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Home > Blog > Whither the Union
Out of Our Minds
Monday, July 25, 2005 12:02 PM
Whither the Union
Kevin Salwen on Culture

That great crumbling sound you hear is unionized America splitting apart; this week several major unions (including the massive service employees and the Teamsters) announced that they are boycotting the AFL-CIO's annual event as a prelude to quitting the federation. Their complaint: that the AFL-CIO isn't doing enough to bring new members into the union fold. Union membership, as we all know, has been declining for decades: to about 8% of the nongovernment U.S. workforce from 35% a half-century ago.

Which leads to the bigger question for me: Are unions obsolete? Think of what they've helped American labor achieve over the past century: the 40-hour workweek, health benefits, retirement plans, a focus on safety, a rising minimum wage. While this hasn't been the work of unions alone, the collective power of that many organizations representing that many employees has forced significant change in the way many Americans work.

But now that those ideas have been implemented, how much is left for unions to accomplish? Haven't they achieved so much that they've essentially put themselves out of the 'need to have' category? And more broadly, what is the role of collectivist organizations in a free-agent nation?


2 comments

Joshua Adams - 7/25/2005 11:24:07 PM
Working in the entertainment industry, I know that labor unions still have a place. Unions for those in the performing arts ensure that workers -- including actors, stage managers, company managers, designers, and a slew of others -- earn a decent wage, receive health insurance and build up a pension for retirement. These benefits, which most people take for granted, would not exist for these professionals without the help of their unions.
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 7/25/2005 2:07:19 PM
Unions have a place still I think. I work as a tribunal judge for a program in Canada called EI (employment insurance.) The program is available to people who, for whatever reason, have been removed from their positions and are in the process of finding other employment. If they get turned down for EI they can appeal the decision to a higher court...that would be my part. There are many times when I see the role a union has played, or not played, in assisting the person who had lost the job. Companies are downsizing, asking people to work more for less, take less holidays, work in not so safe arrangements etc...Of course there may be a workplace health and safety committee and that's good too. Unions help protect people from exploitation in many cases. In other cases they protect people who, in my opinion, should not be able to keep their job and are hiding behind the protection of the union's cloak. Keep the unions only have them regroup and reframe the perspective to better reflect the changing economic market. Living la vida fearless....are you? Jan www.tobeyourbest.net

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