07 June 2012
UNIONS AND SHARED PROSPERTY
From a blog entry by Ross Eisenbrey and Colin Gordon ~
"The passage in 1935 of the National Labor Relations Act, which protected and encouraged labor unions, sparked a wave of unionization that led to three decades of shared prosperity and what some call the Great Compression ~ when the share of national income taken by the very rich was cut by one-third. The 'countervailing power' of labor unions (not just at the bargaining table but in local, state, and national politics) gave them the ability to raise wages and working standards for members and non-members alike. Both median compensation and labor productivity roughly doubled into the early 1970s. Labor unions both sustained prosperity, and ensured that it was shared. Union bargaining power has been shown to moderate the compensation of executives at unionized firms.
However, over the next 30 years ~ an era highlighted by the filibuster of labor law reform in 1978, the Reagan administration's crushing o the PATCO strike, and the passage of anti-worker trade deals with Mexico and China ~ labor's bargaining power collapsed. The consequences are driven home by the figure below (click to enlarge), which juxtaposes the historical trajectory of union density and the income shared by the richest 10 percent of Americans. Union membership has fallen and income inequality has worsened ~ reaching levels not seen since the 1920s.
Over the years I held a variety of jobs, and uniformly the ones in which workers were unionized featured better job security, health benefits, wages, and working conditions. My experience includes unionized government jobs at the city, county, state, and federal levels, as well as jobs as a professional transit driver. It is revealing that unionization not only benefits workers, it also levels the fiscal playing field between employees and corporate executives. As Arsenio Hall used to say on his late night variety show, "Kinda makes you go 'hmmmm'."
If you are opposed to labor unions, you are opposed to all benefits unions have won over the years ~ paid vacations, sick leave, seniority rights, paid holidays, wage increases, pensions, health insurance plans, time-and-a-half for overtime, unemployment benefits, safe working conditions, the end of child labor, and job security. I'm certain that the robber barons who run Wall Street, hence Washington DC, would delight in rescinding those hard-won gains by their employees.