Labor-Management and the Middle Class
August 30, 2012
A LaborPress Editorial
By Neal Tepel, Publisher
Labor organizations are essential for building a strong middle class and union organizing is critical for the future of the labor movement. It’s no surprise that states with the lowest percentage of workers in unions generally have a weak middle class while those with higher concentrations of union members have a much stronger middle class.
The positive economic impact of labor organizations are well documented as well as their role in the democratic process. Unions raise the wages of the employees they represent, reduce income inequality, increase pay of nonunion workers as well as those organized, reduce employee turnover, improve worker skills and education, and increase productivity in the workplace. Unions also insure that employees are provided due process and fair treatment.
When unions were first formed there were many issues facing workers such as unsafe working conditions and mandated long work days with little pay. Labor unions provide bargaining representation which result in better wages and improved working conditions. Unions also work politically to influence legislation that benefits unionized companies and its employees.
Many employers take the position that management should have all the power to hire and fire workers at will, for any reason or no reason. They should pay only the wages dictated by supply and demand. They should set the hours, pace and conditions of work for maximum productivity. These employers believe that if workers don't like the terms of their employment, they're free to quit and seek another job elsewhere. According to much of the business community, the freedom of employers to negotiate the terms of employment with individual workers rather than a union is at the heart of the free enterprise system and essential for economic growth.
Labor organizations have always had a very different conception of the world of work. Unions believe that employees should have a voice in the workplace and must be paid enough to allow them to live in comfort and dignity. Workers need a safety net in case they are injured, laid off, or become sick.
The right of workers to organize in their own self-interest is essential and a fundamental human right. This basic conflict between labor and management has shaped our history. Some of the worst incidents of violence in our nation's past occurred during labor disputes. However, most union-management disagreements are settled through difficult negotiations, with neither getting all of what they want.
As long as unions can negotiate fair contracts and continue to organize workers – the middle class will survive and America will prosper.