Wednesday, February 13, 2013

We need unions!

Labor unions raise prosperity for all!

As President Obama said in his inaugural address, America "cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it."
Not even the very wealthy can continue to succeed without a broader-based prosperity. That's because 70 percent of economic activity in America is consumer spending. When most Americans are becoming poorer, they're less able to spend. Without their spending, the economy can't get out of first gear. That's a big reason the recovery continues to be anemic.
Almost a quarter of all jobs in America now pay wages below the poverty line for a family of four. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over the next decade, seven out of 10 growth occupations will be low-wage - like serving customers at big-box retailers and fast-food chains.
If they were rational, the wealthy would support public investments in education and job training, a world-class infrastructure (transportation, water and sewage, energy, Internet) and basic research - all of which would make the American workforce more productive.
If they were rational, they'd even support labor unions, which have proven the best means of giving working people a fair share of the nation's prosperity.
But labor unions are almost extinct. The decline of unions in America tracks exactly the decline in the bottom 90 percent's share of total earnings, and the shrinkage of the middle class.
In the 1950s, when the U.S. economy was growing faster than 3 percent a year, more than a third of all working Americans belonged to a union. That gave them enough bargaining clout to get wages that allowed them to buy what the economy was capable of producing.
But as of 2012, only 6.6 percent of American workers in the private sector were unionized, the lowest rate of unionization in almost a century.
What's to blame? Partly globalization and technological change. Globalization sent many formerly unionized jobs abroad. Technologies have replaced many formerly unionized workers in telecommunications (remember telephone operators?) and clerical jobs.
But other nations subject to the same forces have far higher levels of unionization than America. About 28 percent of Canada's workforce is unionized, as is more than 25 percent of Britain's and almost 20 percent of Germany's.
Unions are almost extinct in America because we've chosen to make them extinct.
Unlike other rich nations, our labor laws allow employers to replace striking workers. We've also made it exceedingly difficult for workers to organize, and we barely penalize companies that violate labor laws. (A worker who's illegally fired for trying to organize a union may, if lucky, get the job back along with back pay - after years of legal haggling.)
Don't blame globalization and technological change for the fact that employees at Walmart, America's largest employer, still don't have a union.
They're not in global competition, and their jobs aren't directly threatened by technology.
The average pay of a Walmart worker is $8.81 an hour. A third of Walmart's employees work less than 28 hours per week and don't qualify for benefits.
Walmart is a microcosm of the American economy. It has brazenly fought off unions. But it could easily afford to pay its workers more. It earned $16 billion last year. Much of that sum went to Walmart's shareholders, including the family of its founder, Sam Walton.
The wealth of the Walton family now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
But how can Walmart expect to continue to show fat profits when most of its customers are on a downward economic escalator?
Walmart should be unionized. So should McDonald's. So should every major big-box retailer and fast-food outlet in the nation. So should every hospital in America.
That way, more Americans would have enough money in their pockets to get the economy moving. And everyone - even the very rich - would benefit. As the president said, America cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.
(Richard Reich)


Anonymous said...

Obama is a jack ass and we need unions like we need more do nothing , hands out libs.

Anonymous said...

What we need are unions that don't have dipicable bosses running them and don't waste so much of their dues on political payola. The concept of a union is fine, very much like the concept of our political system is fine. The problem is people have to run them which leads to graft, corruption and general theivery. Too bad the union wasn't watching a little closer before they got cleaned out by the pulp mill owmers. Or were they?

samoasoftball said...

The Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 49 that represented the workers at the Pulp Mill is a unique union that is a bottom up organization. The President and everyone down the line in leadership is from a mill represented by the organization. I was on staff for 5 years as an organizer and served my local as President, Vice President, Recording Secretary and shop steward. Each of my local offices I was elected by the members of the mill. Totally volunteer. There was no "theivery" or "corruption." Terrible what happened to all the workers there.

Julie Timmons said...

Great post, Richard. Due to the passage of time and poor education, many people, especially the younger ones, don't understand unions and what we all owe to them.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes....."Like your weekends, thank a Union member". That trite drivel is ok at the local union meeting or on a bumper sticker but irrelevant. I have never heard anyone specifically state that the local was awash in corruption. However, if they sent a single dime to the national offices their money was used for purposes that were less than helpful to the local workers and more helpful to the union bosses. The fact is, and you know this, that many times shop stewards and other employee reps are given plum assignments at their job and get lots of free time for "organizing" and "union business", often at a premium wage of 10-15% over scale. Then, they are very willing to work hand in hand with the company on terminations, contracts, etc.