Unions Benefit Both Members and Non-Members

BY SHARON K. WILLIAMS

Most people may not realize how much unions have positively affected the workplace. If you value your weekend, your health insurance, your retirement plan, your middle class income and your safe workplace, you can thank a union for giving you all of those great benefits.
Unions have been a cause for change their entire existence. They defended workers against the oligarchs in the early 20th century. In that day, workers toiled more than 60+ hours per week, sometimes six or seven days a week to receive little pay and no benefits. Workers also experienced horrible working conditions with no safety standards in place. Workers saw the need for change and joined unions in droves.

There are stories upon stories about workers being killed on the job site – just think of the Cherry Mine Disaster where 259 coal miners died on the job. Or workers being killed standing up for their rights – just think of the Ludlow Massacre of 1914 or the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937. Thanks to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) those accidents are fewer and farther in between.

Do you think your employer gave you the benefits you have out of the goodness of their heart? Workers had to stand up for their rights and fight against the inequality in the workplace. Collective bargaining agreements have given workers a voice in the workplace – by being able to negotiate with their employer everyone wins.

Unions stand in solidarity and equality for all. No matter your gender, your faith or who you love, you can count on equality in pay and benefits in the workplace. Unions bring workers together for the common good of everyone involved and stand strong against the constant attacks to weaken worker rights in the workplace.

But what has happened to union-represented employees? In 1954, union membership stood at 28.3 percent of workers. Today that number hovers around 12 percent of the total workforce.

Why has this happened? This in part is due to eroding the laws that protect workers in the collective bargaining process. According to Professor Robert Bruno with the University of Illinois Labor Relations Department, weakening of unions “goes back a couple of decades…with a growing number of anti-labor policies. We have the weakest labor law and enforcement of labor law in the entire western industrialized world.”

But what has also happened to compensation during those 60 + years? Income inequality has jumped to its highest point since before the Great Depression. The ratio of CEO to worker pay was just 20 to 1 in the 1970s. But today that number can reach to over 400 to 1. In comparison, workers’ pay has increased just 11 percent since the 1970s, while CEO pay has grown 1,000 percent (adjusted for inflation). As union-represented employees have declined and anti-labor laws are put in place, executive compensation has reached epic proportions.

On this Labor Day, remember the reasons why collective bargaining rights are so necessary and needed. And remember those workers who toil every day to take care of your roads, build your schools and your office buildings, teach your children, deliver your mail and manufacture your consumer products. These unseen workers work hard every day to make your life easier. These folks are what Labor Day is all about – the working men and women of this country. Honor them today and thank them always.

Sharon Williams is editor of The Labor Paper and a member of the Peoria County Board.



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