Monday, September 3, 2012

Today is Labor Day: Do You Know Where Your Union Is?

Today Is Labor Day. Where is Your Union?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not in a union. Only 11.8% of the workforce is unionized, down from 20.1% in 1983, and 37.4% in the mid-1950’s.

If you’re working for a private employer, then you are not unionized unless you fall in the remaining 6.9% of the private sector that is unionized.

Labor Day has become a three day weekend whose meaning to most Americans today is a three day weekend which marks the end of summer. It's a bookend to memorial Day which is the start of summer..

The unions, especially the auto and steelworkers, fought epic, often bloody, battles over decades to improve the working conditions, wages and benefits of their members. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire fueled the rise of the ILGWU and gave rise to many f the New Deal Reforms. The unions brought prosperity, a middle class living, to their members and families. The sons are daughters of the unions emerging out of the New Deal became doctors and lawyers.

How the mighty unions have fallen.

The great United Auto Workers had 1.5 million members in 1979. The UAW lists 390,000 active members today and 600,000 retired members. Even these numbers include non-traditional auto workers, such as Mother Jones and Sierra Club employees, and graduate research assistants, teaching assistants, and tutors at the University of California, California State University, University of Massachusetts, University of Washington, and New York University as well as 6,500 post docs at the University of California.

President Obama saved the UAW workers in the Chrysler and GM bailouts. He really saved their health and pension plans by throwing the shareholders, bondholders, dealers, blue collar and non-union workers overboard, and handing Chrysler to an Italian company to pay back the UAW for its support. The American taxpayers are looking at a $25 billion loss on the bailouts.

What would Walter Reuther be thinking?

A critical turning point in the labor movement was 2009 when the number of public sector union members exceeded the private sector union members. By 2011 7.6 public sector employees were unionized (including my wife) compared to 7.2 million private sector employees.

The once great unions, the UAW, the United Steel Workers, the United Coal Workers, still have power, but political power today rests with SEIU, AFSCME, NEA and AFT. They are now the power brokers. They control California, for example.

President Obama propped up the public employee sector in the Stimulus Act, but economic reality and Wisconsin is striking them.

Democrats still faithfully attend union rallies, parades and picnics on Labor Day, but even the Democratic Congress under Prsident Obama failed to give them the card check, one of Labor’s biggest priorities.

President Obama now places the environment above Labor. Thus he vetoed the Keystone Pipeline, which will employ 15,000 union members in its construction and is trying to close down the coal industry, killing the jobs of tens of thousands United Mine Workers of America members.

North Carolina is the least unionized state in the country with no union hotels in Charlotte. President Obama therefore scheduled the Democratic National Convention for Charlotte. He won the state by 14,177 votes in 2008 and hopes to carry it again. He won't and Labor is fuming.

The great unionized oligopolies, auto, steel, glass, and rubber fell to non-union competitors producing higher quality at a lower price.

Many unionized employers are no longer scared of unions and strikes. Caterpillar closed in February an unionized Electro-Motive locomotive plant in London, Ontario and moved production to a new plant in Muncie, Indiana. It also defeated last month a 3 ½ month long strike at its Joliet, Illinois facility. The workers agreed to reduced health and pension benefits as well as a wage freeze for senior employees.

WalMart is notoriously non-union, resulting in union funded battles to keep WalMart out of everywhere. WalMart wins some and loses some, but it is slowly making its way into cities such as Chicago and New York and expanding nationally. Unionized supermarkets have trouble competing on price with WalMart’s superstores.

Target is also non-union, but Labor’s opprobrium sticks to WalMart, probably because the professional class loves Target. Ironically, Labor opposes the blue collar WalMart, but allows it for the white collar Target.

The NFL is entering the regular season this week with replacement officials.

The word “SCAB” remains a four letter word, but apparently has lost its pejorative.
does not carry the opprobrium, it once did.

The public employee unions are beginning to discover that even the public throve is not bottomless. Voters in San Diego, San Jose, and Wisconsin sent a message that the health and pension benefits are no longer tolerable.

Remember, President Obama said the private sector is doing fine, but the public sector needs help. The public disagrees on both fronts.

This is not your grandfather’s Labor Day.

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