More and more of America’s workers want to join a union. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that nearly half of all nonunion workers — or more than 60 million people — would join a union today if given the chance. Public approval of unions — at 65 percent — is one of the highest marks in half a century. And COVID-19 has demonstrated in the starkest possible terms the importance of having a voice on the job.
Is it any wonder that America’s workers want to organize and join a union? Workers who come together in a union can bargain for higher wages and are much more likely to have health care and a pension. The union advantage is even greater for people of color, women, immigrants, and others who have confronted workplace discrimination. A union contract is a potent weapon against unequal pay and structural racism because it establishes fair and transparent systems for hiring and firing, wages and more. When we organize, workers also have a real say in critical workplace issues like time off to care for a loved one, the deployment of technology and protection from all kinds of discrimination.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 was a crown jewel of the New Deal. The NLRA ushered in a wave or worker organizing that changed the direction of America, building the greatest middle class the world has ever known. Showing that democracy — in the workplace and at the ballot box — could deliver for working people was essential to defeating fascism, a lesson we would do well to replicate today.
Yet ever since its passage, beginning with the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, corporations and their political allies have conspired to render the law toothless. In recent decades, employers have been able to violate the NLRA with impunity, routinely denying workers our basic right to join with our coworkers for fairness on the job.
An entire union-busting industry now works nonstop to block workers from exercising our rights. Today, in more than 40 percent of all union organizing drives, employers break the law. They lie. They threaten and coerce. They routinely fire union supporters. Workers are forced to attend mandatory meetings with one item on the agenda: union-bashing. These messages of fear and intimidation come from the very people who control our paychecks, how much time we can spend with our family and whether we will have a job in six months or a year. And the fines for this illegal behavior are often a mere drop in the bucket.
This is how we can have a system of labor relations where more than 60 million people would vote to join a union, but only one in ten workers actually has one. As the collective strength of workers to negotiate for better pay and benefits has eroded, the gap between rich and poor has reached levels not experienced since the Great Depression. The latest research shows that the fall of union density has been a direct cause of rising inequality over the past four decades.
Pass the PRO Act and Legislation to Ensure Public Sector Collective Bargaining Rights