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Stringer blues

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Bob Smith, Jan 3, 2020.

  1. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    I apologize if I am about to bog down the thread with the discusion about unionization you are starting. But you are confusing the chicken and the egg. Unions have died off in this country (other than public unions / government jobs, which don't exist in a market-based economy, and are supported by the fantasy of escalating government debt) BECAUSE most unions don't have the magical leverage you think. Not all -- for example, an mlb baseball player has such a rare skill that they can't be replaced (i.e. -- they have actual leverage), so collective bargaining does cash in the leverage their irreplaceability gives them. But for the average worker thinking all they need to do is unionize and it creates some magical leverage that they didn't otherwise have?

    For decades, many unions essentially bought political favor in exchange for money and votes to politicians, which gave them government-sanctioned leverage at the negotiating table that they didn't have due to their actual value. That came with a steep price. It created above-market wages and benefits in a lot of industries, with the externality being that it drove up costs for American consumers (never talked about), created a union club with fewer people earning a higher wage, but lots of people who would otherwise have had jobs earning nothing. As importantly, in a globalized world, and with consumers always more interested in less expensive goods and services, market forces reasserted themselves -- as they always do, even if you can create an artifical price floor on wages in one country and manage to keep it propped up for even a few decades.

    Look at all of the booming American industries (when America produced things and was an economic powerhouse) that once thrived, then unionized. ... and no longer exist in the U.S. (i.e. -- the "union erosion" from your study). Textiles, Mining, Steel, Autos. All of those industries are largely gone, all largely in other parts of the world where wages and other costs are more in line with market forces.

    There are a lot of things that have led to esclating income inequality over the last 5 or 6 decades, with reckless monetary "policy" creating stealth inflation that has driven up asset values, while putting a lid on wages -- it is the main reason why the rich have gotten richer and virtually everyone else has stagnated. Any study that looks at the world in a vaccuum, and concludes, "We used to have unions and working stiffs earned more, and now we don't have them and they are doing worse," is mind boggling to me in its childish reasoning. It's like saying, "the Soviet Union was doing so well in the 1970s, but by the late 1980s it was collapsing, so what they needed to do was go back to the 1970s when things were great. The artificiality of a command economy or price floors or price ceilings can create the temporary appearance of prosperity, but it comes with prices attached in the immediate term, such as people who were employed no longer having jobs (while a small group earn more) or product and service shortages (even though what is available is artificially kept cheaper). Longer term, those kinds of things have always proven unsustainable -- either poorer parts of the world will happily step in happy to have the jobs and the economic activity or you get underground economies that work more efficiently, but at higher costs.

    If you dictate that the price of labor has to be higher than what the market is willing bear, it doesn't create the economic value to actually support your dictate. And if you can actually enforce the dictate, there is a steep price for it that costs more people than it helps. When are people going to learn this?
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2020
    cake in the rain and BuzzsawPGH like this.
  2. SoloFlyer

    SoloFlyer Well-Known Member

    The report I linked does not claim that the decline of unions is the sole reason for the increased income inequality. It claims that it merely is a factor.

    It also does not claim that unions will protect anyone from the decline of an industry. Layoffs can still happen. In our industry, news outlets can still close. What unions can do is provide better resources for current employees in the form of equitable pay and stronger benefits. If layoffs come, unions can help create better severance packages. They're not perfect. They never have been. But in many places, they'd potentially create a better work environment.

    If unions were nothing more than a nuisance, then Gannet/Gatehouse, the Tribune Company, the Blocks, and countless other newspaper owners wouldn't be so focused on trying to break existing ones or prevent new ones from forming. Look at the subterfuge Tronc undertook to try to prevent the LA Times union or the tactics Gannet used to try to stop the Arizona Journal Republic. They both failed and now both shops are union ones. Unions are on the rise in the industry as a whole (Why Newsrooms Are Unionizing Now | Nieman Reports)

    Again, it's not perfect. But it's better than just standing by and watching it all burn down.
  3. sgreenwell

    sgreenwell Well-Known Member

    I think I'm kind of with SoloFlyer here in that, if you're an outlet and you can't figure out how to put employees on the payroll even part-time, and you can *only* survive by essentially paying substandard wages, yeah - you should probably just shutdown. I realize that could cause plenty of markets to lose their "zombie" newspaper with one reporter or 15 freelancers doing everything, but at least then maybe something else can pop up in its place, after the dust settles.
  4. SoloFlyer

    SoloFlyer Well-Known Member

    I want to add that I'm a huge proponent of news outlets exploring non-profit status like what recently happened in Salt Lake City.

    I consider news outlets to be a public service. The notion that everything must be done in the pursuit of a profit margin seems contradictory. So perhaps that is why I come off as more of a zealot when it comes to better pay and working conditions - I don't really care about ownership's profit margins.
  5. britwrit

    britwrit Well-Known Member

    It's funny how - given the waves of deregulation we've seen over the last decades - the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 is embedded in concrete.

    We're also specifically talking about the newspaper business here. One of the main problems with the industry is that you've had monopoly enterprises valuing short-term profit over long term growth, not with unions wrecking havoc.

    There are historic precedents for unions causing damage - like the big New York strike of 62-63. Or where cutting back the power of the unions temporarily helped newspaper growth (like in the British newspaper industry of the 1980s.) But the key word here is historic.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2020
  6. Central-KY-Kid

    Central-KY-Kid Well-Known Member

    In the four-plus years since I was kicked to the curb by my much smaller daily paper, I have written way more than 35 articles per year for the largest paper in the state.

    I have a fulltime job outside of journalism. Great benefits. Awesome schedule. Raises every year. Pays way more than I ever got at my old job.

    As far as who I string for, I do NOT want to be hired by them. I don't want to have to go to meetings and adhere to social media expectations.

    I like my side hustle just fine.

    My wife and I have vacationed in 17 states since we've been married and my stringing ($4K per year) is my fun money.
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