Thursday, June 28, 2007

Somewhat Off-Topic Rant: Unions and Writers

I’m going to run a bit of an off-topic rant today so if you came here to read about improving your writing you may want to scroll down to the next post. I promise that this will be a one-time subject for me.

I was perusing some freelance writing job sites when I came across a reference to the National Writers’ Union. I thought this was interesting so I clicked over to check it out. The NWU appears to be part of the AFL-CIO. The paragraph that made me really start looking at the site with a skeptical eye was at top center. It reads as follows:

“The National Writers Union is the trade union for freelance and contract writers: journalists, book authors, business and technical writers, web content providers, and poets. With the combined strength of nearly 2,000 members in 16 chapters nationwide, and with the support of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), the Union works to defend the rights and improve the economic and working conditions of all writers.”

My immediate reaction was, "What, they're going to come do my dishes?" Then I pictured the terrible writer sweatshops that you hear about in rural...nowhere. Then I took it seriously.

After having heard the stories of the UAW’s unwillingness to make reasonable concessions in the face of the US’s failing auto industry because they’ve never done it before, I can’t help but fear for the fate of the members of this union.

The site offers what I find to be typical scare tactics like their post about “The Imperiled Future of Copyright” and “Writer Alerts” about various publishers. These are supplemented by an offer of “Grievance Assistance”.

Dues are based on your annual income but start at $120 ($135 in installments) for up to $5,000 in income. I suppose if you are making $150,000 a year doing freelance work, the $340 annual dues ($355 if you pay in two installments) make some sense. They would be a way to safeguard your work by providing something with which to threaten clients who don’t pay or someone who steals your work.

The reason this whole deal concerns me is that their stated aim is to solicit writing jobs for their members by mail followed up by phone calls, to groups including to other unions and members of the US Congress. To me, this smacks of using strong-arm tactics to get people to use the services of their members at whatever rate they set. You can’t see the rates unless you join, however. I fear that people pay the dues to fall under their umbrella of protection and enjoy the inflated pay rates.

I don’t have any proof of this, as I’m not about to shell out $120 for a blog post, but it certainly fits in with the mafia-like activities of local unions. For all of the bluster you hear about protecting the needs and rights of workers, most of the results are brought about by intimidation and benefit the union as much as, if not more than, the individual worker in question.

I apologize for the rant, but the whole web site struck me as distasteful and extortionate. I’m sure there are wonderful, honest, productive people who are members of this union. I also suspect that I’ll get some nasty hate mail over this. Rabid defense by union supporters is also something I’ve seen locally.

If the set-up is for you, enjoy! I would never begrudge someone that choice. If you think I'm all wet, drop me a comment and let me know. If it’s not for you, well, at least you know about it.