Great stories, all (and I've got a few of my own). My situation is far more complicated as an owner/operator of a union signatory company for 25 years. For 25 years, my dues have been used to actively negotiate against my best interests as an owner.
However-- there's value in the promise of a union in the skilled trades. As Danny said, the pay and benefits of our entire industry (refrigeration service) have been greatly increased by the union, whether a tradesman is in the union or not. In our industry, the union is not so much for protection as it is to train a skilled workforce for the contractor. It works-- the guys in union shops are generally guys like me, who might have gone to college and done well, but chose (for one reason or another) to go out in the big world and hustle, rather than find themselves at State U.
That being said, the good benefits received by the worker are horribly expensive to the contractor (way above market rates for the benefits received). When I was a sole proprietor and opting out of the benefit package, I made serious hay by buying my own insurance and funding my own retirement plans to the maximum the law would allow. I got a lot more funding and coverage for my dollar than the union was chatging.
By contrast, as of 2015, that option is no longer available to me and I'm back in the fold, paying benefits on myself. I pay $7.50/hr (each) for health insurance for me and my workers. The pension contributions are nearing $20/hr. 40% of the gross wage is paid directly to the union for benefits, and the entire package is north of $65/hr, before I pay for unemployment, work comp, general liability, and truck insurance. It's before I pay for holidays and vacations, and before I buy a single tool, truck, or consumable. It's before we have a callback or job that goes south, for which I do not get paid.
We bill at $110/hr, and are making very, very little on time. Non-union shops with similar pay and benefit packages bill at about $5-10 hr less, but their fixed costs are at least 30% less than mine. The owners are generally fat, dumb, and happy, their workers generally fit the stereotype.
Regardless, I stay-- because a good portion of my pension is tied to staying, and because it's good for the guys working for me. A worker is worth his wages, and I eat of the fat of their labor-- so when lean times come, I make sure they are still busy and getting paid, even if it means I'm not. Doing business this way has made me prosperous (and wealthy by my own but not a lot of people's) definition of the word.
It is the liability exposure that will probably drive me into retirement-- there's a lot of liability and risk of accident or injury in this line of work, way more than I'm comfortable with anymore. I can very much relate to Alan's thanking the almighty that he didn't kill anyone. I'd very much like to get out of this being able to say the same thing. At this point, there's a lot to lose and less to gain than there ever has been before.
... but all of that is beside the point I was trying to make. A union is an organization, which can be good or bad, but which has power and an agenda-- just like a corporation.
Such collections of power should not be allowed to contribute unlimited (or even substantial) amounts of money to politicians, because they are expecting and receiving a return on their investment. Period.
This is not good governance, and puts the entire system in the pocket of one interest group or another. I'm in the business of being as independent as humanly possible. I believe this was the essence of what the founders (all of them, regardless of any other disagreements) had in common. I've lived in other places-- in places with military dictatorships and in places where the government touch was very, very light. Somewhere in the middle, where the forces of government actually protect, but do not harass people is the sweet-spot.
We're never going to get that with big government, bought and paid for with big-dollar contributions from huge organizations.