Unions Aren’t Obsolete, They’re Being Crushed by Right-Wing Politics

Source: Livia Gershon, Vice, September 11, 2017

….Few economic or political elites preach much about the virtues of a union. …. This year in Davos, Switzerland, at an annual gathering of CEOs, billionaires, and world leaders, the assembled glitterati fretted about inequality but blanched at talk of workers being able to bargain for benefits.

Even Democrats have largely remained silent about unions, which remain an important part of their base. The party’s “Better Deal” plan to help ordinary workers that Democrats released earlier this year talked about raising the minimum wage, growing the economy, and fighting outsourcing, but didn’t mention making sure workers had the ability to organize.

But a report released last month by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank that focuses on the needs of low- and middle-income workers, points out just how relevant the labor movement remains. The decline of unions—which now represent just over one in ten US workers, down from one in five from 1983—has been less about their value for workers than the result of a concerted effort to destroy the labor movement…..

….The EPI report details the tactics companies use to stop unions. In many cases, they use temp agencies, franchise arrangements, or other techniques to avoid taking legal responsibility for their workers. Labor laws that date back more than a half century aren’t equipped to help workers negotiate with companies that do their employing through third parties while retaining all real, practical power over workers. Similarly, companies ranging from Uber to local construction firms and beauty parlors try to classify workers as independent contractors, avoiding the traditional responsibilities employers have for employees under labor law. Most blatantly, when faced with unionization efforts, three-quarters of private employers hire consultants to help them quash them. …. But von Wilpert said the most effective anti-union tactic may be simply firing pro-union workers. That’s illegal, but the EPI report finds that between one in five and one in seven union organizers gets the boot for their organizing activity. Even when companies get punished for breaking the law, penalties are minimal and the damage to the union is already done…..