Does Our Profession Need a Union?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Does Our Profession Need a Union?

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    Thomas J. Johnson

    With all of the recent discussion related to Unions in the news, it got me wondering; would our profession benefit from a union? It seems like the three biggest complaints from BSLAs, MLAs and RLAs are the relatively low pay, long hours and lack of job security. It was to address these issues that unions were first created, to protect employees rights at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

    I tend to be anti-union because in their current form they have outgrown their original intent and compromise the basic tenants of capitalism and democracy (teachers who can’t be fired, line workers making more than engineers, outrageous pensions, etc.). However I do believe in the “concept” of a union, where employees of a specific skill/education band together to create strength and look after their best interest.

    With that being said, should we / could we form a union? If we were to form a union, what would you like to see it achieve? I would propose the following:

    1. Landscape Architectural firms can only hire BSLAs, MLAs and RLAs. They may not employ cheap foreign labor, either by importing workers to the United States or outsourcing work abroad.

    2. Employees will not be expected, or allowed, to work more than 40hrs/wk without additional compensation equaling 1.5 times standard wages. Standard wages will be held at a minimum of $25/hr or 3 times the national minimum wage, whichever is greatest. 

    3. All employers will provide health, dental and vision care with employee contributions not to exceed 5% of their salary.

    4. Employers shall establish mandatory company matched retirement funds for all employees, not to exceed 4%. Employees may contribute beyond that basic requirement. 

    5. Employees will be required to take a 1 hour lunch and will have an additional 1/2 hr to use at their discretion.

    6. Given the sedentary nature of our profession and the need to perform repetitive tasks, each employee will be given bi-annual ergonomics consulting in order to minimize work related injuries. Office furniture and accessories will be provided, within reason, to meet the recommendations of said, consultant.

    7. A variety of tasks will be provided to expand the employees knowledge base and skills, reduce monotony, encourage physical movement and reduce eye strain.

    OK, that’s all I’ve got off the top of my head. What kind of amendments / conditions would you like to see in the National Union of Landscape Architectural Workers?

    Before anybody gets too bent out of shape, I can also see a lot of benefits of being employed on a purely contract/consultant basis such as; tax right offs (food, transportation, clothing, computers, tools, education, health care, etc.) and the ability to determine your pay and obligations in writing while being a free agent beyond that contract, i.e. you can re-up if they have more work or move on…  so, with that being said, what are your thoughts?


    BZ Girl

    i’m digging your proposal #6. I have been telling my husband for months now that my right shoulder hurts by the end of the day, and i’m quite sure it’s b/c my ergonomics are out of whack. The office of course went to Office Depot and bought the cheapest chairs possible, which do not adequately accomodate different body types. My husband, who works for a Fortune 500 company, was commenting how his company holds quarterly ergonomics evaluations for each employee and immediately replaces any furniture that isn’t in compliance with the best practices. Ahhh must be nice…I hope my shoulder still works when i’m 40…

    Zach Watson

    8. Work days and work hours shall be arranged as such: Monday – Thursday 9 hours, Friday 4 hours.  In addition to those hours every Friday, as a thank you for the work preformed that week, the Principles of the firm need to buy donuts for the employees and to kick off the weekend.

    Brett Lord

    9. Employers upon reduction of staff by way of lay-off, must provide a decending pay severence package. 1st quarter 75% of salary, 2nd quarter 60%, 3rd quarter 55%, and 4th quarter 40%. For the 4 quarters following the seperation for the employer until the employee finds acceptable employment. After 4 quaters full unemployemnt benefits will begin for lingering unemployment.

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Yeah, we had sweet chairs (Herman Miller) but the desks were really layout tables and were too tall and had sharp corners, all of which added up to weird wrist/shoulder/neck issues. If you raised your chair to compensate, then you had too much pressure on your legs/lower spine because your feet weren’t properly on the floor. 

    Being a cyclist, I understand the difference a few millimeters can make and how important ergonomics are to comfort, performance and injury prevention. I’m surprised more companies don’t address ergonomics in the work place. It would reduce neck/back and carpel tunnel claims significantly. 

    Trace One

    there are only five states without unionized teachers, chris,and they are the bottom five in the ACT/SAT achievement scores..The bottom five..

    LA’s where I am belong to an engineering union..It is great..

    dont’ forget about learning incentives – pay for going to school, increasing number of liscensures (LEED, CPES, besides RLA)

    that should be part of the LA union..

    My grandmother belonged to the ILGWU..She sewed through her thumb, at one point..

    Anyone who is against unions is ignorant of history..Soon we will have the Triangle Shirtwaiste Factory Fire Commemoration..I suggest you look up those non-unionized days, and decide if you would have wanted your wife to work under those conditions..

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Would Monday – Thursday 10 hours work or is “Friday donuts” attendance mandatory? I’m not real big on meetings for the sake of meetings…

    Alan Ray, RLA

    Thomas, have you been to Detroit lately?

    If you would like to see the wonderful benefits of Unions, give Detroit a visit….

    I was there last summer for a week and have never seen anything in this counrty as depressing!!!


    Bad Idea.  If ASLA was a strong functioning body a lot of your issues would be resolved.  But a Union?  Oh hell no!! 


    ….and where are the Garment Workers today?

    Trace One

    wow, Alan and Denis must be young! it is a huge canard that the unions destroyed the auto industries..The auto industries were destroyed by their inabilty to respond to gas prices, and to change their idea of a car from the ford pick-up to something that appealed to urban residents and women – they are doing it again, I note with dismay, looking at the new lineup – pick-ups, maximum power, who cares about global warming..

