I know that this is kind of Unionism 101, but since we as a nation are now in a remedial state when it comes to understanding why we need labor unions, Eric Liu’s piece on non-unionized workers should be concerned about organized labor’s decline is important:
First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better. Unions restore demand to an economy by raising wages for their members and putting more purchasing power to work, enabling more hiring. On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.
Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage. Even if you aren’t a member your pay is influenced by the strength or weakness of organized labor. The presence of unions sets off a wage race to the top. Their absence sets off a race to the bottom.
Unfortunately, the relegation of organized labor to tiny minority status and the fact that the public sector is the last remaining stronghold for unions have led many Americans to see them as special interests seeking special privileges, often on the taxpayer’s dime. This thinking is as upside-down as our economy.
This country has gotten to today’s level of inequality because, ironically, those who work for a living think like atomized individuals while those who hire for a living organize collectively to rig policy in their favor. Today’s 97-year low is the result of decades of efforts to squeeze unions and disperse their power.
I will add that unions have also historically set new standards in benefits for industries, providing nonunionized workers improved health care, shorter hours, vacation time, pensions, etc. Companies will often expand union gains to the rest of the industry in order to undercut unionization at other worksites. In addition, organized labor’s support for laws ranging from the minimum wage to OSHA have vastly improved the lives of all American workers. Without a strong labor movement, it’s hard to see how similar advances are achieved.