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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/3/13

Where are the Unions?

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I found this article "The Middle Class Does Better In States With Lots Of Union Members" by Alan Pyke, on thinkprogess.org

It states, "The middle class brings home a substantially larger share of aggregate earnings in states that have high rates of union membership than in those where fewer workers are organized, a Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) analysis of Census data shows."

My father was a union steward in the IAM (International Association of Machinists) and I was exposed to many dinner conversations about topics of which I just didn't understand a thing. But I learned that management couldn't he trusted. So I had a somewhat biased view of the union management relationship from the beginning.

Later in life, after I earned my degree in business, I become the management I had learned to distrust. To say I had a personal conflict is an understatement. But it served me well.

As I made my way up the management ladder to the executive level, I never lost my appreciation for what unionization had done for my father and my grandfather who was a member of the United Mine Workers. I had enjoyed opportunities provided from wages earned by unionized workers and I wasn't going to forget where I came from.

For years I sat across the table from unions as a management person, negotiating contracts, settling grievances and winning and losing arbitrations. And in all that time, I understood that unions were there to protect the workers who alone stood no chance of balancing the power I had to affect their ability to earn a living for their families.

The demise of American unionism is legendary. And although Eric Hoffer's comment gives us insight into that demise, "every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket." That's not the whole story.   

What was once the gateway to the middle class has become an artifact of a non-existent era: Partly because some unions became rackets and partly because management decided that vast majority of the benefits of healthy companies should go to the owners of the capital.

The last four decades of increasing inequity has proven the working class's share of this country's wealth has diminished commensurate with the end of the balance of power lost with the demise of unions.

With the advent of right-to-work-laws and employment-at-will-contracts, the last vestiges of equality have disappeared. And with that so have the earnings of working people trying to create a better life for their families.

Although not directly related to unions, this example is representative: If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity improvements, instead of being $7.25 per hour, it would be over $21.00.

During a Senate hearing, Senator Elizabeth Warren asked a critical question that explains a good deal of the problem in our economy today. "Being that the workers didn't get it what happened to the other $14.00 produced by productivity improvements?"

The answer is, it went upward and continues in that direction today.

What seems to be lost in the mix is the reality that a diminishing middle class is anathema to a healthy society. We need look no farther than the past instabilities of our south American neighbors. Lacking a stable middle class, riots and revolutions destabilized governments for decades.

The business community must realize that fewer dollars chasing more products and services always leads to weaker economic conditions for everyone. If you want to understand one of the reasons our economic recovery is so weak, read the previous sentence again.

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Author, columnist, and blogger with a long career in business management, management consulting and executive coaching. I've authored and published seven books: "You, Your Self and the 21st Century,"The Flowers Are Talking to Me," and "Faith (more...)
 

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