Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happiness: Union vs. Non-Union

Are union bus mechanics happier than non-union?

Well, it turns out I’ve got a couple of friends who are bus mechanics to fill me in.

We have 7 bus companies serving our metro area. Two have union mechanics; our public government run transit system, and a private company. Five are private non-union shops.

One friend works for the public transit system. The other worked there for about 15 years but now works for one of the non-union shops. He’s been a bus mechanic for almost 3 decades and knows mechanics at all of the bus companies, thus knows of what he speaks.

Between these two I’ve developed what I think is a fairly accurate, though anecdotal, picture of things. Both are also in agreement on their assessments’. The upshot… Mechanics at the five non-union shops are much happier than those at either of the two union shops.

Mechanics in the union shops spend considerable time focused on, and complaining about, pay, benefits, and work rules. Those in the non-union shops rarely complain about these issues (or apparently any issues).

Mechanics in the union shops have an adversarial relationship with management, non-union mechanics have a friendly, common-good-for-the-company, relationship.

Mechanics in the non-union shops earn slightly lower base pay* (but better benefits) and yet are happier and work harder**.

Both said that working in a non-union shop is much more enjoyable - with happier fellow employees, friendly relationships with management, and a straightforward work environment not grunged up with union rules, meetings, and pressure.


A similar comparison can possibly be made with airline flight attendants. I’ve long thought that Delta’s flight attendants seemed much happier and friendlier than Northwest’s. Guess which is union?

Based on discussions on, Delta’s non-union FA’s make more money (overall and per hour) than their unionized NWA counterparts, but also lack union job protections such as work rules or the hours they can be required to work. It is also much easier to get fired by Delta than NWA though there is no indication that Delta is any more likely to fire FA’s than NWA. These discussions also reveal the happiness quotient - with Delta the clear winner. It’ll be interesting to see the outcome of their current unionization vote.


Money never makes us happy, but someone telling us that we should be unhappy certainly seems to work.

* Not including union dues that union mechanics are ‘required’ to pay. The non-union mechanic said that his company is also rolling out a profit sharing plan in 2011 that, based on past performance, will more than make up for any pay differences.

** The working harder (or smarter?) is anecdotal as well as statistical. Anecdotal based simply on their experience and, in the case of one of them, being told by fellow union members to work slower. Statistical in some very quick comparisons on how long certain jobs take with the union shop taking almost 50% longer for several common jobs than the non-union shops. Also, though there is little published data, union busses seem to generally be out of service for maintenance a greater part of every year. This could also be due to other factors such as age or harder use so more analysis would be necessary.

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