Rochelle News-Leader | Consider This: Unions


There will be a proposed amendment to the Bill of Rights section of the Illinois Constitution on the November ballot. It essentially concerns the fundamental right of employees to organize and negotiate with employers without interference. Please read the full description you will get on your ballot for the proposal or, better yet, go to www.ilga.gov for more information.

I have worked inside and outside my company’s union during my career. 10 years in a union job and 29 years in a non-union management job. The status of both work areas was required. For the first 10 years, I earned an hourly wage and would have had no say in my salary except for the organization I was a member of. In the next 29, even though I was still in a ministry setting, I had the opportunity to advocate for any raises I could get. One thing I can say about the two areas of work is that at my company, labor and management have stayed pretty much in sync when it comes to salaries and healthcare costs.

You may ask if there is a way to check whether unions really help the labor market and the economy. Unless there is information on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website, there would be far too many factors affecting the labor market. However, looking at the very high level past, there may be some clues. You would need to do the research yourself, but I can give you the following from the BLS at www.bls.gov and the US Department of Labor at www.dol.gov/general/topic/statistics/inflation. I researched these websites as best I could.

During the 37 years before 1983, that is, from 1946 to 1983, the median labor wage increased by 52.6%, from an inflation-adjusted wage of $48,810 in 1946 to $74,477 in 1983. Then, for the 37 years after 1983, the salary increased only 2.5 percent to $76,299 in 2020. I chose 1983 as the date because at that time , it seems that union membership has started to drop rapidly. According to my research, in 1946 the percentage of unionized workers in the total labor market was 13%. It seemed to climb from there to a high of between 30% and 35% and then started falling again. The rapid rise may be due to the end of World War II, women keeping their jobs, and then the stabilization of the workforce. The percentage of unionized workers in 1983 was then 20.1%, an increase of 54.6% from 1946. Once again, it fell to 10.8% in 2020, a decrease of 51, 2%.

Are these statistics due to the increase or decrease in trade union membership? Was it more because women stayed in the workforce and, as we now know, were paid less? Could it be that the trickle down economy didn’t work and made things worse? If you don’t know what trickle down economics is, it’s where tax breaks are given to corporations and the wealthy in hopes that that extra wealth will come back to us in the form of jobs or higher wages students. I imagine it would be all of these things and more. Can you say which of these possibilities, or others that you may know of, help the middle class or the poor?

One of the statements I’ve heard over the years is about unionized workers making too much money in a particular industry. This is really a negative issue for this industry as they will always over call the workers wages and/or benefits. But when employees and the employer are sitting across from each other, neither has to agree on the terms of a raise or a perk, right? Some say that employees have leverage through their ability to strike. Yet can’t employers also hire part-time employees, temporarily shut down the business, and/or be stronger negotiators? Could there have been times when employers made so much money from their products that they didn’t bother to fully negotiate? If so, could this have caused a snowball effect within the company? No matter how you see it, it’s worth thinking about and looking up on the internet or in the public library.

Another statement I’ve heard in my career is that if an employer wants to let a union worker go, for whatever reason, they can’t. Is it really harder to fire someone in a union? If the employee doesn’t do his job or can’t do it, doesn’t the employer have a reason? Perhaps they are hesitant to let them go because of the effort it takes. This happens even in non-union positions. And it should be hard to let workers go and proper paper trail should be done to justify it. However, is this a reason to eliminate unions from the workplace?

Perhaps the loudest voices I’ve heard are that unions choose to require the employee to pay dues. But aren’t other organizations outside of the workforce doing the same? If dues are a reason to prevent a union or other organization from forming, then who would pay for the labor and supplies needed to make it work? One thing to ponder may be to look at a trade union organization and the work of its leaders and compare that to another type of organization.

One last thing to think about. If a union has brought its employees to a level where they feel the employer now understands their needs and negotiations are going smoothly, can’t they dissolve that organization as well?

Like I said, I’ve had union and non-union jobs. I can see the benefit of both. Either way, this is an important proposal on the ballot and one that we should all have a say in.

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