The essence of what labor unions do – give workers a stronger voice so they can get a fair share of the economic growth they help create – is and has always been important to making the economy work for all Americans and union only become more important in these troubled times.
One of the main reasons why our current recession looms is that workers do not have the purchasing power that they need to drive our economy. Even when times were better, workers were getting squeezed. Average working families’ household income fell by about $2,000 dollars between 2000 and 2007.
Consumer activity accounts for roughly 70 percent of America’s economy, and for a while workers were able to use debt to sustain their consumption. Yet debt driven consumption is not sustainable, as we can plainly see.
What is sustainable is an economy where workers are adequately rewarded and have the income they need to purchase goods. This is where unions come in.
Unions paved the way to the middle class for American workers and pioneered benefits like paid healthcare and pensions along the way. Even today, union workers make more on average than non-union workers, and union workers are more likely to receive benefits. Even non-union workers in industries such as coal mining receive financial benefits from employers who increase wages to match what unions win in order to avoid unionization.
Prior to 1980, productivity gains and workers’ wages moved in tandem. As workers produced more per hour, they saw a commensurate increase in their wages. From 1980 to 2008 nationwide worker productivity grew by 75 percent, while workers’ wages adjusted for inflation increased by only 22.6 percent, which means workers were compensated for only 30.2 percent of their productivity gains.
If American workers had been rewarded for 100 percent of their increases in labor productivity since 1980 as they were during the middle part of the 20th century, average wages would be $28.53 per hour, 42.7 percent higher than the average real wage.
I urge workers in all fields to organize a union. Though workers who struggle to organize face much opposition, it will be worth the struggle. Not only is joining a union good for workers it is also the patriotic thing to do. Unions boost workers’ wages and benefits, putting more money in the pockets of workers allowing them to purchase more goods and services. Unions created the middle class and are the only ones who can save the middle class by making the economy work for all Americans.