There have been several states lately that have passed or are looking to pass bills that will severely restrict collective bargaining rights and the ability of the unions to collect dues. Without the ability to do those things, the unions will cease to exist.
If unions ceased to exist, would that be a bad thing? Yes, it would be very detrimental to this country and here is why.
First, before we discuss this we need to know the history of how unions came to be in the first place, and what their place in America has been.
At the end of the nineteenth century, conditions for employees in this country were horrendous. The worker had no rights and had to do whatever his employer wanted him or her to do regardless of what that was or be fired. This included doing things like working 6 days a week, 16 hours a day, or working in unsafe conditions. The American worker was being exploited and American businesses were getting rich from that exploitation.
By the turn of the twentieth century, unions began to become more assertive as Congress became suspicious of big business in this country, thinking they were restricting free trade. Congress soon passed laws, like the Sherman Antitrust Act to prohibit monopolistic business practices. Unions gained more power as the employer power was reduced.
Working for a union meant that you had better and safer working conditions, better pay and benefits than the nonunion folks. Then in March of 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred in New York City. It was a sweatshop that was located in the garment district of New York. The fire caused the death of 146 garment workers who either died in the fire or jumped to their deaths from the eighth, ninth and tenth floors. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three. The women had to jump because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire shined a glaring spotlight on the conditions that many Americans were working under. It also brought into sharp contrast the difference between the conditions of those who worked in a union shop as opposed to those who didn’t.
Because of unions and the work they have done, Americans now enjoy eight hour days, forty hour weeks, weekends and holidays off. Unions also brought in overtime pay and benefits. Unions set the wages in this country. Without having to compete with union jobs, an employer could pay whatever they wanted to. These all came along because of workers being unionized and the power that gave them with their employers. Because of their ability to set pay and benefits, the pay and benefits went up for all Americans. Unions essentially built the middle class in this country.
But we already have all of that, so why do we need unions now?
Good question. Without unions to keep businesses honest, wages will decrease along with workplace safety. All of the benefits the unions have gotten for the American people (higher wages, more safety etc.) cost the employers money. If they didn’t have to pay out those costs, they would make more money and they would certainly take advantage of that fact.
As a case in point: Over the past 40 years, wages for Americans have declined at the same time union influence has declined while the amount of money the top 1% is taking in has skyrocketed. The green line on the graph is American’s wages. The blue line is the decline of unions and the red line is the piece of the American pie shared by the top 1%. Unions decline = wage decline = top 1% flourishing at the expense of the bottom 80%.
That’s right, the middle class, on average is making less than they were in 1980. Let me repeat that: The middle class, on average is making less than they were in 1980.
If that doesn’t convince you, this might. In Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham, (R – MI.) introduced a bill to change the child labor laws in that state. She wants to make it easier
to exploit for children to work:
SB222 Modifies Child Labor Laws.
SB 222 – This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.
And this is with unions still in power. What do you think would happen with no checks and balances against big business?
If labor unions are eliminated in this country, it will signal the beginning of the end for fair wages, workplace safety, child labor laws, overtime, paid holidays and every other benefit that they union has provided the American people. We will be back in the Gilded Age where there were two classes of people; the poor and the super-rich.