Working Americans are in trouble, and unions can help

March 9, 2009

Matthew Weidinger
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One of the older debates in our country has just received a modern spin – are unions a net positive or negative influence on our country? Can they be utilized to help working Americans take positive financial strides against the strong winds of economic turmoil? Part of the answer to these questions lies within the Obama administration’s latest hot-ticket item: the Employee Free Choice Act. Love it or hate it, it’s a measure that figures to see net gains in the working American’s ability to keep from being left behind in a sea of corporate bailouts and CEO compensation packages.

Why are unions needed? The Americans for Democratic Action, a leading policy group based out of Washington, D.C., recently concluded a study that found that the wages of nearly 80 percent of working Americans have descended below inflation levels and well below the productivity gains that are reflected in their employer’s profit margins. From 2000 to 2007, the average income per household for working Americans fell by $2,000 – an unprecedented plummet.

What do Americans want? While it’s true that Americans are rarely unanimous on any one political issue, surveys have borne out that millions would like to have some form of bargaining representatives to ensure their pay and benefits are safe, in much the same way that corporate leaders do the same for their own financial outlook.

However, only 8 percent of private sector employees are actually represented by unions. This number is disappointingly low, since, on average, union members earn 28 percent more than nonunion workers and are more likely to have health benefits and pension plans. These concepts of higher earnings for union members are not fictional – they are facts straight from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In any case, it should be established that the Employee Free Choice Act is not designed to force workers to unionize. Far from it – the overarching goal of this revived bill from 2007 is to make it easier for workers to unionize, should they so choose by majority vote. Currently, employers can actually choose the method through which a union is selected as the legitimate bargaining representative, and the employees must accept that process. Their options are secret-ballot NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) election, or majority sign-up using cards.

Here’s why the EFCA is needed: An employer has regular opportunities throughout this process to campaign aggressively against unionization, harass and/or fire union sympathizers and organizers within their company, and actually ignore a majority sign-up. The EFCA will increase penalties for employers who fire supporters and/or violate labor laws, and will allow workers to more easily obtain representation quickly after the union is actually established as a bargaining representative. In a climate where the working American is facing a dire financial outlook, it should seem only prudent to take steps to obtain a brighter future for our own citizens.