This topic, "Unions Do Matter," will examine the current state of the U.S. labor movement, discuss the relevance that unions hold in the 21st century, and review the economic differences and advantages that union work places have over a non-union environment. This topic will lay the foundation for understanding the importance of building a strong and effective union.
Building a strong and effective union, both nationally and locally, is essential if unions are to remain relevant and influential. The process of building a union is a journey, not a destination. A union environment is a dynamic environment, circumstances are always changing. If unions are are to grow and become strong they must not be satisfied with the status quo. For instance if the union negotiates a new contract, and let ’s say the contract is for a three year period, the union should not assume it has reached its destination and is no longer required to continue its journey until next contract. The union will not grow strong if it limits itself to contract enforcement. The union must grow strong by being exciting and dynamic and creating a strategic plan that establishes goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. These goals must include efforts to recruit, train and develop strong, effective and motivated leaders, Leaders that transform the union into a union that excites and motivates its members. The union’s goals should include improving communication systems, community outreach, improving and promoting a positive public image, building union democracy, creating orientation and socialization programs within the union. If a union is to grow strong it requires member participation and member commitment. A member ’s willingness to participate and be committed to the union depends largely upon their attitude toward the union. Throughout this semester we will be discussing how member attitudes towards unions are formed, and how unions are affected by positive and negative attitudes of its members. But for now let’s take a look at why unions matter.
Union membership has declined precipitously in the last 25 years and critic of unions are quick to point this out. Presently union membership in the United States stands at 11.3% of the eligible workforce. In the opinion of the critics, unions are old news, no longer ready for prime time, washed up, just plain old antiques. Remember, antiques are often valuable, and so are unions. Union naysayers opine that unions were only valuable in the 20 th century and even then only during 1950 ’s and 60’s. They argue that unions are irrelevant today and they are cause of high costs and inflation, and high unemployment. Critics point out the losses in membership. Approximately 1 out of 3, or 33%, of the eligible workforce belonged to a union during the peak of union membership in the 1950 ’s. Today it is about 1 out of every 12 workers, less than 8%. Of course persons who hold anti-union opinions also state that unions have lost their powers and influence. Critics also forecast, or at least eagerly await, the demise of unions altogether. While facts do support there has been a significant reduction in union membership the last 25 years, unions are relevant, necessary, and they benefit society. Counterpoints to the union critics will be discussed during this lecture.
This chart, created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the total percentage of union membership in the United States among the eligible workforce. In 2000 the organized workforce stood at 13.4%. In 2012 that number had declined to 11.3%, a further decline from 11.8% in 2011. These figures includes the workforce that are union members in the private and public sector. In 2012 approximately 14.3 million workers belonged to a union in the U.S.
The American Rights at Work (ARW) organization points out, among other things, that unions matter because the labor movement reinforces the middle class. In fact states with higher rates of unionization have lower rates of poverty, crime, and failing schools. ARW ’s research also confirms that a large union presence in the an industry or region can raise wages for non-union workers. Health and Safety issues are also tackled along with the push for minimum wage ordinances. Unions have been instrumental in raising federal and state minimum wage. Livable wage advocacy as led to 150 living wage laws nationwide.
Over the next few slides we ’ll take a look just a few of the many economic benefits that union workers have compared to non union workers. This graph illustrates the difference between union and non-union wages for full time wage and salary workers. Union wages average $943.00 per week while non-union wages are significantly lower at $742.00. This union advantage translates into a of $201 more earnings per week, or 28%. Annually, a union workers will earn over $10,400 per year over their non-union counterpart. Statistically this chart clearly demonstrates the monetary benefit a union has over a non-union worker. This independent government data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency.
This graph illustrates the difference between union and non-union worker participation in defined benefit retirement plan participation. This plan my also be referred to as defined benefit pension plan. This is a pension plan in which retirement benefits rather than contributions into the plan are specified. Thus, a retired employee who has reached a certain age with a given number of years of service and has earned a certain income is entitled to a specific monthly pension payment. This graph clearly demonstrates an enormous pension plan advantage that unionized workers enjoy compared to non-union workers. Over 80% of union workers enjoy the benefit of a traditional pension plan compared to less than 20% among non-unionized workers. In fact most most non-union workers that are covered by a retirement program participate in 401(k) plans, officially called a defined contribution retirement plan. These plans have experience significant monetary losses compared to the economic stability and consistency of retirement pension programs.
Family medical insurance is an important element of any compensation package. Most often it is very expensive and can quickly diminish a worker ’s disposable income. Over the years the cost of medical insurance has risen at an alarming rate. As the graph demonstrates the average non-union worker contributes a greater amount on a monthly basis than the union worker counterpart. In fact the gap between what a non-union worker pays compared to a union worker continues to widen. In this latest BLS survey conducted in 2006 the average amount paid by a non union worker was $300.00 a month while the union worker contributed approximately $198 toward family insurance. This $100 per month difference over a year provides a $1200.00 savings for the union worker compared to a non-union worker. On average a non-union worker contributes $3600 per year for family coverage. This amount is significant and will certainly impact the budget of a non-union household.
Another example that demonstrates the advantage of a unionized vs. non-unionized work environment is illustrated above. Among non-unionized workers who choose family medical coverage only 8% enjoy 100% employer paid coverage. On the other hand 40% of union workers receive 100% employer paid family coverage. Further translated union workers enjoy a 32% advantage that their employer pays for full premiums for a union worker and their family.
