Look for, the union label Garment Union ad jingle
If there’s one thing you know immediately about President Joe Biden, it’s that he’s a union man to his toes. Come on guys, sing along!, you all know the words, The middle class built this country, and the unions built the middle class!
For the last 30 years, the unions have had a tough road to hoe. Federally, they have the NLRB and the Railway Relations Act that offer some protection from GOP freebooters looking to cripple the unions to favor their big business donors. So the GOP took it to the states.
GOP controlled states have done everything from passing laws that forbade companies from mandatorily collecting union dues from paychecks, weakening the union’s strength, all the way to the Right To Work Acts that several GOP states have passed, allowing companies to fire workers on palsied reasons, such as trying to form a union. Union membership and power has been on the wane for the past 20 years.
But apparently not anymore. And all because of the great equalizer, Covid-19. The coronavirus basically furloughed a large portion of the US workforce for months. Meanwhile, employees got special income from one time stimulus checks, along with $600 a week unemployment assistance checks from the US government.
And then the worm turned. For more than 20 years large US corporations had used things like pension plans and company paid insurance to make employees basically indentured servants. Wages stagnated, and employees were powerless. But when the US corporate driver turned the key and stepped on the gas to restart the economy, the daisy chain had been broken. For the first time in more than a generation, employers needed workers more than workers needed employers. They had money in their kick, and they could afford to sit back and cherry pick opportunities. And they did.
But now it appears that they’re also flexing their muscle. Former Clinton Labor Secretary, UC Berkeley economics professor Robert Reich, who tracks such things, released a tweet today that showed just how far the power paradigm had shifted.
Monday is Labor Day. And according to Reich, in the first 9 months of this year, there have been 642 successful union election drives in the United States. And not just mom-and-pop-bodega operations either. The first Amazon warehouse, the first Trader Joe’s location, the first Chipotle location, and more than 200 Starbucks locations nationwide.
There’s an old axiom, Nothing breeds success like success. When that first Amazon warehouse negotiates a successful contract with improved wages, work rules, and employee protection, every Amazon warehouse is going to want the same thing. The same thing with Chipotles and Trader Jose. And more Starbucks locations are going to fall like dominoes.
And union representation can have beneficial effects, even on non union employees, and I know that for a fact. When I was a pilot crew scheduler for United Airlines, I was designated as a management employee. We were considered high skill specialists. The last thing United needed was for us to push for union representation. As a result, when the IAM union, which covered ramp workers and mechanics negotiated a plum, like having both Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving as union double time and a half holidays, we got the same benefit.
Which is why Jerome Powell and the Federal Reserve Board need to be so careful. Right now unemployment is at a historic low, and yet the labor market is still adding 300,000 jobs a month. As long as this continues, it’s the employees who hold the power, requesting raises and unionizing for better pay and work conditions. Corporate America is finding out how that shoe feels on the other foot.
Granted inflation is a problem. But gas prices are dropping, and will continue to do so after Tuesday, when gasoline demand ebbs after the summer driving season. And while inflation may not be where the Fed wants it, demand will also decrease after Labor Day, putting downward pressure on prices. The Fed isn’t meeting again until later this month.
The last thing the Fed wants to do is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Raising interest rates may continue to drive inflation down, but if it depresses business, then layoffs and a recession may follow. And that would have the controls of power back to the corporations again. Not what we want. After all, a better paid worker is better equipped to deal with inflation than an unemployed worker can deal with lower prices. Just a word to the wise.