Dick Meister, former labor editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for a half-century. Contact him through his website.
The right of U.S. workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers unhindered by employer or government interference has been a legal right since the 1930s. Yet there are workers who are unaware of that, and employers who aim to keep them unaware, meanwhile doing their utmost to keep them from exercising what is a basic civil right.
Many employers often claim working people are in any case not much interested in unionization, noting that less than 15 percent of workers currently belong to unions.
But as anyone who has looked beneath the employer claims has discovered, it's the illegal opposition of employers and the failure of government regulatory agencies to curtail the opposition that's the basic cause of the low rate of unionization.
Finding a job is hard enough for the many millions of unemployed American workers. But, believe it or not, the fact that they are jobless keeps many employers from hiring them. That's right, being jobless keeps many workers from being hired for many of the jobs that are available.
It's crazy, sure. But once they're unemployed, many workers are destined to remain unemployed. Many employers are saying, in effect, that workers who are laid off by other employers, or who can't get other employers to hire them, must automatically be considered bad workers who they don't want to hire either.
There's obviously no easy way to bridge the income gap between the rich and the rest of us or to combat the other serious economic problems raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement. But keep in mind the crucial if not decisive role that labor unions can play in righting our economic wrongs.
Union members earn a lot more than non-union workers overall and within particular occupations, and in age, gender and racial groups, and so spend more. They have more and greater fringe benefits, a greater voice in community and political affairs and otherwise are in a good position to span the income gap as well as contribute to the growth of the economy that's so badly needed.
By now, there's can be no doubting it: What's happening in Wisconsin is one of the most important labor developments in decades. In many ways, it's the 1930s again. Just as then, workers and their political allies and other supporters are demonstrating, picketing, marching, striking and otherwise forcefully demanding the basic civil right of collective bargaining the unfettered right for workers' representatives to negotiate with employers on setting their wages, hours and working conditions.
There are key differences between then and now, however. In the thirties, the struggle was to win union rights for workers in the face of strong opposition from large financial interests, powerful conservative politicians and other anti-labor forces. Today, the struggle is to keep union rights from being taken away from workers by today's anti-union forces. Their main targets are public employees and the pensions and other benefits they won in past bargaining with their government employers.
“I AM A MAN,” the signs proclaimed in large, bold letters. They were held high, proudly and defiantly, by African-American men marching through the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, in the spring of 1968.
The marchers were striking union members, sanitation workers demanding that the city of Memphis formally recognize their union and thus grant them a voice in determining their wages, hours and working conditions.
Hundreds of supporters joined their daily marches, most notably Martin Luther King Jr. He had been with the 1,300 strikers from the very beginning of their bitter struggle. He had come to Memphis to support them despite threats that he might be killed if he did.
April 28th is Workers Memorial Day – a day when organized labor and its allies honor the millions of men and women who've needlessly suffered and died because of workplace hazards and to demand that the government act to lessen the hazards.
An average of at least 16 workers killed and nearly 5,500 badly hurt on each and every day, plus 135 or more dying daily from job-related illness. It's certain that unless federal authorities do act to expand and adequately enforce the neglected job safety laws, the number of victims will remain at a terrible and unnecessarily high level.
Hundreds of thousands of workers are being cheated by U.S. employers who blatantly violate the laws that are supposed to guarantee workers decent wages, hours and working conditions.
That's been going on for a long time, but rarely as extensively as it was during the administration of George W. Bush. Thankfully, Bush is gone. And thankfully, President Obama and his outstanding Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, have this month launched a major campaign to try to overcome the very serious damage of the past.
Although the global recession has had a serious impact on working men and women alike, two new reports make clear that women in the United States and throughout the world have suffered most because of long-standing discrimination.
Though they're usually doing essentially the same work as men, or the equivalent of it, women earn 30 to 40 percent less than the men internationally. The gap is narrower within the United States, but even so, U.S. women average only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
It's called musculoskeletal disorder, or MSD, and it's the most common of the serious injuries suffered by U.S. workers. But because corporate employers fear that greater public awareness would force them to spend more on job safety, MSD has remained one of the least understood of injuries.
by Dick Meister
Union members invariably have better pay and benefits than non-union workers. But, as a new study shows, the number of workers who’ve joined unions varies widely from state to state.
Even in some states with a relatively high number of union members, the number is only a small percentage of the state¹s overall workforce, according to the study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.