of the apparent mysteries many people ponder is how it was that
union membership was responsible for virtually building the American
middle class after World War II and now so many people appear to
blame unions for the loss of jobs rather than the push for more
profits by company bosses. The answer is fear. In reality, the
intimidation of workers has made it more difficult for them to organize
in various companies for fear they would lose their jobs. Employer
influence over the unionizing process has been a primary reason
why the American work force has declined from one-third of the labor
force at its heights to 12% at present, forcing organized labor
and its allies to formulate the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)
to make union organizing much easier.
the National Relations Labor Act was passed in 1935, it spelled
out two methods for unions to become organized that exist today.
If 30% of employees in a company signed up, union organizers could
request that the National Labor Relations Board direct the company
to hold an election under secret ballot. But if over 50% of employees
sign up, the employer could voluntarily waive the election provision,
recognize the union and go directly to collective bargaining. The
EFCA proposes that if over 50% of workers sign up for a union that
could automatically void a secret ballot election, but workers could
still opt to have an election with secret ballot if they chose.
the age of Obama dawns with a focus on improving the economic status
of the middle class, it would appear necessary to correct the balance
between the power of the corporate bosses and the power of workers
represented by their unions. It is worth noting that one of the
primary reasons why the wages of the middle class did not rise for
about the past two decades while the upper class wages ran away
from the whole wage structure was not only because of the tax cuts
enacted by Republican administrations, but because corporations
virtual held up cities and their workers. It went something like
this: companies received concessions from cities and towns to locate
their operations in them, but in order to make more profit, they
threatened to leave and go overseas. For many communities to retain
jobs, that put pressure on the cost of making products which meant
workers giving up wages and benefits negotiated under collective
bargaining agreements. But even after these labor “give-backs”
boosted profits for a while, many companies eventually left for
low-wage labor markets abroad anyway blaming the cost of domestic
labor supported by unions.
is now a great flood of economic resources from the Stimulus Package,
the recent national budget and the financial enhancements to small
businesses that will boost the labor market and create hundreds
of thousands of jobs. But the rational person must ask under what
conditions will these jobs be created; will conform to the downward
pressure on wages, or will they be at a wage rate that will allow
a person to take home enough money to feed, clothe, and educate
their families? Recent census data for 2008 show us that with respect
to the group that are union members: Blacks – 14.5%; whites – 12.2%;
Hispanics – 10.6%; and Asians – 10.6; for a national rate of 12.4%.
With wage rates that are 65-80% of whites when one compares just
races or two parent households, Blacks and Hispanics in particular
would appear to have a vested interested in strong support of improving
union organizing and the higher wage rates and, health and retirement
benefits that come from union membership and collective bargaining.
we think of what it takes to turn the corner economically in this
era of history, we must combine turning around the top-down economics
that Ronald Reagan instituted with the war on labor, reflected in
his attack on the PATCO because of the pilots union strike early
in his administration. This attack has continued as a necessary
aspect of creating the condition for companies to take massive profits.
Even foreign companies coming into the country have taken advantage
of the “right to work” provision of the Taft Hartley Act of 1947
to settle their operations in Southern states that permit companies
to reject unions.
the hard question the Obama era must face is whether, in the attempt
to retain an industrial base, the labor system it builds resembles
the Third World, or sets an example of the kind of standards of
fair wages and benefits that should be the model for workers around
the world. The EFCA must be supported.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar,
Director of the African American Leadership Center and Professor
of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College
Park. His latest book is: The Price of Racial Reconciliation (The Politics of Race and Ethnicity)
(Rowman and Littlefield). Click here
to contact Dr. Walters.