The herd immunity theory of unions


When we think of herd immunity, we think of vaccinations.  Fewer parents are vaccinating their children nowadays because of their fears about negative reactions to vaccinations (including the now-debunked theory about vaccinations causing autism).  Those parents skipping vaccination point triumphantly to the fact that, despite their children’s vaccination-free status, there hasn’t been a huge upsurge in measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox, or any of the other diseases that can now be prevented with a shot or nasal mist.

What these parents fail to realize is that the diseases haven’t stopped simply because they’re rare; instead, they’re rare because other children are getting vaccinated.  Because there are a sufficient number of immunized children within a given population, these former childhood scourges cannot the necessary foothold to become endemic or epidemic.  It’s this perfect balance — where just enough kids are vaccinated to defeat a disease’s onslaught — that we call herd immunity.  This balance is also very tenuous.  If the number of vaccinated children drops below the magic herd immunity point, dangerous diseases come back in a hurry.

Accepting the unions’ premise that unionization is a good thing, one can apply the same argument.  The opposite of right-to-work laws is mandatory unionization.  That means that, if you want to work in a specific industry, whether as an electrician or a teacher, you must join the union.  The theory behind this is that unions are so good at ensuring that workers are well treated, that all workers benefit and all workers should therefore contribute to the union.  It wouldn’t be fair for some workers to pay dues, and then for all workers to benefit.

Just as with vaccinations, however, a lot of workers lately have been complaining about the side effects from the unions’ role in their industries.  These side effects include economic demands so parasitical that they kill the host and the unions’ habit of going far beyond their initial mandate, so that union members find their funds supporting political ideologies that are antithetical to their own beliefs.  In right-to-work states, these people are allowed to opt out.

The union screeches are because they believe that it is unfair for non-union members, in effect, to benefit from herd immunity.  They don’t have to suffer from the downside of unionization (i.e., paying dues), but they get the upside benefits (i.e., better employment conditions).

The thing is that unions are not vaccinations and working conditions are not diseases that can become epidemic or even pandemic.  Instead, there is a marketplace balance:  if too many people don’t join the union, breaking part the herd immunity, the marketplace will shift.  In that case, rather than inevitably getting worse as happens when a toxic disease breaks out, things might actually get better or they might get worse, or they might just get different.

Tradeoffs are not the same as a polio pandemic.  As Charles Krauthammer points out, union states have higher wages and lower employment; right-to-work states have lower wages and higher employment.  In other words, both systems have benefits and both have failings.  The employees ought to be able to determine which system they prefer at a given workplace.

Having the government impose mandatory union membership perverts the marketplace and prevents workers from making choices about the system that works best for them.  Certainly, given union threats and hysteria, one suspects that the unions are worried that they won’t be able to compete in a free market.  With increasing worker mobility and communication skills, we don’t have the stagnant local employment market that allowed 19th and early 20th century employers to abuse a trapped labor market.

Union thug hitting Steve Crowder

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  • rick9911

    I’m not sure that the opposite of right to work is mandatory unionization. Right to work does not outlaw unions, it gives the choice to the individual. 

  • JKB

    When I speak of unions to my elderly aunt she points out unions did good.  But she also likes to relate that when she was working the production line at a coffee packing company, she got the union voted in and when they didn’t do right, she got them voted out.  She was odd for the union being the go to person the manager put on new machines to work out the most efficient process.  
    In regards to the higher wages, you must consider the impact of union wage demands on the cost of living.  
    Sumner Slichter, an economist in the 1940s said
    The greatest danger to an adequate old-age security plan is rising prices. A rise of 2% a year in prices would cut the purchasing power of pensions about 45% in 30 years. The greatest danger of rising prices is from wages rising faster than output per man-hour…. Whether the nation succeeds in providing adequate security for retired workers depends in large measure upon the wage policies of trade unions.
    Of course, when he made that observation after WWII, the economy was tightly controlled by the government and unions.  Those of us a bit younger remember the consequences of that control or as it is commonly known as, the 1970s.

  • JKB

    Oops, I neglected my point on wages.  We really need to do a proper comparison using something like the Economist’s “Big Mac” index to see a true economic comparison.

  • lee

    I used to work, many, many years ago, as a stage hand in the Bay Area. The stage hands union, IATSE, is weak (or at least it was then) in the Bay Area, so there was a lot of non-union houses. More importantly, a non-union stage hand could get a job at a union house. Of course, s/he had to pay union dues, but s/he could accumulate hours towards joining the union. In NYC or LA, IATSE is VERY STRONG, and there is virutally no way a non-union person can get into the union, unless they are related to a union member.
    Now, back to the Bay Area–a lot of non-union houses were crappy places to work. They could frequently be dangerous, flaunting OSHA and fire regulations. Not to mention labor laws. Union houses were always going to be safe. However, because the stagehand’s union was weak, people could start new theaters. The whole union thing work in the Bay Area because the union was weak. It doesn’t work in NYC and LA, because it has a stanglehold on the entertainment industry. It’s crazy.
    Unions CAN do good. They frequently don’t. And many times, they are a barrier to getting a job.

  • JKB

    I went to the website below and entered for a comparison between Knoxville, TN (a right to work state) and Detroit, MI – you have to make 1/3 more in Detroit to live the same as Knoxville.

    Your Current Salary:


    State of Origin:
    Destination State:


    City of Origin:
    Destination City:


    If you make: $100,000.00
    You will have to make: $132,581.92

  • Oldflyer

    I heard a pro-union commentary yesterday that essentially stated the old canard, “we must have unions to control the abusive companies.”
    My reaction was that if we must have unions for that purpose, then we don’t need the stifling governmental regulations that supposedly serve the same purpose.
    Foolish me.

  • Bookworm

    Oldflyer, stop trying to confuse people with your intelligence and logic.  Without their slogans, they are nothing!

    Unions should be voluntary associations — and there should be competing unions.  Many people might be interested in a union that focuses solely on fair wages and that doesn’t buy politicians and advance ultra Progressive political views.  In today’s mobile, information saturated, fairly educated world, unions should be a marketplace, the same as anything else.

  • lee

    Let me start off by saying, I am not a fan of unions. They have gotten greedy, and stifled development. They are more about lining the pockets of their officials than about helping their members. They have no problem killing the goose that lays the golden egg. They protect people who should be FIRED. That being said…
    My husband works in a non-union plant and it is AWFUL. The stifling government regulations do no good if they never inspect. (I once heard a compliance manager say you are better off to kill or maim an employee than you are to spill something toxic. OSHA doesn’t care but the EPA will swoop down like harpies and suck your blood dry.) There are unmarked gas lines (a fork lift ran into one, and a man was seriously injured in the resulting explosion), pot holes where fork lifts drive, no one inspects or replenishes first aid kits. Someone who shall remain nameless tried to call OSHA, and OSHA was not real interested. Now my husband USED to work in a union shop, and grew weary of unions, to put ot mildly. He got tired of the pre-breaks, the breaks, and the post-breaks. He got tired of them sucking money out of his paycheck. He despised the way retirement benefits works. (You quit the union, you lose big time!)
    But right now, it’s so bad at his plant that he is thinking, “UNION.”
    In a perfect world, everyone plays nice. Employers provide safe work environments. Employees provide a working effort. People who are really on board with QUALITY MANAGEMENT and the principles of quality management tend to play nice… But that is NOT at a LOT of places. (Alas!)   

  • Ymarsakar

    Most of the union officials would be on the execution chopping block since they would qualify as “corrupt bureaucrats” to me.