OPINION — The need for American workers to get their fair share of profits when they give up their time and labor to a company should be of no question. Yet, for some reason, not only is that in question, but the answer seems to always end up being the worker has enough, while the CEOs, managers, shareholders, etc. make more and more. This conversation seems to have taken place repeatedly for the last 30 plus years, because in that time, “The bottom 50 percent of wealth owners experienced no net wealth growth since 1989. At the other end of the spectrum, the top one percent have seen their wealth grow by almost 300 percent since 1989,” according to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
At the same time, union membership in America dropped nearly 50%, according to Pew Research, and since 1964, union membership has dropped from encompassing one in three Americans to only one in ten, according to NPR. The fact that wealth inequality has gone up should be no surprise when at the same time unions have been on the decline for decades. The decline does not seem to be a lack of want on the part of Americans, but rather a lack of ability. After all, with a union membership, workers tend to have higher wages than non-union counterparts, better benefits, safer working conditions and a larger voice when negotiating with their employers — who wouldn’t want that?
Businesses do not want that, because the motives, incentives, and goals of business leaders are always going to be different than the motives, incentives and goals of workers. A business’s goal is to make as much profit as possible, even if that means using lower-quality materials, increasing worker productivity while cutting wages, cutting benefits, drying up pensions, cutting corners, over- promising and, of course, under- delivering. A worker will always want the greatest pay for the hours that they work, the safest environment to work in, the best benefits they can get and a good retirement plan for when they have reached the end of their working life.
Business owners, in owning the means of production, inherently have more power over the worker than the worker has over the owner. Sure, a worker could stop working, and the business would lose out on money from them not producing anything. However, one worker out of potentially thousands is a minor disturbance, rather than a dire issue. However, if workers were to band together, the mere threat of them all stopping work could have serious implications for the business. This is called a strike. When workers bind themselves together, it is the most powerful tool they have to put themselves on even footing with business owners.
Collectively bargaining and striking are legal in the United States thanks to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 — the founding labor law that guarantees the right of private-sector employees to organize. Since that law’s inception, it has been under attack from conservatives and business leaders (who often seem to have their interests aligned). Over time, the effectiveness and extent of the law have been whittled down through court cases and amending legislation, until now.
The House of Representatives passed on March 8 of this year the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (H.R. 842). It has been sent to the Senate, where it needs to pass before being sent to President Joe Biden. This bill would weaken ironically titled “Right-to- Work” laws that, as NPR has reported, “allow workers in union-represented workplaces to opt-out of the union, and not pay union dues. At the same time, such workers are still covered under the wage and benefits provisions of the union contract.” The PRO Act would allow unions to collect dues from those being represented by the union, but who opted out of joining them.
The act would also make it harder for businesses to pressure employees from joining a union by making them sit in sometimes day-long meetings with anti-union advocates. It would also, as New York Magazine has said, “prohibit employers from permanently replacing striking workers with non- union labor.” Businesses often hire these “scabs” — a pejorative name used by union members to refer to non-union strikebreakers — as a way to counter the strikes initiated by unions. New York Magazine has also reported, “Employers that violate existing legal provisions by coercing or retaliating against workers who organize would also face stiffer penalties for doing so,” something I think will be effective, as nothing makes business listen more than when they face the threat of losing money.
In my time writing, I have never been shy of my labor-friendly attitudes. I have written several times wishing for a more robust labor movement (one that would probably be characterized as a “revival” at this point) in the U.S., more robust labor laws and harsher penalties for those that violate the rights of workers. This act does just that. For the American worker, it will no doubt be a promising stepping stone in the massive gap between the workers of this country and the ones employing them. President Biden has already commended the House’s passing of the act, so the only hurdle now is its passage in the Senate. Assuming all Republicans vote against it as they are expected to, no Democrat can break ranks to ensure its passage. Knowing the Democratic Party, they will find a way to disappoint me; nevertheless, this is the best chance at getting quality labor legislation in decades, I hope the chance isn’t missed.