About Labor Unions

Labor unions have been on the decline for several decades. Conservative politicians, businesses and lawsuits limiting union financing are the primary causes. Even more specific, the Internet and advancing technology have changed both the workplace and the treatment of payroll making it a finite overhead that does not flex with profit.

The union model, in place since the start of unions at the beginning of the twentieth century, is corporate-specific; the union is a unit of a specific business and is subject to the condition of that business. Some unions were able to merge with other unions in the same market, e.g., steel, carpentry, autoworkers, truckers, steamfitters, etc. Service unions, e.g., hotel workers and shipping also merged to be a generic force across several businesses. Government unions have survived in democratic states but have been throttled in republican states. A precedent was set at the Federal level when Reagan busted the air traffic controllers union. The following paragraphs succinctly describe the union situation:

[U.S. Labor Unions By Jordan Yadoo]

The Situation

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court found that states cannot require public employees who opt out of union membership to nonetheless help pay for collective bargaining undertaken on their behalf. The court had deadlocked over a similar case in 2016. The decision is expected to reduce the funds unions use to support their members and expand recruitment efforts. And it is likely to cut into their political power, since they’ll have less to spend supporting (mostly Democratic) candidates. The court’s decision was another blow to a system that’s been in decline for years. In 2017, just 10.7 percent of wage and salary workers in the U.S. belonged to a union; almost half the rate in 1983. So-called right-to-work laws, which ban any requirement for employees to pay union dues or fees, are already in place in more than half the states, including the traditional union strongholds of Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. In the public sector, where the membership rate has hovered at about 35 percent, unions were already feeling pressure to agree to pay, pension and health-care cuts. There have been a few bright spots: a string of recent successful unionization campaigns by journalists at the Los Angeles Times, Vox Media and MTV News, and a series of teacher strikes in states including West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Colorado that led to salary increases.

In 1935 the National Labor Relations Act codified workers’ rights to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. By the end of the Great Depression, unions grew in strength and number. When the AFL and CIO merged in 1955, more than 1 in 3 American workers had union jobs. But as the U.S. economy shifted from manufacturing to services, unions gradually lost ground. Workplace walkouts declined. From 1970 to 1980, there were an average of 280 work stoppages per year in the U.S. involving 1,000 workers or more; in 2017, there were 7.

Union workers earn about $200 more per week on average than non-union workers, and have better retirement pay and health insurance. Some economists link today’s wage stagnation, broadening income inequality and lack of economic mobility to the decline in unions.

As manufacturing dwindled, the economy depended more on the service industry (restaurants, hotels, transportation, white collar labor, government, etc.) as a significant working class contributor to GDP. The service business model was too eclectic to unionize easily. Most recently teachers and fast food workers have increased their political voices but legislation, business profit models and self-destructing ennui by workers make a recovery of unionization difficult.

Mariner often quotes Deming in his statement that a new paradigm cannot evolve from within the old paradigm. Boy, is that true today! The ‘Establishment’ has reached the end of the road as the entire world jumps into a different reality. This includes the union ‘Establishment.’

Guru suggests that the marriage between business and unions is over. The influence of the Internet and the ability to move whole companies from country to country without disruption eliminates the hold that a union may have on a stationary business operation – the business can just move elsewhere. What unions may evolve into is a guardian of worker wellbeing in general with no specific business relationship.

A good example that exists today is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The rights of free speech, among other Constitutional rights, is defended constantly not for just paying customers but for all citizens. Consider an American Worker Rights Union that is a constant presence between business practices and worker rights and wages. Another example is the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Mariner remembers his father (Labor Chaplin of Maryland) visiting different unions. They weren’t too far removed from social clubs except that the issues were quite important. Today, this is inefficient. The enemy is a freewheeling corporatism and a plutocratic government. The union defense is in changing legislation and protecting everyone who suffers from illegitimate wages and benefits.

Ancient Mariner


Labor Unions

It’s time for someone to say something nice about labor unions. Recent generations have forgotten the bloody, indeed murderous conflicts which our grandfathers and great grandfathers fought to gain humane working environments for employees. In those protests, larger companies sent thugs to beat protestors with clubs – even to the point that many died while protesting. That horrendous time was at the turn of the century. Franklin Roosevelt provided cover for twenty years. However, since the 1980’s there has been a concerted effort on the part of corporations and state governments – consider Scott Walker as Governor of Wisconsin who pushed through anti-union laws:

NBC News, March 9, 2015

“Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law anti-union legislation that prohibits union workers from being required to pay union dues. The so-called right to work law is an effort to reduce the power of unions in the Midwestern state and is one that will give Walker additional conservative bona fides in his likely presidential bid.

Walker refused to indicate during his reelection campaign in 2014 if he would support the legislation. His signature Monday morning makes Wisconsin the 25th state to implement the ban that was passed by the Republican legislature earlier this month.

Opponents of the bill say it will decimate unions and have a ripple effect of suppressing the ability of workers to organize while supporters, including Walker, say that this will lead to economic growth.

“Adjusted for cost of living, employees in forced unionization states have almost $2,000 less in disposable income. Bottom line, this reform is pro-freedom and pro-work for Wisconsin,” Walker wrote in a recent opinion piece for the conservative website Red State. [Still, he did not mention reduced health and retirement benefits and vulnerability to tax cuts affecting jobs.]

This is the second major anti-union legislation that Walker has supported. In 2011, he ushered through highly controversial legislation titled Act 10 that reduced the bargaining power as well as health care and pension benefits of public sector unions. The move led to a recall election, which Walker won.”

Well, Wisconsin gets what it deserves with its vote. But the workers of Wisconsin clearly are not better off when their health care and pensions are cut; their right to negotiate a fair wage and benefits is negated, and the right to work law virtually denies any union votes to organize in the workplace.

Twenty-two states have right to work laws. The name is deceptive. It means one has the right to work for a company without having to join a union. It also means, depending on the language in most states, that unions cannot solicit a worker to join a union.

Just about every common citizen agrees that middle and lower class workers are being screwed. The United States is an oligarchy, not a democracy. There are only so many ways for workers to participate in the profit curve denied them at this time:

  • Have union representation.
  • Have a fair profit sharing system based on hours and tenure, not salary.
  • Have employee-owned corporations with comparable seats on the board of directors.
  • Have unions bid on job creation opportunities.

The first and last options go together. Unions have retirement funds that can be leveraged to bid against corporations. An example, provided by Bill Clinton, is for a union to bid on the reconstruction of LaGuardia Airport in New York. This has moved forward. The reconstruction belongs to the union, not a corporation. Fifteen thousand jobs will be created for a long term project and it will be owned by the union.

There are dangers in this kind of arrangement. The mariner has written in the past that power corrupts. Nevertheless, at these moments in history when income is so imbalanced in the US, maybe it’s better for unions to manage corruption than the Congress and state legislatures.

Ancient Mariner