After a period of declaring unions in America all but dead, corporate America and their lawyers seem to be increasingly concerned lately that employees may come to their senses and begin to organize themselves to protect their interests in the workplace. Two excellent corporate-side employment lawyers have recently posted articles discussing some examples of the best methods of avoiding collective bargaining with employees and unionization:
- "What a slick union-avoidance campaign looks like" - Jon Hyman
- "Target’s Union Avoidance Video Is Worth Watching" - Daniel Schwartz
This follows recent events in which members of Congress engaged in political dirty tricks to thwart efforts to unionize a Tennessee VW plant. The amount of time, money and effort that corporations, their lawyers and politicians will expend to avoid having to negotiate with their employees as a group is simply staggering.
So why are large corporations and employers of retail and service workers like Target, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Whole Foods, etc. so opposed to collective bargaining? Simple. The reason is fear. These companies know that unions represent a sort of power for their workers that their workers will otherwise never have. That power translates to better working conditions and higher wages. That, they fear, may eat into a company's profits. Profits over people - it's just that simple.
But it shouldn't be that way. Putting profits before people is short-sighted and hurts the economy. The essence of what labor unions do is to give workers a stronger voice so that they can get a fair share of the economic growth they help create. This has always been important to making the economy work for all Americans. One of the primary reasons why the great recession was worse than it should have been was that workers did not have the purchasing power to drive our consumer-based economy. In fact, even when times were relatively good, workers were getting squeezed. Income for the median working age household fell by about $2,000 between 2000 and 2007. That's right, it FELL.
Union members in the United States earn significantly more than non-union workers. From 2004 to 2007, unionized workers’ wages were on average 11.3 percent higher than non-union workers with similar jobs. That means that, all else equal, workers that join a union will earn 11.3 percent more than their otherwise identical non-union counterparts.
According to Henry Blodget, Editor-in-Chief of Business Insider magazine, many companies "have become so obsessed with generating near-term profits that they are paying their employees less, cutting capital investments, and under-investing in future growth." This is bad for workers and, ultimately, bad for the entire economy. We live in a time of the highest corporate profits in history coupled with one of the highest unemployment rates in history. And we have the lowest wages in U.S. history as a percent of the total economy. It simply isn't sustainable long-term.
We need to bring balance back to the U.S. economy by increasing the voice of employees in the workplace. The best way to do that is to support unionization.