Over on Writer Beat.com, I left a few comments for a post bashing labor unions, because I’m pro-union and proud of it, and I don’t care if the union is public or private. I was born into a family that lived in poverty with parents struggling to make ends meet working for poverty wages until my father joined a labor union with help from my godfather. After my dad joined the union, our lifestyle improved dramatically and my family joined the middle class. As a public school teacher, I also belonged to a union, and I know for a fact that without that union’s support, I would have been fired when I put the interests of my students first over high stakes tests and corporate education reform.
There is a lot of misinformation by the writer of the Writer Beat post bashing unions. For instance, he claimed that when Scott Walker became governor of Wisconsin and limited the freedom of the labor unions, the teachers got a raise—but that’s FALSE, because how does cutting nearly $2.6 billion from public education equal a raise? Instead of a raise, 1,446 teachers lost their jobs and a similar slaughter took place the year before. – wisdems.org
The Writer Beat Post also claimed that what happened in Wisconsin when Scott Walker won the election for governor was proof that national public polls are wrong about the public supporting public employee unions—Gallup conducts an annual poll to see if the public approves or disapproves of labor unions, and since 1936, the majority has approved of labor unions even though labor unions only represents about 14% of the country’s workforce. In August 2014, Gallup reported that 53% of Americans approved of labor unions versus 38% that disapproved, and 10% that had no opinion.
Although support for labor unions has declined from 72% in 1936 to 53%, it helps to be aware that for decades there has been an ongoing propaganda war in the media that has consistently attacked both public and private sector labor unions.
Source Watch.org reports that a right-wing political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, supported the election of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin when AFP purchased $700,000 worth of television ads in that state in addition to spending almost $3 million on TV ads in 2012.
Republic Report.org “broke down the figures for the last election and found that Koch groups alone spent more than double the combined political spending for the top ten unions combined.”
It’s also no secret that one of the wealthiest families on the planet are strongly anti-union—the Walton family. You may learn more from a report in The Nation that said, “Always Low Wages: Meet the Billionaires Who Run Walmart.”
In fact, the Waltons have gone as far as to close Walmart stores where the employees voted to bring in a labor union.” – Zero Hedge.com
What is the result of Walmart workers having no union? Forbes reports, “Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing …” Walmart provides 1.4 million jobs. The fast food industry, another non-union sector that often pays poverty wages (over half of all fast food workers are on government assistance—$7 billion annually Kitchenette & Poverty nation), employees almost 4 million.
If you are interesting in a detailed report on What’s Happening in Wisconsin Explained, click this link to Mother Jones.com. As for Scott Walker’s popularity in Wisconsin: in the last election, he won with 1.259 (53% of the vote) million votes versus 1.114 million (almost half of the 4.4 million eligible voters in the state actually voted)—it wasn’t a landslide.
Another argument on Writer Beat.com was that the unions must go because they are corrupt, but there was no mention of corruption in the private sector or the government. To be fair, if one must go for corruption, they all must go.
In the private sector, Transparency.org reports, “Hefty fines, damaged reputations and jail sentences – recent scandals prove that corruption in business doesn’t always bring profits. Yet bribery persists. Almost a fifth of executives surveyed by Ernst & Young claimed to have lost business to a competitor who paid bribes. More than a third felt corruption was getting worse.
“Corruption distorts markets and creates unfair competition. Companies often pay bribes or rig bids to win public procurement contracts. Many companies hide corrupt acts behind secret subsidiaries and partnerships. Or they seek to influence political decision-making illicitly. Others exploit tax laws, construct cartels or abuse legal loopholes. Private companies have huge influence in many public spheres. These are often crucial – from energy to healthcare.”
As for corruption in the government, Transparency.org says, “At the federal level, the recently completed 2014 midterm elections confirmed the ever-increasing role that wealthy individuals, corporations, and organizations play in financing political campaigns. Much of this money if funneled through and to various groups that are not obligated to publically report the sources of their funding, thereby making it impossible for the public to know who is financing various campaigns. While political corruption is a problem in all countries, it is notable that many of the countries that score higher than the US on the CPI impose donation and/or expenditure limits on political campaigns.”