    You guys need to branch out and READ something besides conservative sites.

    Unions are all we got, guys, against corporations..To be against unions is SO 1980’s, so playing into the hands of the corporations..

    I can’t even believe how little our society appreciates unions..The auto industry unions backed down and backed down, just like the teachers are doing in wisconsin..They will give up some of their income – they WILL NOT give up bargaining rights..Look at what the UAW did, while the auto industry was tanking – backed down on benefits, and backed down again..

    so go back and read some history, guys, before you consider yourself RLA’s..We are not the Rockefellers, and never will be – we are the  people,and we need unions..

    Good god..What do they teach in schools these days..

    Thomas J. Johnson

    My second paragraph clearly states my distaste for unions, at least in their current form. They’ve outgrown their britches and a symbiotic relationship that is not in the best interest of the citizens has developed between unions and the political party they contribute to, who then in turn cater to the unions. It’s gotten out of control and has become a financial burden for tax payers and businesses alike. It has also prevented our education system and industries from adapting and staying competitive with other countries. But the unions of today are not what they were intended to be.  

    At the turn of the century, they were started for noble reasons and were very effective at protecting the workers from abuses. Their battles were hard won including; creating the 8 hour work day (when 16 was the norm) and making working conditions safer for employees. People used to get maimed or die on the job all the time because employers didn’t want to spend money on safety equipment and people were worked to exhaustion.

    I hear a lot of LAs are complaining about long hours, low pay, a lack of benefits and little job security. It seems to be a problem that plagues our profession which should not be the case for a career that requires a lot of education, personal investment, intelligence and technical abilities. LAs also tend to be poor business people. We get pushed around and walked over because we are supposed to be nice and sensitive people who don’t push back.

    So while the unions have overstepped their boundaries in the public sector and major manufacturing, earning unskilled and uneducated people tremendous benefits, many people in the private sector have been losing ground in the never ending struggle for workers rights. Companies have been pushing the “doing more with less” mantra and while unemployment is at an all time high, so are profits. People are being over worked and over stressed across the board and fear is the mechanism they are using to extract more work and more hours from their employees.

    We are in interesting times… things have become unbalanced. A smaller private workforce is being expected to work harder and pay higher taxes to support an expanding public workforce with unsustainably high benefits. LAs were some of the first to feel “the new economy” and we’ve arguably felt it the hardest. 

    My post is intended to promote discussion (which it appears to be doing) not advocate unions. My second paragraph clearly states that there are issues with unions today and my last paragraph points out benefits to both employers and employees of working under independent contractor agreements. Attempting to create a union for landscape architectural employees would probably do more harm than good. At the same time, I’d like to explore ideas that we could employ to give us more strength, job security and negotiating power with our employers.

    Perhaps union was a poor choice of words. Guild would be more appropriate as it reflects the nature of our work, our sense of community and a conscious decision to unite as a profession of artisans with a common goal of promoting our works value to both our employers and clients alike.         


    Trace One

    what the heck is so bad about unions? I can’t relate..I think it is just Glenn Beck ignorance that has promoted out societal inabilty to UNDERSTAND what unions do for workers, which we ALL are..We need them now more than ever! Union participation is at the LOWEST it has ever been in this country, so to blame anything on UNIONS is like Rumsfeld blaming Abu Graib on a ‘few bad apples’..NOT!!

    I belong to a union, and it is all that is holding our job together..Walmart refuses to allow unions – is that what you want – to allow them to put the health care requirements on the backs of the public with Medicare and emergency rooms?

    What was Ghandi but a union of silk – spinners..

    argh….It is too a-historical, the way the react to the word, IMHO..UNIONS! They are what built your parents, what built america..the right to unionize..

    Not only is it a-historical, but it is also completely non-comprehending your place in the world..We, the workers, got nothing against the KOCH brothers but unions..

    and now we will all sing “you can’t get me, I’m working for the union, working with the union “..

    Of course unless you want to go back to the company store days..that is a different song..”One day older and closer to death – St. Peter don’t you call me, cuz I can’t go – I owe my soul to the Company Store..”


    ARRGH! Unions – good! Four-legs good..Two legs bad!

    Thomas J. Johnson

    In China and India because our corporations are allowed to outsource work, creating the same working conditions abroad that US unions protested while paying foreign peasants under a dollar a day. I remember back in the 80’s and early 90’s sweat shops were a major issue. It’s all you heard about on the news. Now a days we’re happy to turn a blind eye to that reality today.

    Unions applied pressure. Corporations moved where there was no pressure. It’s a constant game. A balancing act. But when U.S. jobs are lost to laborers overseas obviously something has gone wrong. Either Unions demanded too much, or it’s too easy for corporations to chase cheap labor around the globe. Probably both though I have the feeling that these jobs would have gone overseas regardless of unions. It is a corporations duty to increase profits and create value for its share holders. One of the best ways to do that is with labor savings. So it doesn’t matter if they are paying a US worker a fair wage (with no union), if they can get the same job done for 1/10 the cost, that is what they will do, every time.

    Trace One

    please see Paul Krugmans article in today’s NYT – “the unions are backing down on benefits” as usual..And the “financial melt-down was caused by the increasing power of the oligarchy”…
    don’t be anti-union guys – it is intolerably ignorant…

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