“The Union Way Up”

Robert Reich argues for unions:

The union way up, by Robert B. Reich, Commentary, LA Times: …Go back about 50 years, when America’s middle class was expanding and the economy was soaring. Paychecks were big enough to allow … a virtuous circle. Good pay meant more purchases, and more purchases meant more jobs.

At the center of this virtuous circle were unions. In 1955, more than a third of working Americans belonged to one. … So many Americans were unionized that wage agreements spilled over to nonunionized workplaces as well. …

Fast forward to a new century. Now, fewer than 8% of private-sector workers are unionized. Corporate opponents argue that Americans no longer want unions. But public opinion surveys … suggest that a majority of workers would like to have a union to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. …

One point is clear: … As our economy grew between 2001 and the start of 2007, most Americans didn’t share in the prosperity. … Home-equity loans and refinancing made up for declining paychecks. But that’s over. …

The way to get the economy back on track is to boost the purchasing power of the middle class. One major way to do this is to expand the percentage of working Americans in unions. … According to the Department of Labor, workers in unions earn 30% higher wages … and are 59% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance…

Although America and its economy need unions, it’s become nearly impossible for employees to form one. … The reason? Most of the time, employees who want to form a union are threatened and intimidated by their employers. And all too often, if they don’t heed the warnings, they’re fired, even though that’s illegal. I saw this when I was secretary of Labor… We tried to penalize employers…, but the fines are minuscule. Too many employers consider them a cost of doing business.

This isn’t right. The most important feature of the Employee Free Choice Act, which will be considered by … Congress, toughens penalties against companies that violate their workers’ rights. The sooner it’s enacted, the better…

The American middle class isn’t looking for a bailout or a handout. Most people just want a chance to share in the success of the companies they help to prosper. …


Originally published at the Economist’s View reproduced here with the author’s permission.

One Response to "“The Union Way Up”"

  1. bill allen   January 31, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Labor unions were great in the 1930s when they were run by social activists who saw people who were being mistreated in the workplace and wanted to help.Today the unions ,for the most part are run by self serving political types,many of whom are corrupt.Why is it that the businesses that are most heavily unionized,steel,autos,construction and airlines are the same ones who have been in the biggest trouble.Mr Reich may have been secty of labor but he is basicly an acadenic who has never had to deal with the real world of business.Ask him to explain why the unions want to do away with secret ballot in certification elections but retain secret ballot in decertification elections.