I glad to see this topic. I have been wondering a similar thought. I believe in unions and as John points out stereotypes of union worker are the exception to the role. I am a union member and most of our activities are targeted at securing a good working life for our members. In Colorado, we are looking at pay cuts, furloughs, reduction in state contributions to pensions, and changing the pension program to a defined contribution program. In all cases, state workers are illustrated as over paid and that are not suffering like their private industry bothers and sisters. One particular debate that bugs me is the pension debate. State and local worker are always portrayed as living the good life because they have a defined benefit pension program and no one in the private industry has such pension programs. The only problem is that private industry worker do have access to a define benefit program that a great number of state and local worker do not. It is call social security. In addition, most private industry worker lost their pension programs because of mismanagement of those programs by the companies that offered them.
At the end of the day, government worker are the easy target of the budget debates. The problem is that most government workers are willing to sacrifice, but these workers also want to be included in the discussion. Of course, it is easier to not include the workers and to demonize the civil servant that work for the public good.
As one of my managers once said about the union, you can either see the union as this external force or you can see it as people. If we remember that unions are made up of people, then we can talk about budget in a constructive manner. As a recently promoted state employee who may have to give up my union status, I will remember my union brothers and sister are people who just want to work for the people of the state of Colorado. At the end of the day, we are all colleague and we are all working to the benefit of the people we serve.
So I would say that at the end of the day, unionized employees are a good thing when we stop stereotyping and start actually talking to each other as people.