Workers, unions need a level playing field

Although some politicians believe we’re only experiencing a “mental recession,” working men and women in New Hampshire know that we’re in real trouble, and that we didn’t get here overnight. We need real long-term solutions to our deep-rooted economic problems — not the status quo.

We’re living our daily lives in an economy that puts corporate profits before working people. This is most evident in our unfair trade policies, the exorbitant expense of health care, mounting personal debt and in our crumbling bridges, roads and schools.

Before the 1970s, our economy was growing strong, which meant rising wages for the vast majority of America’s workers. More money in our pockets meant more money to spend – and so we did. That spending encouraged companies to invest more, and a cycle of prosperity was born.

However, for the past three decades workers’ productivity has continued to go up while wages have stagnated. There are many reasons for this change, including the deregulation of the airline, telecommunications and trucking industries, which drove wages down for those workers. Lopsided international trade policies like NAFTA and CAFTA also played a significant role, providing incentives to send jobs overseas.

Above all else, the key reason workers aren’t seeing wages that match their productivity today is the sustained attack against a workers’ freedom to form unions to bargain for a better life.

Over half of America’s workforce – 60 million workers – say they would join a union today if they could. Union members earn 30 percent more than workers who don’t have a union and are much more likely to have health care and pension benefits.

But too few workers ever get the chance because employers routinely violate workers’ freedom to form unions, and current labor law is helpless to stop them. Academic studies show that a quarter of all employers illegally fire workers for supporting a union, and union activists stand a one-in-five chance of getting fired during organizing campaigns. Three-quarters of employers force workers to sit through one-on-one sessions against the union with their direct supervisors. Employers routinely harass, coerce and fire people who try to form unions.

The Employee Free Choice Act is a bill that would level the playing field for America’s workers by repairing the broken labor law system that has stripped away workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. It would put the choice on how to form a union in workers’ hands, not employers’.

Without the counterbalance of worker power in the economy, the relationship between wages and productivity unravels. Wages stagnate while living expenses rise. In our consumption based-economy, when people stop spending, we’re in real trouble. Demand goes down, the value of our money goes down, and it’s working families left holding the IOU.

The economy is in real trouble, and we all know it. The question is whether we keep marching to the beat of the same old tired drummer, or whether we decide it’s time to change our tune.

Mark MacKenzie is president of the AFL-CIO in New Hampshire.

Categories: Opinion