I read a blog today that spurred my thoughts in a new direction. The blog (read here) was about the religious owners of a small business who elected to close shop after their employees decided to unionize.
The rationale they give for their decision piqued my interest:
“…our personal beliefs will not allow our conscience the freedom to work with a labor union, as we are required by Scripture to ‘live peaceably with all men,’ and not to use force to gain what we want or for what is required to succeed.”
I am a big believer in freedom of conscience and allowing business owners to make the decisions best for them. I understand the angst of a small business owner facing the prospect of a workforce organized against them. I know other small business owners who said they too would close shop rather than deal with a union.
However, by a Christian standard, is it truly living “peaceably” to essentially take the ball and go home when the game isn’t played by our own rules?
The Reason for Unions and the Cost of Conflict
I understand why a business owner is threatened by the collective bargaining power of unions. It isn’t a pleasant thing to face the prospect of a do-what-we-say-or-we’ll-strike and it does tie the hands of those trying to keep a business afloat rather than just take a paycheck. But is it much different than the do-what-we-say-or-we’ll-fire-you that employees face?
The reality is that unions form for a reason and the reason is that employees feel powerless and want a voice. Unions give employees power to collectively bring their own agenda to the table and force their will on the owners of the business. It is an attempt to rebalance or redistribute power in a way that makes a the structure of a business less hierarchical.
Unfortunately unions often only add another layer of management (often as removed from the needs of the employees as the other) and only adds to the cost of business while producing nothing besides a contentious attitude. The end result can be an uncompetitive business model that eventually works for nobody.
What are the Christian Alternatives to Closing Shop?
First off, closing shop is not the only option a business owner has when faced by unionization, there’s more than one way to “live peaceably with all men” and avoid unnecessary conflict. I am guessing that the employees are less at peace with the our-way-or-you’re-jobless approach and perhaps not too impressed with their ‘peaceable’ former employer.
Here’s some ideas…
Alternative #1: Partner only with like-minded people. There would be less need for unions (or closing shop in protest of them) if we took Paul’s admonition seriously:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)
Much conflict between business owners and employees stem from differences of perspective that would be reduced by not hiring outside of one’s own religious affiliation. Sure, this might reduce the amount of available employees (at a particular cost) and limit the size of the business. But, if allegiance to faith outweighs financial gain, then the decision is clear.
Alternative #2a: Change who you serve. Many people go into business to serve primarily their own needs. Business is all about getting the best deal for yourself and all sides are in competition against one another (customer against producer, employee against owner, etc) trying to serve themselves. Yet, there is an alternative and that alternative is cooperation.
What if owners served employees, customers served producers and employees served both and everyone *voluntarily* served everyone else selflessly?
In other words, what would happen if we changed all of the force arrows pulling outward competing for their ‘piece of the pie’ and spun them 180° in the opposite direction?
That, my friends, is turning fission into fusion and (like the nuclear counterpart) has potential for more energy or profit to all than the alternative:
What if all parts serve God by *voluntarily* serving each other rather than themselves?
Well, that’s Christianity:
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.“ (Ephesians 6:5-9)
We don’t have masters and servants (unless you agree with Noam Chomsky), but the same principles could apply to both an employee working for a business or customer. It can also apply to how a Christian business owner responds to a union, the owner can choose to resist the collective will of their employees or they can serve and honor it as an act of obedience to their Master.
If Jesus is your Master this is your obedience:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Alternative #2b: Serve all people radically. Maybe you already have employees who aren’t like-minded and want to gang up on you or unionize, what then?
Well, if your primary purpose is to serve Jesus Christ, then this might apply:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
That is a concept as revolutionary today as it was when Jesus spoke the words. It is a concept, if applied evenly to all areas of life, would change everything we do and requires a faith few of us have. Sure, most of us are willing to cooperate when we know it is to our own advantage, but Jesus goes a step beyond mutual cooperation and tells us to lead through self-sacrificial love.
The conclusion of the matter…
Many go into business primarily to serve themselves and there is nothing immoral about profitable enterprise. However, a Christian should not go into business to serve themselves, the goal of a faithful servant of Jesus is to serve others as obedience requires and that means a cooperative—even a self-sacrificial—approach to business.
In the case with the small business of the blog post, I am guessing the separation or disunity of spirit between employees and employer existed long before the vote. The vote to unionize only codified a division that already existed and was a move to change the terms in favor of the employees. It backfired, in this case, because the employer chose to quit rather than serve terms not dictated by them and their needs.
I will let you decide if their response was the best Christian resolution of difference or not. How would you decide? I welcome your comments…