This graph demonstrates the financial benefits for union women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians compared to non-union workers among the same demographic. Percentage wise a women will earn 32% more or than her non union counterpart. African Americans will earn 28% more; Latino, 43%; and Asians 6% more per week. These statistics clearly demonstrates the importance and relevance that unions play when in comes to improving the wages of women and minorities.
Labor unions ultimately work for everyone. When unionized workers wages, benefit, and working conditions are improved, non-union employers will often make improvements to compensation packages of non union workers in the same industry. Non-unionized employers strive to remain competitive in order to attract desired and qualified employees. Non-union employers also believe these improvements will also discourage workers from forming a union. Economists refer to this as the “union threat effect.” While unions are more interested in improving wages and benefits for its members, non union workers indirectly benefit from the collective bargaining outcomes that were gained by significant efforts and hard work by the unions. Even in a non union work environment unions matter.
While critics argue that unions are no longer relevant supporters of unions would contend otherwise. Labor argues that workers are more vulnerable than ever. Michael Yates, who is author of the book “Why unions Matter” support the needs for unions by pointing out that due to the radical reorganization of the labor process, contracting out work, deregulation globalization, employer anti-union activities, and the absence of labor law enforcement, workers are under siege. These points, discussed in detail, are presented in a recent article published by Yates in the magazine the Monthly Review. Reading of this article is a part of your assignment for the topical lesson “Unions Matter.”
This satirical cartoon depicts the disadvantages that employees face in realm of labor law. The rulings and interpretations of labor law have been significantly unfavorable over the last eight years. These decisions have favored employers tremendously. In the video panel discussion that you will be viewing later, David Bonier, a former U.S. congressman points out that in the 1950 ’s between 200-500 unfair labor practices were filed with the National Labor Relations Board. In 2008 there were 23,000 filings. Labor is hopeful that President Obama, and the new Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis will provide more support for labor and level the playing field by making it easier for unions to organize.
In a 2006 survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates determined that nearly 60 million or 58% of U.S. workers would join a union if they could. Unfortunately this desire is significantly negated by employers efforts to intimidate and harass union supporters. According to Kate Bronfenner, a Cornell University scholar estimates in about 25% of union organizing efforts some union supporters are fired.
Union Efforts have led to improvements in the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. Worker ’s compensation laws have been passed. Unions were crucial in the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Social Security Act.
Unions matter because their handprint is on almost every piece of significant social and economic legislation that benefits and protects the American worker and their family. The American Disabilities Act passed in 1990, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
We started this lesson with the question. “Do unions matter?” While union critics believe the labor movement is a relic from years gone by, a different era information the information presented in this topic suggest otherwise. Independent research confirms union workers earn more income, enjoy better fringe benefits, have better retirement program. Unions have led the way in fighting for passage of 150 livable wage ordinances throughout the U.S. Unions have fought for social justice beginning with the Social Security Act in 1930 and continue to do so today. Unionized women and minorities earn more than there non unionized counterpart. A very important fact that seems to confirm that unions matter and should not be considered a irrelevant entity is the fact that 60 million American workers, 58% of the workforce would join a union if they could. Next time we will continue our foundation lesson and discussion concerning the trend of declining density of union membership.
This concludes the lecture presentation “Unions Matter.” Please be sure to complete the remainder of online activities for this topic.
Unions Matter - LS-12 Lesson 1
Building a Strong UnionIt’s a journey not a destinationRequires strategic planningRequires strong leadershipRequires member participationRequires member commitmentRequires positive member attitude
Union CriticsBelieve unions are antiquatedOnly valuable in 20th CenturyArgue unions are irrelevant todayPoint out membership losses (see next slide)Unions do not have power and influenceForecast the demise of unions
Unions Make a DifferenceReinforce the middle classRaise wages for all workersFight for worker’s health and safetyUnions advocate for the advancement of the minimum wageUnions reduce wage inequality
Union vs. Non-Union WagesSource: Bureau of Labor Statistics $943 Median Weekly $742
Defined Benefit RetirementSource: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Family Medical Insurance Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
No Contribution Required Family Medical CoverageSource: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Median Weekly WageSource: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Labor Unions Work for EveryoneUnion victories: non-union workers benefitNon-union employers strive to improve compensation and remain competitiveEmployers believe improvements discourage organizing effortsEconomist’s call this the “Union Threat Effect”
Unions Matter More TodayWorkers are more vulnerable than beforeRadical reorganization of labor processContracting outDeregulation globalizationEmployer anti-union activitiesLax labor law enforcement
Surveys Support Unions Matter60 million U.S. workers (58%) would join a unionEmployers intimidate, harass and retaliateActual commitment then diminishesEmployers/private sector fire union supporters25% of union efforts result in firings of supporters
LegislationFair Minimum Wage Act -2007The Occupational Safety and Health Act – 1970Workers’ Compensation LawsMine Safety LawsFair Labor Standards ActThe Social Security Act
Unions Matter to SocietyAmerican Disabilities Act - 1990Voting Rights Act – 1965Civil Rights Act – 1964Equal Pay Act -1963
Unions Do MatterUnionized workers earn moreUnionized workers enjoy better benefitsUnions advocate for living wagesUnions fight for social justiceUnionized women and minorities earn more60 million or 58% of U.S. workers would join a union