American unions are for re-birth

Published 9:36 am Friday, September 2, 2011

This week the National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) made card check the standard for unionization ratification. It is an important decision that will benefit many working people over the coming years.

Since the formation of the NLRB in 1935 unions have been enabled to be certified by a simple card indication signed by a 50 percent plurality of workers. If employers then recognized the union by accepting the cards, the process for unionization was complete.

The Supreme Court recognized card check as constitutional in several rulings as well.

Email newsletter signup

But companies became more sophisticated in fighting off unionization over recent years, successfully bullying workers after card check to change the union election outcome.

In some cases workers supporting the union were illegally fired; in other cases workers were harassed for their union supporting activities after card check and prior to a secret ballot vote.

Overall, these tactics and other factors have contributed to a loss of union membership over recent decades. Today unions are under the most furious attack since the 1960s.

In Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio, and other states with new Republican governors unions have been demonized for the very benefits they grant workers…better wages and benefits, fairer work rules, and safer working conditions.

Teachers, firefighters, and police have been subject to claims that, as committed and skilled workers, they are too expensive. And the attack has had success turning working Americans against each other.

But why?

Is any worker’s enemy another worker? Is any worker’s enemy another good benefit package or retirement plan? Or is it true that better wages, better benefits, and better working conditions benefit all workers across industries?

Unions benefit all workers by their success in gaining living wage agreements by raising the level of work rights to better all.

But we need to do better than card check to re-invent the importance of unions to America. It is no coincidence that as union membership fell, working wages fell in America.

We need to examine the German model of unionization. Their economy has recovered more quickly than ours from the Great Recession, in no small part because of unions.

In Germany, the government subsidizes companies who hold onto workers in economic downturns to avoid unemployment and to keep skilled workers available for when business improves.

German unions also are known for their quality apprenticeship programs, and as a result, fewer Germans attend universities as they opt for specialized career training.

And German unions set on management counsels called co-determination, where they participate in corporate strategy and direction.

We must re-invent our unions with such innovations. Already GM has some models of such relationships, and there are others to be found.

America needs unions to train workers, to educate apprentices, to participate in their corporations, and to bring economic recovery to the nation.

Jim Crawford is retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.