We have seen a significant shift in power in labor-management relationships over the last 20 years. It has served to unlevel the playing field and disrupt cooperative efforts. Now, there are signs that a shift in power may be starting.
It is not a healthy situation when one party has (or thinks they have) complete control in any situation. The controlling party has little incentive to engage in a cooperative process or do anything not in their immediate self-interest. Even “doing the right thing” is insignificant to many.
Around 25 years ago, labor was perceived as being in control. Negotiated agreements strongly favored unions with regular wage and benefit increases and employment guarantees. In the 1980’s, the pendulum began t0 swing back, as the Air-Traffic Controllers strike, was broken by President Reagan, the myth of supply-side economics, changes in the economy such as increasing imports, and other factors. These lead to a loss of jobs, demise of many manufacturing and other industries, and resulting wage concessions and other give-backs in contract language.
Labor was made the scapegoat for economic decline. Unions were vilified, contributing to their decline in public perception, membership, and power. Punitive anti-union legislation helped further the stresses on labor. The unwillingness of some unions to look at how societal changes were impacting them also was a contributing factor.
Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but it appears there are signs the pendulum has begun to swing back. Three examples of this are:
Increase in positive public perceptions of unions. An August Gallup Poll found 61% of Americans said they approve of unions, the highest percentage since 2003. This is 5% better than last year and 13 points above the lowest approval percentage in 2009. Thirty-nine percent said they thought unions should have more influence, the highest total in the 18 years Gallup has asked this question. Those who want unions to have less influence was at a record low.
An increase in positive union perception can help stem the tide of political losses for unions and help in organizing efforts.
Failure of supply-side economic systems in Kansas and other states. Forbes Magazine reports the extreme tax-cut efforts of Governor Brownback resulted in below-average growth in the state, a deepening of deficits, and resulting deep spending cuts. Brownback argued his supply-side scheme would increase economic growth, but the outcome has been the opposite.
Forbes reports “The state’s budget deficit was expected to hit $280 million this year, despite major spending reductions. Kansas falls well below national averages in a wide range of public services from K-12 education to housing to police and fire protection, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute’s State and Local Finance Initiative. Under order from the state Supreme Court, the legislature has voted to increase funding for public schools by $293 million over the next two years.”
As a result, the Republican legislature in Kansas passed a series of tax increases in an effort to restore sanity to the Kansas economy, overriding Brownback’s veto in the process.
The only winners in supply-side systems are the few at the top of the wage gap. This has created the huge wage discrepancy currently damaging the economy. A demise in supply-side can also be a trend that helps workers regain their economic status and well-being for their families..
NAFTA re-negotiations. The current administration demanded the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the process is currently underway. The Wall Street Journal and other sources report negotiators are encouraging Mexico to adopt a more pro-union stance and increase wages paid in that country.
Currently, the minimum wage in Mexico is $4.80 per day. This creates an inequity that has led employers to move jobs to Mexico while conditions and lax enforcement of worker protections continue to harm their workers. Experts believe weakness of unions in Mexico have contributed to this problem.
These are just three examples of a possible reversal of worker losses. We will report on other examples in future blogs, but we hope they signal a trend in increasing the influence and status of American workers.