Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reich: Economy needs unions

Economist Robert Reich has a prescription for what ails the American economy: stronger unions that guarantee decent salaries, health insurance coverage and comfortable retirement for the great middle class.

He makes a compelling case, tracing the decline of middle class incomes - our median income is now less than it was in 2000 - to the decline of private sector union membership.

When unions were at their strongest, in the 1950s, even non-union employers had top pay top wages, Reich writes:

In 1955, more than a third of working Americans belonged to one. Unions gave
them the bargaining leverage they needed to get the paychecks that kept the
economy going. So many Americans were unionized that wage agreements spilled
over to nonunionized workplaces as well. Employers knew they had to match
union wages to compete for workers and to recruit the best ones.
But that was then, and this is now. With union membership at a record low among private sector workers, the median income of most households is lower than it was in the year 2000. And although many workers would like to unionize now, there are serious roadblocks:

Most of the time, employees who want to form a union are threatened and
intimidated by their employers. And all too often, if they don't heed the
warnings, they're fired, even though that's illegal.
For that reason, and for the sake of the economy, Reich supports the Employee Free Choice Act:

The American middle class isn't looking for a bailout or a handout. Most people
just want a chance to share in the success of the companies they help to
prosper. Making it easier for all Americans to form unions would give the middle
class the bargaining power it needs for better wages and benefits. And a strong
and prosperous middle class is necessary if our economy is to

No comments: