It’s well known that “right to work” Mississippi is not a union-friendly state. And public sector workers – including university faculty, staff and student employees – would seem to have the very least reason to unionize. After all, state workers are prohibited, by law, from striking, the biggest power tool in the union toolbox. Why pay dues to an organization that the employer is most likely just going to ignore?
Yet there are several good reasons to join a union even when it’s not formally recognized. Here are just three of them:
(1) Joining a union – joining any action-oriented group, really – is empowering. As “individualistic” as Americans tend to be, there’s not a lot any of us can do about workplace conditions on our own. Objectively speaking, as individuals we’re relatively powerless, and usually wind up feeling that way. We’re much stronger together. Even when we’re not pursuing any particular aim, we feel better knowing we’re in the company of others who understand our situation and share our interests.
(2) Union voices do get heard, even when they’re not formally recognized as bargaining agents. Any good administrator will listen to the concerns of their people, and any honest administrator will admit (if perhaps only privately) that they will pay particular attention to organized worker voices. That there’s no contract requiring them to do so is immaterial. Next to mismanaging budgets, nothing will imperil career-minded administrators faster than cultivating conflict with subordinates.
(3) Unions can strengthen the standing and well-being of the institution as a whole. It’s just plain wrong to think that employee organizations are inherently antagonistic toward institutional leadership. Yes, in a given conflict situation with management, the union will assert and defend the interests of its employee members; that’s its job. Yet more often than not, the union’s interests will overlap those of the institution. As chief executive officer, I can benefit from explaining to my board members that I need to respond judiciously to the legitimate (and organized) concerns of my employees.
That’s just a starter list; more to follow in subsequent posts.