By Rick Moyle
A Sept. 3 article (“Number of union members down in state”) states some opinions regarding the reasons why union membership continues to decline. Some attribute the fall in numbers to some original union issues like the eight-hour workday, 40-hour workweek and overtime pay having become the norm for all workers. I say unions have accomplished much more through the years than just a 40-hour workweek.
Let’s be realistic: How many people who work only a 40-hour week these days and have enough to live off are not considered upper management and do not have a collective bargaining agreement?
The U.S. labor movement came to life when working people decided that they had enough of being treated poorly by their employers — much like we are seeing today. Wage inequality is the highest it has been since the beginning of the labor movement. Safety regulations for workers are under attack. Defined pension plans have been eliminated by most companies. Goods are produced overseas.
Wages have been stagnant for more than 40 years when adjusted for inflation even though worker productivity is at an all-time high. Child labor laws are under attack and right — to — work — for — less laws are being pushed through state legislatures while corporations receive billions of dollars in tax breaks.
Minimum wage is not close to a livable wage and non — union workers have been fired for crazy things like being too attractive (see at-will employment state). The list goes on and on.
Yes, union membership is down and that can be attributed to many factors. One is that manufacturing companies have shipped jobs overseas (see bad trade bills). If we do not have such jobs in this country, then we cannot have high union density either.
The gains union participation has brought for all workers include weekends, breaks at work, paid vacation, Family Medical Leave Act, sick leave, social security, the minimum wage, protection against employer discrimination, child labor laws, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, pensions, workplace safety, employer-sponsored health insurance, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, whistle-blower protections, sexual harassment protection, Americans with Disabilities Act, holiday pay, privacy rights, the equal pay acts of 1963 and 2011, ending sweatshops in the United States and hundreds more.
It is not bad to have due process at the workplace. It is not wrong to want a piece of the pie when you work very hard to make others very wealthy.
Labor unions will rebound because if they do not, all workers are ill-fated. A strong middle class is dependent upon working class people who are unified.
Rick Moyle is executive director of the Hawkeye Labor Council AFL-CIO, Cedar Rapids. Comments: email@example.com