Monday, September 12, 2016

ECONOMICS - State of the Unions

"Can unions adapt to today's economic challenges?" PBS NewsHour 9/5/2016


SUMMARY:  Union membership has been on the decline in the U.S.  for decades, and is currently half of what it was in the 1980s.  How are unions adapting in an era of stagnant wages and a growing “sharing economy”? Hari Sreenivasan talks with Harley Shaiken of the University of California, Berkeley and Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  For more now on the state of labor, we're going to by Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, and Harley Shaiken, a professor and labor expert at the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor Shaiken, let me start with you.

When we think of the labor movement, we certainly think that it's smaller than it used to be, but what are the challenges that the movement is facing today?

HARLEY SHAIKEN, University of California, Berkeley:  Well, there are many challenges that are out there right now, but it's a particularly critical and urgent time for the labor movement and I think for the United States more generally.

Over the last three decades, labor has declined from representing one out of every five members to one out of every 10 today.  But recent polls from Bloomberg and others indicate that over half of people polled would like to join a union.

How does that square with 11 percent being in unions?  And, here, I think we're looking at tough employer opposition, laws that don't facilitate a free choice, and some broader changes in the economy.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Well, Mary Kay Henry, how do you square that gap, if people are interested still in being part of a union, but the reality is that they're not?

MARY KAY HENRY, President, SEIU:  Twenty million people have got more money in their pockets just in the last four years because 200 fast food workers had the guts to make a decision to strike and possibly lose their job, threaten their whole family's stability, and make a demand that people laughed at four years ago, $15 in a union, and now it's a standard against which people are organizing saying, hey, why do I have to wait so long to get to $15?

Or, in Birmingham, Alabama, the city council raises wages.  The Alabama state legislature overrides it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  In Scandinavian countries, they have almost set a wage floor, even without having a minimum wage, because about 80 percent of the people, say, in Denmark are already unionized.  Right?  The private sector says, to be competitive, I have to raise my wages up.

Is the inverse happening in the United States?  With such a small unionized population, it seems the private sector doesn't see unions as much of a threat or an incentive to try to pull their wages up by themselves.


And the absence of government, working people, and employers sharing a vision for what everybody deserves in the country, we have the grossest inequality that our generation has ever seen in this country.

And fast food workers are asking themselves, hey, if McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King can provide $20 in Denmark, where 80 percent of the people have a union, why can't they do the same thing in the United States of America?

Answer, GREED.  Company profits are more important than people, and politicians are paid (so-called campaign donations) to keep it that way.

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