Unions Are the Path to Well-Paying Jobs

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by Richard Bloomingdale



Any job can be a well-paying job if it’s a union job! That lesson has been lost to many Americans deceived by decades of attacks from well-funded corporate interests and their political allies.

Politicians like to talk about jobs, good-paying, middle-class jobs that can sustain American families. Have these jobs always existed? No. These jobs, and the dignity they bring to working families, were fought for by a strong labor movement. Before jobs were low paying to the point that people lived in company houses or tenements with multigenerational family members in the same space. They rarely had a car and certainly did not own their home. How, and why, did that change?

Unionization and organizing changed it all. President Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, leveling the playing field for workers to organize. So as unions formed in the big industrial and craft sectors, workers gained a seat at the table through collective bargaining. It was at those tables that workers voiced their right to a share of the product of their labor.

No longer did all the profits go to the 1%; some of those profits were paid to the workers who actually made the products. As a result, America experienced an era of broad-based prosperity unlike any ever seen before. And while union density only reached its height at 35% of the American workforce, many employers in non-union companies paid a decent wage to keep from losing their employees.

As we see American’s income and middle class stagnate, while union density shrinks, the income going to the 1% grows. This is no accident; most (not all) employers reward shareholders at the expense of workers. One prime example is Walmart. We see the Waltons and their shareholders getting richer and richer, while their employees qualify for food stamps and Medicaid.  Ultimately, Walmart gets richer at the expense of the taxpayers.

But what if Walmart was union? Workers, through their union, would have representation and bargain for a share of the success and profit from their work. The worker’s share would be a higher wage, a health-care plan and maybe even a pension. Higher wages would lead to increased spending at other stores, maybe even the purchase of a home. In John Kennedy’s words, a rising tides lifts all boats.

How do we get back to the those good old days of a growing middle class? One word – organize!  Since President Roosevelt signed the NLRA, greedy employers and unscrupulous lawyers have figured out ways to get around the law and, in some cases, break the law. They break union organizing laws intended to level the playing field for workers who want to form unions because, in their greedy minds, it is better to pay paltry fines created 80 years ago than have a union.

It is time to strengthen the law and significantly increase fines, creating economic and personal disincentives that deter illegal anti-organizing and union-busting practices.

Workers need to be active in elections. If we are going to change the law, we need to elect people who are going to vote to level the playing field. We need to be make the phone calls, go door to door, visit worksites and provide our members with the information they need to make informed decisions about candidates running for office.

So, if you want a return to the middle class, get out there! Organize your workplace and help us elect people who will protect your right to have a voice at work. And don’t forget to vote on Nov. 8!

Richard Bloomingdale is president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.


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