Two weeks ago we blogged about universal basic income(UBI) as a way to address the anxiety and fear people have regarding jobs and low wages. This week we look at some ideas critics to UBI have suggested. In other words, we’re looking at changing paradigms as Joel Barker, the futurist, likes to say, or, let’s think outside the box!
Critics of UBI say why not focus directly on the problems instead of creating something that could be too costly or replace current social programs. They suggest solutions to the jobs and wage problems can be done through the encouragement of union growth. Their line of thought is that if unions gain membership it will make them stronger to demand higher wages. Higher wages will help increase buying power for more products and services and that will yield to job growth.
How do they suggest to encourage union growth? Some of the ideas, they admit, could be difficult to achieve without action from a U. S. Congress that is reluctant to update labor laws.
Labor laws regarding unions are old. They don’t address the changing nature of work. Laws that enabled unions to be recognized or govern wages were written in the 1930s, or 80 years ago! Think about the workplace changes in that amount of time. Many of those changes were because of unions. Industry has gone from agricultural to industrial to technology. More women work in the workplace. People make more money. We work fewer hours and maybe not as difficult as we did. Workplaces are safer. Products and services are different. We could go on and on but the laws have remained the same. Getting everybody to agree on how they need to be changed could be a problem but here’s a list of some other ideas:
- This idea goes along with updating labor laws so it may be awhile before it can happen. Change the laws to reflect bargaining for an industry instead of an organization. Whether or not an organization in a particular industry was organized, it still could have wages and benefits negotiated for them because of being in a particular industry. Those who report on this idea suggest laws in the United States have created an adversarial system whereby managers feel more threatened when they compare the same work being done in a non-union environment for a lower wage or because they don’t feel they have the ability to do work in a particular way. Work councils of labor and management representatives could be set up in each individual work location to deal with issues specifically for a location. This will help increase worker participation, encourage new ideas to be brought into workplace decisions and create a stronger voice for workers.
- Another idea is to increase union membership similar to European models with a “Ghent system” which started in Belgium. The Ghent System is a government system for unemployment benefits. Recipients of unemployment can either receive benefits from the government or from unions. The government provides unions funding for unemployment which remains separate from other union funds. Someone receiving unemployment does not have to be a member of a union to receive the benefit but many people prefer going through unions because they feel it’s easier than going through a government system. Unions help them navigate the application for unemployment. They also think unions are more beneficial in helping them obtain unemployment benefits. Unions have opportunity to create good working relationships with workers who may not be union members but may decide later to become union members. This would work very well in the industry-wide collective bargaining example mentioned above.
- It also can help for unions to reach out to non-union workers in other occupations such as temp workers. Some unions have done this and were able to organize the temp workers. Some unions have had limited roles with these workers. For example, some of the Uber or Lyft drivers have formed associations but are not actually unions but have received assistance from unions. We have blogged about that before. A group called the Freelancers Union is not a formal union. It is made up of gig workers or independent contractors that work in various settings. Ironically, one of the founders of this group had relatives that were either actively involved in or worked with unions. This group helps to obtain health care for their members. The Freelancers do not bargain contracts for their workers but they do provide a loud voice for members’ concerns. That voice helps their workers have a little more influence in the workplace. If nothing more, unions reaching out to non-union workers helps to establish a contact for assistance if needed or simply to build a relationship. Relationships could someday turn into memberships.
- Get labor and management together to address changes to labor laws. This could be done locally and at the state level. Some local or state laws are addressed already by labor and management working together on them.
- There also needs to be greater support for unions instead of making them out to be villains. People need to stand up and express it. In Ohio, legislation to change collective bargaining agreements is a great example. SB5, as it was called, showed the strength and support voters had for unions. The SB5 legislation was put on a state-wide ballot and was voted down significantly.
- Along with that support, a national campaign specifically about worker support and the need to increase wages needs to happen. This is being done in some locations with the Fight For 15 but it shouldn’t be in the form of a protest but with more of a positive spin to it to get everybody on board. During the last election, wage issues were on the ballot in different locations. All of the issues passed to increase wages but the push to continue or a great acknowledgment of the need for higher wages in other locations was lacking. The wins in those locations could be good advertisements.
We’ve identified some alternatives to the status quo. The current system has a lot of fears and anguish built into it. Yet, perverse as it is, stock markets go up if a company sheds workers. It doesn’t matter if someone’s life is turned upside down, or a dedicated worker has to face an uncertain future, or a man near retirement has to return to school only to retire a year or two after he finishes school.
Keeping wages so low that workers still are below poverty level doesn’t seem at fair and just especially when they’re doing what society wants them to do. It’s even worse when corporations that provide those low wages see large profits and some in the corporation make salaries far more than is necessary.
The alternatives listed above do not guarantee success or perfection but it can provide opportunity for workers to have a stronger voice and some strength in numbers to overcome the status quo. There is no conclusive outcome as to whether UBI is the answer to help with loss of jobs and low wages. UBI only provides a minimum amount of income. Some experiments with it have put certain restrictions on it, too.
Does anybody really understand what workers are experiencing? Is anybody really listening or are they just hearing? Is anybody willing to put their egos and differences aside to do something that helps? Is anybody willing to tilt a few windmills to make some changes and get out of those paradigms?
What all these ideas do say, there are alternatives to the status quo. That message has come across loud and clear. It’s time to value workers as much as stock markets value those corporations.