State of the Unions


Jessica Gutwein

Age 31

Resides Manhattan

Occupation Architect

Are you in a union? No. Architects aren’t guaranteed a wage.

Would you want to be? It’s not really an option.

Are they a good idea? If employees feel they’re not being heard, they need a voice to speak for them and so for them, unions are a great idea. For management, the union adds layers of paperwork and results in a lot more hierarchy. I work with both union and nonunion firms, but for public-works projects the city always wants union labor. In the public’s mind, union still means a big machine where people take three-hour lunches.

Julio Cruz

Age 34

Resides Bronx

Occupation Maintenance

Are you in a union? No.

Would you want to be? I was in the Teamsters for years, but I was very unhappy with them. The job I’m in now just voted down the chance to unionize. My company provides health insurance, and the copay for Oxford is only $10.

Are they a good idea? Yes, but they don’t work. People want the union because they promise good services, like health care and dental coverage, but for all the dues you pay, it’s always a fight to get anything out of them.

Tom Vaught

Age 31

Resides Manhattan

Occupation Voice-over artist

Are you in a union? Yes.

Would you want to be? I have to be in my business. Being in one means the difference between working and not working. It’s almost impossible to get acting work, or an agent, or into serious auditions for that matter, without being in the union.

Are they a good idea? Right now our union is threatening a strike because of the terms of the contract with cable television. Under the current system, they pay you for the hours it took to make the commercial, but they aren’t required to pay residuals every time the thing is rebroadcast. The actor loses thousands of dollars that way.

Sagar Gurung

Age 21

Resides Manhattan

Occupation Student

Are you in a union? No.

Would you want to be? No, because I have very specific views that don’t include things like unions. I live entirely outside the system. I don’t care about politics and I don’t vote because I’m convinced it doesn’t make a difference. The only things that interest me are social issues, like equality.

Are they a good idea? Yes, because if there’s a conflict with management, the union has the power to speak for employees.

Lou Santiago

Age 22

Resides Manhattan

Occupation Film student

Are you in a union? No, and as a director, I prefer to use nonunion actors because of the paperwork.

Would you want to be? I’ve been in the union, and I’ve seen both sides of the story. I was a member of the UPS union, and even though I got benefits and job protection, whether I wanted it to or not, part of my salary went to the union’s contribution to political campaigns. Months before I was actually eligible to join the union, dues were being withheld from my paycheck.

Are they a good idea? Yes, for lifetime employees there are real advantages to belonging, but I don’t think American unions should impose their standards for working conditions on foreign companies.

Stephanie Thompson

Age 26

Resides Brooklyn

Occupation Employee, J. Crew

Are you in a union? No.

Would you want to be? I don’t know. I’m in management now.

Are they a good idea? Yes, to a certain extent, but most people don’t know anything about unions. Who knows if companies use union labor or not? On the one hand, I can say that I wouldn’t cross a picket line, but on the other, I’m sure that, like everyone, I regularly buy clothes that were made by nonunion workers.

Heather Foster

Age 33

Resides Queens

Occupation Physical therapist

Are you in a union? No.

Would you want to be? Although there isn’t something formally called a Physical Therapists Union, we do have an association that acts like a union in the sense that they represent employees. I haven’t elected to join it.

Are they a good idea? Yes, they’re a voice for the workers. They keep the administration from dictating everything.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 11, 2000

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