What does the union do besides protect stupidity?

Last time, I discussed how the private sector is pretty bad (though admittedly not as bad as the public sector) about retaining incompetent employees. …but all I really did was prove that the private sector ain’t all that great. Those examples don’t excuse unions from doing the same thing.

But here’s the deal: unions don’t deliberately protect unproductive workers. If you aren’t doing your job, you can be put on a “work performance program” or something. The manager has to prove that he or she is trying to help you get past your weak spots, and if you can be shown to not improve, you are let go. It takes time, yes, but this process is very similar to the disciplinary process in many private sector jobs. The big difference is that we have union representatives to help us avoid being unjustly fired, such as for rallying our peers into pushing for fair pay (At MF, my boss told me I could be fired after I told several coworkers their pay was too low).

The real point of the union protection is to force managers to try and work with employees who are having trouble – get us to learn and perform, not just fire us willy-nilly. If you believe this approach is wrong, that’s your choice, but the point has never been to protect incompetent workers. Incompetent workers hurt their peers. I don’t want to work with incompetent people, and I’m in the union, so it is NOT beneficial to us to keep those people around. But it IS beneficial to help them improve if they’re willing.

The problem with this system is simple – managers have to do actual work to fire somebody. My boss would have to work with me and try to resolve problems instead of just replacing me with somebody else. Managers can absolutely fire somebody incompetent if they are willing to spend the time working on the problem. If you have an issue with incompetent people draining taxpayer money, maybe you should look to their leaders as well.

One final thing before wrapping up this topic: the union protection isn’t something you’re given immediately. You have to be at Oregon State for six full months during your “trail service” period, and only after that are you protected. A truly incompetent or lazy employee can be fired during that time very easily. My department let somebody go not too long ago right at the end of the trial service, because said person just wasn’t able to get the job done. It’s important to understand this part of the system, because it is a lot harder that people think to fake your way into a job like mine. In my mind, if you can look good for six full months, you’re probably not incompetent. For the record, I’ve never been at a job where the probationary period lasted longer than three months.

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