Businessman Closes Business After Workers Unionize: How Anti-Union Sentiments Undermine Employer-Employee Relations
Billionaire and TD Ameritrade founder John "Joe" Rickett despises unions. He hates unions so much that he decided to close his online local news companies DNAinfo and Gothamist one week after 25 of his 27 employees at his New York properties voted to join the Writers Guild East. In a letter explaining his decision, he stated “businesses need to be economically successful,” which is true and hints at the failures of his business model. In an earlier blog post, however, he also created a scathing rant against unions, concluding “unions exert efforts that tend to destroy the Free Enterprise system.” It would be easy to simply demonize Rickett, but he should be credited for his honesty, especially since he outright violated the right of workers to organize and seek representation in the workplace, thereby potentially placing himself in legal jeopardy.
To the business community, Rickett’s decision and argument resonates well. After all, business owners and investors are risking their money. They are also the ones who must make the business model work. If they happen to be the founder of the company, the business is the product of their vision and hard work. A successful business is, of course, not just the product of the owners’ time, vision, hard work, and sacrifice. Dedicated employees, who do the bulk of the work, may not enjoy the benefits of ownership, but they are responsible for the success of the business. Framing unions as forces of division and third-party agendas, Joe Rickett may well partially agree with this statement, but his actions and rationales send a far more divisive, far more counterproductive message to employees.
Rickett states “[e]veryone at a company – owners and employees alike – need to be sitting on the same end of the seesaw because the world is sitting on the other end.” It is true that businesses need loyal and dedicated workers to be successful, but that kind of loyalty and dedication can only be achieved by showing the same loyalty and dedication to the workers who are doing the work. Businesses hire employees, because they need them to do certain work. Employees work, because they expect their economic interests to be met by their employers. Workers do not join unions to empower the union. They join unions, because they want greater representation at their workplace and their employers have failed to give them that representation.
That said, employees do not just work for a paycheck. They work hard and offer success-building insights, because their work and employers offer them emotional and social benefits. To inspire the kind of dedication and work Rickett seeks from his employees, they must be able to take pride in their work. They must also feel like they have an emotional and social stake in the success of the business. The “this is my money and my business” mentality that Rickett projects as he bashes union draws a clear line between owners and employees by exalting the role of ownership, thereby discounting the contributions of workers. A successful business must offer benefits to everyone involved in the business, but Rickett’s one-sided thinking tells workers that they have no vested interest in helping him create a successful company.
Looking at conflicts between union workers and management, clear examples exist where cultural differences cause serious friction between management and subordinates. In organizations affected by these conflicts, there are employees, who work for the company, and those who work for the union. In extreme examples, workers and management see each other as enemies versus essential components of a single entity. Workers are rebelling against a corporate entity trying to diminish the value of the workers' labor and undermine their lifestyles for the sake of making others wealthier. Conversely, management sees ungrateful employees, who want more than what they are worth, and are unwilling to compromise to keep their lifeline, i.e. the company, profitable and alive.
That said, collective bargaining exist to provide workers representation and leverage at the bargaining table when their interests are not meant by employers. It is the same reason men like Joe Rickett hire teams of lawyers, i.e. representation. Like lawyers and businessmen, unions can be corrupt and driven by their own interests instead of the interests of those they represent. Unions can also shield terrible employees from the consequences of their actions, but unions are part of the free market, Meanwhile, they do not divide workers and business leadership. Owners and manager determine the relationship they have with workers. All workers need representation, but they do not need third party representation when they can have open and honest relationships with business leadership. As such, unions only exacerbate bad employee-employer relations after employers sour them.
In the case of Joe Rickett and DNAinfo, the Writers Guild is not a traditional labor union like the Teamsters or the National Education Association of the United States, which are often associated with hostile, dysfunctional work environments and contracts that prevent the firing of the worst employees. The Writers Guild East is a trade organization that largely helps set pay and royalty rates across an entire industry. Recognizing anyone can be a published writer due to the internet and the internet economy is failing to provide for the economic interests of people, one of the biggest challenges to building a successful web-based companies is creating business models that provide for the economic needs of workers, i.e. the viability of the business. Rickett may not want to deal with a union, which no one does, but he and the Writers Guild East share a common goal that he has abandoned out of spite.
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