, but that’s a different argument.

        Do unions have the right to unionize any company at all? YES!
        Are they very successful in that endeavor? NO!
        The why of that is also another discussion.

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          • , as I said, that is another discussion viz Darren’s post 39 above, there is a lot more to the subject.

            In my youth, I was a card-carrying Teamsters member. While working my way through college as a roughneck on drilling rigs, our crew was approached by some – gentlemen who informed us that we had better join the union, or else. I don’t believe those “gentlemen” had ever dealt with roughnecks before and am certain they never volunteered to deal with roughnecks again. However, drilling company management came by a couple of days later to inform us that while we were well within our rights to defend ourselves the bigger company did not want any trouble with unions and therefore we were now in the Teamsters. We all said, “hell no” but we received cards, our dues were paid for us by the company and not one thing changed in our job.

            Well, not quite, there was a guy we were forced to “hire” who showed up but he was afraid of heights. If you’ve ever seen a drilling rig, you’ll note there is a derrick. He climbed about 15 feet up the derrick and got scared and didn’t move. We had to climb up the wrong (inside slant) side of the ladder all shift to get around his sorry ass. The next day we built a shed out of scrap wood and gave him a deck of cards to play solitaire with and never saw him again.

            Not all Americans have a fond view of unions.

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            • Union extortion, how amazing. It has been quite amusing to read about the union thuggery during the current Verizon strike. We need more right to work laws and less gov’t interference on behalf of the union like Barry’s NLRB suing Boeing for moving to SC.

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              • Corporation thuggery is worldwide, on a vast scales, costs normal people billions, and every so often, kills some people in the name of a 1/4 stock point bump.

                On the other side, union thuggery usually involves one person out of a crowd maybe pushing somebody down and even then, it turns out the person being pushed down is overinflating their injuries. So, at the end of the day, I’d take the 10 most corrupt union bosses that exist today over your average CEO.

                Oh, and the NLRB is going after Boeing becuase they broke a law. I realize in conservative world, corporations can’t break a law because they can do whatever the hell they want without any repercussions.

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        • “What happens in a generation or two when NB is still a going concern (I hope) and there isn’t equity room for the next crop of workers?”

          The same thing that happens all the time in growing public corporations, I imagine — they will choose to issue more shares. While this dilutes the equity stake of current shareholders, owning a smaller piece of a bigger pie can still be a good deal on balance for them.

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  7. While this thread is still going strong, I just want to thank all the participants for making this a truly enjoyable and informative conversation. Too often lately threads have capsized into tension and bitterness, and I’m pleased to see how productive and smart this one has been so far. Thanks.

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  8. Maybe there is a way to make unions and a highly fluid, highly competitive market work together.

    Wasn’t there once a company (or rather, an independent division of a larger company) called “Saturn”? Unions? Check. Successful? At least within the first few years. There are a number of reasons that Saturn is no more, but I would posit that the UAW was the least of the factor (the attitude of GM toward the UAW was a WHOLE ‘nother story!).

    When we link unions and organized crime, can we also at least mention the “Pinks”? The Pinkertons were formed to break up legal union gatherings “by any means necessary”, including deadly force.

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  9. Not only has it allowed the United States to become second only to Belgium in the production of quality beer

    Someone has never been to the Czech Republic.

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  10. “Hell, I’d rather work at New Belgium than Coors.”

    How do you know this? Is the pay the same? Are the working conditions? I think this statement is probably the surer sign of privilege. You seem to be looking for “satisfatction” or “happiness” in your work. Most people either don’t care or don’t have that luxury. Most waitresses I know would quit the mom-and-pop diner they work at in favor of the Olive Garden if they thought the latter would pay two percent more. Unless they are not really waitresses, but college students waiting tables until something better comes along.

    Maybe New Belgium offers better pay and better benefits. I honestly have no idea. I’m just saying that “rather” doesn’t play a big role in a lot of peoples’ employment decisions.

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      • But again, coolness doesn’t matter much to most people.

        “I’m not sure but I think an environmentally friendly outfit that makes high quality, unique American beer somehow represents the liberal ethos better than mega-corporations who employ union workers.”

        Not many people spend a lot of time thinking about political ethos when weighing one job opportunity over another.

        Maybe it’s a failure that unions don’t spend a lot of time negotiating liberal ethos or free bikes into their contracts. Or maybe their workers don’t care about those things. Or maybe they would care but can’t afford to.

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          • Maybe I misread your penultimate paragraph, but this seemed like a central part if your thesis:

            “Hell, I’d rather work at New Belgium than Coors.”

            I took it to mean that you were positing, in some fashion, that hell, who cares about the union jobs? I’d rather work at this non-unionized place! Because of political ethos, etc. Without really delving into whether or not the company provides things that some people who aren’t you might be interested in.

            If that’s a nit, my apologies for picking it.

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            • I think the larger point is that the big corporate model works well for the big union model, but that a highly competitive market is less conducive to unionization and this may be partly because the labor pool is also more competitive, less standardized, etc. in the more competitive market than in the big corporate model.

