Want A Stronger Economy? Try Collective Bargaining

By Bethany Swanson
USW Intern

Well established collective bargaining systems improve wages, working conditions, and economic equality. They also can protect the economy as a whole against downturns.

These were the findings of a study published last week by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental agency founded after WWII, dedicated to improving economic and social conditions for workers across the globe.

Yet collective bargaining systems are facing serious challenges in many OECD countries, which make it unsurprising that the study also revealed that even with the unemployment rate decreasing, wage growth remains lower than it was before the recession in nearly every OECD country.

In the United States, which ranks at the bottom for both collective bargaining and worker security, workers are especially vulnerable.

The OECD found that countries like the United States that have decentralized collective bargaining systems generally have slower job growth and higher unemployment than other advanced nations. It also concluded that low paying jobs can create a slowdown in productivity and a sluggish economy.

Out of the 36 countries represented by OECD, the United States is currently ranked at the bottom for employee protection. The United States also has one of the highest job displacement rates at 16.4 percent and is in one of the highest percentiles for a low income rate, or households that earn less than half of the median outcome, creating a higher level of income equality than almost any other advanced nation in the world.

At one point unions represented nearly one-third of American workers; in 2017 however, only 10.7 percent of workers were covered by collective bargaining. With the decline of unions, workers are left to face serious challenges including unfair global competition and lack of government support on their own.

When workers have the opportunity to unionize, the OECD discovered, there is more room for personal and economic growth, with more training options and more opportunities for career advancement. Being able to collectively bargain doesn’t only strengthen workers, it also strengthens the economy as a whole.

If the American economy is going to continue to grow and workers prosper, there needs to be a place for organized labor. As this study proves, the ability to collectively bargain is one of the best solutions for improving the lives of workers everywhere.

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Posted In: Union Matters

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder