Monday, September 3

Happy Labor Day

Most of us are too young to remember the golden age of labor unions. But most of us are living in the relative affluence that we do because of the labor movement. However, it has been far from sunny for the unions since the early 1980's when they were at the apex of their influence. Union membership stood at 12% in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics - down from 12.5% a year earlier. The rate has declined steadily from 20.1% in 1983, the first year for which comparable data is available, the BLS said. And when it comes to union membership, workers in the public sector outnumber private-sector employees five-to-one.

The labor movement in the US is working hard to remain relevant in the US. Protecting jobs is second only to development of new union memberships. With the poor record of the Bush Administration (actually any Republican administration) where union workers are concerned, it is no wonder that they are camping with Democrat frontrunners John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, as well as long-time union supporter Chris Dodd.

Unions are in need of a shot in the arm, especially in so-called "right to work states." Even with the recent raise in the minimum wage (factoid: 2.1% of union members earn the minimum wage v. 12% in the general work population) , the average union worker earns 21 to 32% more than the average non-union worker. This translates as a starting wage to be between $8.87 to $9.68 as compared the average minimum wage earner will earn in January of 2009 nationally.

The strategy for manufacturers has been to outsource manufacturing to countries with weak labor laws. For the skilled service sector, outsourcing has occurred as well. According to Common Dreams, "The number of U.S. high-tech and service jobs that have been moved overseas so far is relatively small, but ... the pace is quickening. Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research estimates about 830,000 such positions will be relocated to India, Russia and other low-wage nations by the end of 2005, and that 3.4 million jobs representing $136 billion in U.S. wages will be lost by 2015."

The bright side has been that unions are spreading to so-called white collar jobs in the aerospace industry, universities, and retailing. In addition, they continue to grow in the government sector.

While union gorwth has actually declined, it is important to remember that labor gained strength when poor labor practices were in place and when unemployment increased. With the current practices of corporations, these two factors are likely to revisit us.

Happy Labor Day union workers, its good you are here!

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