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  11. This was a good post, Erik. I like using the beer market, but I’d be curious to see how a similar discussion would go around food, where I think the dynamic is similar but intensified.

    Beer, as pointed out by Elias, creates a “beer I like slightly better vs. people” argument. (For Elias, anyway.) But food? Only the very large publicly held corporations seem to be unionized, which draws the line not only across business size but public health and class lines that get morally tricky.

    We currently buy (almost) only locally grown produce and meat, and are attempting to remove almost all processed foods – or at least the processed foods that are so corn-additive driven. This is for health and wellness reasons more than “it tastes better” reasons. (Although it does.) None of the farms that we buy from are union, and the price difference between a bag of groceries we buy now as opposed to if we bought them all at, say, WalMart is pretty significant. Unionizing these farms would make that price difference even greater.

    Because of this I am not comfortable with the thought of these businesses unionizing, even though I find Elias’s argument somewhat compelling. The thought of further polarizing healthy eating on the class spectrum troubles me far more.

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    • I think Tod is right to broaden it out beyond beer. Let’s say that I decided to bail on unionized American shirt manufacturers that pay workers $28 an hour, and my reasong is, “Well, the big corporate, unionized shirts have a collar that’s 1/16th inch longer than the boutique collar that I prefer, responding as it does to the influence of recent Italian statements on fashion. In fact, I am willing to pay this amount even though the boutique shirt costs even MORE than the mass-produced shirt.”

      Someone might respond, “Good grief, are you really so particular about your shirt collar and the fashion statement it makes that you are willing to sell out American jobs?”

      Here’s the thing: It’s always the case that this only makes sense if you are the one with the uniquely refined tastes. People who don’t care about fashion will say, “Oh, shut up and wear a regular shirt, you foolish dandy.” And people who don’t care about beer will say, “Oh, shut up and drink a Miller Lite.”

      Come on. You do it, too. That dude who refuses to eat anything other than single-source Ethiopian chocolate that costs $78 a pound? Idiot. Your kid who wants some strawberry shortcake for his birthday in February? Understandable!

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      • Sure, so we default to basically people should be allowed to be snobs, idiots, or kitschy depending on their taste and people should be allowed to meet that demand by selling whatever they like and people should be allowed to attempt to unionize wherever they can and no laws should be written to put one or other of these groups above the other.

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        • Typically, what we do is default to calling people to task on their particular tastes while insisting that our own are worthy of unfettered freedom. I think this is unfortunate, but it’s the way of the world.

          Smoke from a custom built pork cooker or brick pizza oven? Adds to the ambiance! Smoke from someone’s cigarette in the same restaurant? You’re killing bartenders!

          What I mean is, a lot of the resistance you are getting is based on the nature of your tastes rather than the impact free markets have on labor. I know thar Rod Dreher took a bit of a drubbing a few years back because he expressed a taste for coffee he imports from NYC or something. Hypocrisy!

          We saw something similar this week with that article about twin reductions in the New York Times. A fetus is not a child, and woman ought to be free to abort one if she wants. Unless the reason she wants to offends our sensibilities.

          Liberty for me, but not for thee!

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          • Okay, but I’m certainly not trying to advocate doing anything about any of this based on taste. I don’t want to do anything to crush the big beer makers beyond noting that once legal barriers to entry were removed, competition was allowed to pop up. Taste aside, that competition is good. It’s even good for Budweiser drinkers, because it may lead to a better Budweiser in the end, or a cheaper one. Who knows? All I’m saying is that markets should be allowed to operate freely to meet all tastes and all demands.

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          • Smoke from a custom built pork cooker or brick pizza oven? Adds to the ambiance! Smoke from someone’s cigarette in the same restaurant? You’re killing bartenders!

            Are there carcinogens and addictive chemicals deliberately added to pork coolers or pizza ovens?

            False equivalency strikes again!

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  12. It seems to me that the best scenario for a union/the workers is to secure a % of profits, plus a certain amount of guaranteed compensation (same thing for mgmt). If the company does well, they do well. If the company struggles, ouch, but basically it makes it impossible for a union contract from killing a company, while it makes sure the workers are not screwed while mgmt siphons off all the profit.

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  13. While all this talk of “abandoning” so-called “state-backed” unions sounds a little intriguing, I’m the kind of guy who’s concerned with RESULTS and HOW TO TURN THEORY INTO PRACTICE, so I ask you: HOW would that be achieved?? As unfortunate as it may sound, don’t unions kind of NEED some gov’t backing in order to be ‘legit’ in the business community? Otherwise, it’ll just go back to the pre-Wagner days where groups like the AFL, CIO AND IWW TRIED desperately to get heard and have their concerns taken seriously by business but were fucked over at any chance since there was no reason for business to pay attention (or requirement thereof).

    What makes you think so-called “free market unionism” can work NOWADAYS when it was already tried and failed horribly? I’m just wondering, not necessarily pooh-poohing the idea. It doesn’t seem that possible to me. ARE there any nations right now that have ‘free market unionism’ to a large extent that actually works to workers’ advantage?

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