The power unions could have

I had a revealing conversation with a relative of mine recently about how his work was going. I had recalled that he was a part of a union, and he was working as a duct insulator. Less than a month ago, he said he was preparing to go on strike after his employer slashed his benefits and eliminated his pension. Just a week ago, the strike was on its third week, with no end in sight.

I have a hard time understanding those who dislike unions, besides corporate CEOs who care about profits over workers, of course. On paper, there’s not a lot to dislike about them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that, in 2018, workers that were not a member of a union made 82% of earnings to union members. It would seem that the ability to strike for better benefits in addition to better wages would be a huge draw to any worker with access to a union.

Unfortunately, a number of other factors have caused the number of union members to decline over the past few years. Many of those factors are institutional, with union busters and pro-corporate politicians making union membership harder.

I will most likely collect my thoughts about those aspects of this problem at a later time and write about them, but for now I want to talk about how hard it was on an anecdotal level for the people I know to live with their unions and how they’ve failed them.

My father is a high school educator and a member of a worker’s union. He constantly voices a similar opinion to my duct-insulating relative —his union leaders do not do enough to protect their members, and frequently make concessions that weaken their position and give power to their employers. When their union goes to the bargaining table twice, then three times, then four times without getting any real response, it becomes frustrating to those union members who need a real paycheck to keep paying the bills.

Even more frustrating is waiting three weeks on strike only to see your union declare it is willing to halve its initial demands.

So, labor unions seem to be the easy choice when it comes to protecting worker wages and benefits, but simultaneously they generate frustrated members that lead to declining labor membership, at least on an anecdotal level. What does this mean for the future of labor rights in the United States?

Only time will tell, but we’ve known for a long time that big corporations have treated their employees terribly. If there isn’t a story about Amazon, Walmart or Google circulating about workers not being allowed bathroom breaks, it can only be a matter of time before another one comes around.

The topic is sure to be a regular point of discussion in Michigan especially, with approximately 600,000 Michiganders being represented by unions. One can only hope that a surge in anti-corporate leverage will lead to fewer picket lines and more happy, paid and protected citizens.