The Fiscal Times.com asks, “Lying, Cheating, Stealing: How Corrupt is America? Corruption is as American as apple pie, or so it would seem. A casual survey of the political and corporate landscape in recent weeks alone provides a troubling reminder that corruption is endemic to our way of life …”
I think it also helps to take a look at the numbers to see just how many Americans belong to labor unions and if those numbers are enough to affect the economy to the degree the millionaire and billionaire oligarchs and their puppets and pet politicians like Scott Walker claim.
The Bureau of Labor Statics at the U.S. Department of Labor reports (BLS) that there are about 148.3 million civilians employed in the United States, and the BLS says that public-sector workers only had a union membership rate of 35.7 percent—more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers at 6.6 percent.
There are 22 million public sector workers in cities, counties, states and the federal government (only 2.7 million work for the feds or 12%—the lowest figure since 1966), and within the public sector, the union membership rate was highest for local government (41.9 percent), which included employees in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. That means in 2014, 7.2 million employees in the public sector belonged to unions and 14.8 million did not.
BLS also reports that of the 126.3 million private sector workers, only 7.4 million belonged to labor unions meaning almost 119 million didn’t belong to a union—sixteen times the number of workers that belong to unions.
What’s interesting is that the BLS reported, “Earnings In 2014, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $970, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $763.”
Explain how less than 6% of the private sector work force earning about $200 more a week is responsible for any increase in unemployment or real estate prices.
What about other union benefits. The AFL-CIO reports 88 percent of workers in unions participate in pension plans versus 49 percent of nonunion workers. Seventy-seven percent of union workers have guaranteed pensions, compared with 17 percent of nonunion workers. Roughly 84 percent of workers in unions have paid sick leave compared with 62 percent of nonunion workers.
Stop and imagine what life would be like for most Americans if all workers belonged to labor unions, and then answer this: Who benefits when workers are earning $200 less a month—the workers, bosses or billionaires?
Let me help you with the answer: There are 536 billionaires (0.00016% of the population) in America; 9.63 million (3%) with a net worth of $1 million or more leaving more than 138 million (almost 44% of the population) working Americans with a net worth that’s less than $1 million who rely on that weekly or monthly pay check. Note: About 23% of the population is children and 14.5% are over the age of 65.
Let’s put that another way: There are almost 123 million households in the United States. In 2010, the poverty threshold was $22,314 for a family of four.
In 2013, 12.7% (15.6 million) of households earned under $15,000; 22.3% (27.4 million) earn $15,000 – $24.999; 20.4% (25 million) earn $25,000 – $34.999; 13.6% (17.7 million) earn $25,000 – $49,999; 17.6% (21.6 million) earn $50,000 – $75,999; 11.9% (14.6 million) earn $75,000-$99,999; 12.4% ($15.2 million) earn $100,000 – $149,999; 5.3% (6.5 million) earn $150,000 – $199,999, and 4.8% (5.9 million) earn $200,000 and over. – census.gov (2013)
In addition, Mother Jones.com reported that the top 0.01% (12,300) families in the United States earn almost $25 million each on average annually compared to $29,840 for the bottom 90% (110.7 million families).
In conclusion, the evidence strongly suggests that there are NOT enough union workers in the United States to be a factor that would lead to higher unemployment rates or real estate values just because they get paid a few hundred more a month on average—no matter what the millionaires or billionaire oligarchs claim through their puppets, politicians and propaganda. Don’t forget, union workers earn more and have better benefits, because they have someone fighting for them—evidence that unions are doing their job.
Food for thought: In 1900, before there were strong labor unions and the Robber Barons ruled over most of America with corporate monopolies, 40% of Americans lived in poverty. And what about countries that have high labor union membership—for instance, three countries with the highest labor union membership in the world: Sweden and Denmark with 95% union membership and Finland with 85% membership. What do these countries have in common?
The answer: Sweden, Denmark and Finland all made the world’s 10 happiest countries list (the U.S. isn’t on this list) , according to this year’s World Happiness Report, that looks at earnings, living standards, employment, mental health and family stability. The report surveyed 158 countries
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).
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