September 21, 2006


Caption: Goat union leaders say "What are you guys waiting for?"

If we're ever going to reverse the middle class squeeze and move the U.S. in a direction of shared prosperity, defending and revitalizing the labor movement has to be high on the to-do list.

After all, those (we) are the people who fought and voted for the kinds of contracts, laws, and policies that created the worker protections and the social safety net that we have.

Unions have unfortunately suffered a decline in membership. This has helped to erode living standards not just for members but for all working people due to the spillover or "threat effect" of unionism. This is the tendency of employers to offer higher wages and better benefits and conditions in order to stave off organizing efforts.

The Economic Policy Institute's The State of Working America 2006/2007 attributes the decline in union membership to both macroeconomic and political factors:

This erosion of bargaining power is partially related to a harsher economic context for unions because of trade pressures, the shift to services, and ongoing technological change. However, analysts have also pointed to other factors, such as employer militancy and changes in the application and administration of labor law, that have helped to weaken unions and their ability to raise wages.

Despite years of federal hostility or at best indifference to unions and worker issues--including trade deals that made good jobs a leading export--unions continue to deliver the goods to working people.

According to EPI, the union premium, defined as "the degree to which union wages exceed non-union wages" is still significant:

*Wages of union members are 28.1% higher than for non-union members;

*Total compensation (including wages, health and pension benefits) is 43.7% higher;

*Union members are more likely to be covered by health insurance (83.5% to 62%) and to have lower co-pays, deductibles, and better retiree health coverage. The total union premium in this area is 28.2% higher than non-union workers.

*Union members are more likely to be covered by pensions than non-union workers (71.9% to 43.8%). The union premium here is 53.9%; and

*Union members have more time for vacations (2.98 weeks to 2.35 weeks) for a union premium of 26.6%.

One step that could benefit the nation as a whole and stop the race to the bottom would be to restore the right of workers to organize unions without fear of retaliation. The Employee Free Choice Act would do just that.

Since it was introduced in Congress in 2005, bi-partisan support for this long overdue measure has been building but it still faces strong resistance.


No comments: