Sunday, 17 June 2012
State Of The Unions: Labor And The Middle Class
For many full-time employees in the United States, the five-day work week, paid overtime and holidays are expected benefits. This wasn't always so, and many workers' benefits today are the achievements of labor unions.
Just five decades ago, unions were on the frontline of the fight for the rights and wages of the middle class. But today, unions are on the decline.
After World War II, organized labor represented a third of America's workforce. Today, only 12 percent of the overall workforce belongs to labor unions both public and private. About 37 percent of the public sector workforce belong to unions as opposed to only 7 percent in the private sector, but they're now in the cross hairs of cash-strapped states and cities.
This month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker celebrated after winning a recall election that was triggered when he curtailed public union collective bargaining. Similar anti-union efforts took place in Indiana and Ohio.
Voters in Ohio later repealed a law that would limit collective bargaining for some public-sector unions, but unions in many states are still at odds with government. So if unions decline, where does that leave the middle class?
The Power Of Unions
Marcus Oladell, a 62-year-old from East Hartford, Conn., has been a bus driver in the area for about 15 years. Just 12 years ago, he helped form a union of school bus drivers with the Teamsters.
Since unionizing, he tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Jacki Lyden, starting wages for drivers have doubled to $16 an hour. Before unionizing, senior drivers were given raises of a just a nickel an hour.
While the workers are not getting rich, Oladell says, no one could argue the unions have raised the standards compared to what they had just 12 years ago.
Oladell became shop steward of his local for the Teamsters. He now travels across the country helping organize bus yards like his.
"The generation behind us has to get an understanding of how powerful a union can be," he says. "If that middle class is going to be strong, it has to be represented by unions.
Unions And The Middle Class
Middle class wages, at least for the majority of people, are the invention of American unions, says Harold Meyerson, a political columnist for The Washington Post and an editor-at-large at The American Prospect. He says if big labor dies, then America's middle class dies with it.
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