Five Myths About Unions, Dispelled

Whenever the subject of unionization in the video game industry is brought up online, a sea of comments and replies comes out against it. These comments usually have a few things in common: a fundamental misunderstanding of what unions are and how they work, a view of unions as evil or at least inefficient, and a reliance on unrepresentative examples.

Comments like these are harmful in that they spread false information and hurt efforts to organize before they even start. They discourage games industry professionals from working together and push public opinion of unions in a negative direction.

Luckily, the facts about unions can speak for themselves. I’ve compiled a few of the most common reactions against unionization and matched them with real data and history that shows the reality of what unions are and can do. 

1. “Wages will go down because of union dues!”

While the primary source of union funding comes from collecting dues, employees typically see wage increases through unionization that outstrip these small contributions. Different regions, cities, and workforces yield different results but the numbers are clear. California-based workers covered by a union contract made 12.9 percent more on average than non-union workers and according to the US Department of Labor, in 2018 non-union workers received 82% of workers who were union members across the country.

While the amount of dues union workers pay varies widely based on a number of factors like local, federal, and state laws, most union dues are relatively low. A worker represented by the the United Auto Workers, for example, may pay less than 2% of their monthly income in dues and other unions require members to pay 2.5 times their hourly wage.

Additionally, unions do more than just raise pay. Organizing efforts throughout history, alongside the Clayton Act of 1914 and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, secured the eight hour work day, minimum wage, vacation pay, and so many other things that we take for granted today. Simply put, unions increase workers’ quality of life.

2. “Imagine asking the government to force a company to keep employees!”

Unionization, at its core, has little to do with the government. It’s about organizing as workers to negotiate with management for fair pay, benefits, time off, and other needs that workers have agreed on.

Congress has passed various laws to support worker organization and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) acts as a facilitator to help employees unionize and make sure the employer can’t prevent it through retaliatory actions. However, all of the actions required to unionize — including getting a majority of workers to agree on a list of demands, holding physical meetings, drafting union constitutions, and the like — are all handled by union members. None of that is done by the government.

3. “It’ll force employers to send jobs overseas. It’s a quick way to get everyone fired.”

Unionization is a legal right. It’s illegal for employers to fire or discipline employees for trying to organize. When companies fire their workforce and send that work to cheaper regions the blame lies solely on the company and its management, not the union or any of the employees. Blaming workers for a company’s illegal choice to remove its workforce from the country is misguided.

The primary motivator for outsourcing is the cheaper standard of living in emerging markets. American companies can get away with paying workers in countries like India and the Philippines less than their American counterparts.

4. “Unions can’t address bloated executive pay.”

There are many issues that unions can’t directly affect, especially early in the organizing process. High executive pay, like the ridiculous compensation package of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, is one of those issues that union negotiations may not directly cover. However, it’s been proven that executive pay is far less egregious in instances where unions are present.

In fact, a 2017 study found that companies whose workforces pass a union election have a reduction in total CEO compensation. Additionally, firms with strong unions have incentive to pay CEOs less in order to curb the chances of a labor strike.  So while executive pay may not always be a major point in negotiations, it can be curbed through worker action — leading to a lesser disparity between ground level employees and the bosses at the top.

5. “No one talks about the bad sides of unions. They’re political, corrupt, and bureaucratic organizations.”

Like any other organizations, unions are no better than the sum of their parts. Unions certainly can be corrupt, disorganized, and bureaucratic. While instances of a unions participating in unfair labor practice are easy to find, like this case of seasonal UPS workers losing most of their wages to union initiation fees, these cases are rare and an unfair assessment of the role unions have in the workplace.

Unionization, in its most basic form, entails workers organizing to even the odds against management. Capitalism pushes employers to squeeze the most they can out of their employees, and unionization is the only tool that can help combat that pressure. So in that sense, even the rare case of an overly bureaucratic or bloated union is still better than no union at all.