We’ve heard news reports of issues that impact workers. The stories about the Fight for Fifteen and the need for increased wages. Unions have helped to carry the message about the needs for wage increases, and, in some areas, pushed politicians to establish legislation that increases wages in local communities. We’ve also heard the news about unions. They’re numbers are decreasing and they don’t have the influence they once had. What impact does this have for workers now and in the future ? Who will lobby for workers?
According to the Economic Policy Institute, unions help both unionized and non-unionized workplaces. In September, 2016, Lawrence Mishel wrote non-union workers lost 8% in wages in 2013 because the power of unions has diminished. This is because unionized contracts help to establish wages as the norm, or, if the managers recognize the wages as the standard, they think it will help to keep their shops from becoming unionized. This isn’t just about wages. It also affects benefits and work policies. In a previous blog, we compiled a list of items unions achieved that affected ALL workers. Some of those include the five-day work week, the 8 hour work week and overtime pay.
This week a new report came out about worker voice and pay and it responds to the question I asked but it offers a suggestion on what needs to happen and how to make unions stronger. The report is from The Center for American Progress. It too, talks about the need for wage increases. CEO pay today is 235 times more than what the average worker makes. That’s up from the 1973 salary which was 22 times the average worker’s wage. In 1973, unions were much stronger. The author of the report, David Madland, says 80 year old labor laws need to be updated and union growth needs to be encouraged. He said negotiated worker agreements should be industry wide instead of between workers and a single facility. This, he said, would help both organizations and workers. For organizations it would help establish their labor costs and for workers it would benefit them because all workers in an industry would receive higher wages, not just unionized workplaces. He goes on to say work councils of labor and management need to be established to address workplace issues in each workplace of an industry. We at CALMC can vouch for the successes of labor and management working together that can help workplaces.
Workers absolutely need lobbyists for them. Trying to achieve something on your own is difficult but it can be much more effective as a group. Look at the industries and the number of lobbyists that are out there for them. The Open Secrets web site gives the names of the industries and the amount of money spent on lobbying efforts. Pharmaceutical, insurance, business, electrical utilities and oil and gas are just a few that spend millions of dollars on lobbying efforts. While these industries employ thousands of workers, the focus of the lobbyists is for the organizations within the industry and not the needs necessarily of those employed in those organizations.
One of the economists for Moody’s Analytics also offered some ideas to increase union strength because he, too, said workers need unions. Adam Ozimek suggests unions focus on how they help through the services they can provide. Maybe, he says, unions can show employee-owned companies how to be successful, or, maybe, unions could invest in other companies and show them how higher wages can return investment. Another area he thinks unions are beneficial is to provide HR services or provide employment consultation to other workers. His last suggestion is unions could provide consultation and support to workers in other industries that are traditionally non-union.
The need for unions is real now and in the future. They help ALL workers. Economists recognize their importance. Government policy experts recognize their importance. Both know wages need to increase and they know unions are a mechanism to help boost wages and they know workers need unions to represent them. Fortunately, unions recognize this, too, and aren’t ready to throw in the towel. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is not happy with the decreasing numbers of union workers. He says it’s not the best of times for unions but he does see some growth and recognizes it is an opportunity to identify new ways of increasing membership. For example, Working America, a branch of the AFL-CIO, is actually doing what Adam Ozimek suggested. Working America services to non-union workers. These workers network with other workers, learn more about the issues that impact them and find more out about unions. They go back to their workplaces with a better understanding of what they can do and possibly start organizing efforts.
So I ask my question again, who lobbies for workers if unions aren’t around? I’m happy to say there are some initiatives in the works to keep unions going now and in the future. And as far as those 80 year old labor laws that need to be updated, it may be awhile before that happens but I’m optimistic that someday they will be happen. Unions may not look the same as they do now or as they did before but there are workers and other people such as economists and policy experts that say unions are absolutely necessary.