More and stronger unions

Intel Board of Directors

Intel Board of Directors (Photo credit: IntelFreePress)

More unions and stronger unions with more members will go a long way toward restoration of the middle class with good paying jobs here in the US. I support card check that will make forming unions and gaining representation easier. I also support the German model where publicly held corporations are required to have board members representing their unions. The percentage decided upon might be different, but I suggest one-third of the board represent labor, one-third shareholders and one-third management. Under the present law, the board of directors in theory represents share holders, but all too often, the board is controlled by management at the expense of both labor and shareholders. It is time for a change. Management is rewarding itself at the expense of the rest of us.

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Unions?

A rally of the trade union UNISON in Oxford du...

A rally of the trade union UNISON in Oxford during a strike on March 28, 2006, with members carrying picket signs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I am seeing some posts saying that unions were necessary in the past, but they aren’t necessary now. What has changed? In the past, unions gave workers bargaining power in the work place to ensure good treatment and a larger share in the fruits of their labor. Unions helped make workplaces safer and reduced the hours in the workweek. Unions helped millions attain middle-class status, and a healthy middle-class is essential to preserving our democracy.

What has changed that makes unions unnecessary? Is the middle-class expanding or shrinking? It is shrinking rapidly.

Is the workweek growing or shrinking? It is growing as Americans work longer hours at one or more jobs to try to make ends meet.

Is workplace safety and food and drug safety increasing or diminishing? They are diminishing as the GOP deregulates and cuts funding for the regulators still in business.

Do workers receive some of the results of increasing productivity? For the past 30 years, workers’ incomes have stagnated while the results of productivity gains have gone to the people at the top.

How fares our democracy? With the combination of Citizens United and a stubborn GOP, our democracy is fading away. We have not yet attained third world status with the stark division of rich and poor and elections that change nothing, but we are moving closer to that status.

Please see Article demonstrating need for unions

Unions

A rally of the trade union UNISON in Oxford du...

Image via Wikipedia

I grew up in a non-union family with Republican tendencies. I have never belonged to a union nor have I been employed at a company with a union. HOWEVER, I believe that having a unionized work force for a significant portion of that work force is beneficial to all workers, union members or not. The US developed a significant and growing middle class after WW2 when large numbers of workers were union members. As union membership has declined, so too has the middle class as good jobs that pay well disappear. Our democracy depends on a vibrant middle class.

Why do managements oppose unionization so strongly? Money and power. Management wants the flexibility to structure work as they see fit, without input or restraint from anyone else. They also want to keep as much of worker productivity as they can to please stockholders and to pad their own compensation. It is a shortsighted policy that reduces the ability of workers to purchase the goods and services that they themselves produce.

Workers need protection by government from employer actions. They also need to band together in unions with other workers for self protection. In this country, we lack free speech in the workplace and we can quit or be fired at will. If you have roots in a community, it is hard to relocate to find another job elsewhere in the country. When my wife and I left California to move to Utah, we did not have a lot of household goods. But the moving bill for less than 500 miles exceeded $5,000.

My first job as an adult involved customer service for an electronics company. I did well and received a generous salary, but not what I felt I was worth. After 21 years I left their employ. Part of my dissatisfaction was monetary, but the greater dissatisfaction came from the general manager’s actions. At first, he encouraged all employees to grow on the job and take responsibilities that required us to stretch. At some point his goals changed, but were not announced. At first I could not believe the change since it seemed so out of character. Eventually over time, I realized the change was permanent. The interests of those of us who worked there were being subordinated to his goal of becoming company president. The division where I worked earned impressive profits. The manger decided to squeeze more profits from us to impress the board of directors. He succeeded in becoming president and the rest of us paid a price. I decided to leave even though I knew that finding comparable employment would be difficult.

Eventually I decided to enter the healthcare industry at a much lower salary. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I still earn much less than my first job but I am enjoying myself much more. While employed at a hospital in California, I was able to observe at first hand how management combats a unionization effort. The nurses wanted a union and were able to enlist the California Nurses Association‘s help in the effort. While working the night shift on weekends, I was surprised to find top management roaming the halls at 3, or 4 o’clock in the morning. I never discovered what they were doing, but I suspect that they were watching for pro-union speech and actions. The election was finally held and the union lost narrowly. There was joy in management and even among employees who were not nurses and would not have been affected. I was disappointed because I wanted to see a union in action close up.

There is a general correspondence between the rate of national unionization and how well the average person lives: the rate of unionization in the US has dropped from a high of 36% to today’s under 16% rate. Unionization in Denmark is about 95% and it exceeds 85% in Finland. The rate in Germany is 30% plus and I have been unable to find the rate in France, although it is less than in the US. The average person in those countries lives a better, less stressed life than the average worker in the US. If you try to point that out to the Party of No, they will immediately shout socialism. My question to you is this. Are you willing to live a less fulfilling, more stressed life because of someone else’s prejudices?

Age discrimination

RIP Homeless person

Image by Matt From London via Flickr

Age discrimination in job hiring and firing is very widespread here in the US, much more so than most people believe. And most people believe that it can’t happen to them, until it does. I would still be working at age 70 if my most recent employer had not pushed me into retirement just before my 70th birthday. Not everyone is able to work to age 70 if their job requires strength and stamina. Fortunately my strength and stamina lasted until about 6 months before my retirement.

In a robust economy, it is often difficult for adults ages 50 and up to find employment. In this economy, I believe that it may be almost impossible. Discrimination because of age is illegal, but the law is difficult to enforce, even if the government wants to enforce it. Some of our legislators favor increasing the retirement age upwards toward 70 with eligibility for Social Security and Medicare happening later in life. I personally know several people who want to retire, but continue to work only because they are too young to qualify for Medicare.

As we enter our “golden years,” those of us who continue to work block promotion for younger workers. And what are the unemployed between ages 50 and 70 to do during those 20 years? Facing discrimination, they must feed themselves and their families until they reach age 70, if they are able to reach age 70 while denied adequate housing, nutrition and healthcare.