President Obama used his 2015 State of the Union address to describe how he hopes to help middle-class Americans struggling with low or stagnant wages, poor job opportunities, staggering college costs and unaffordable health care.
One of the answers to these problems lies in revitalized labor unions.
After decades of continual corporate assault on collective bargaining rights, union membership in the United States has fallen from a high of 35 percent of the workforce in the mid-1950s to less than 12 percent. The power of unions helped American workers – including those who didn’t belong to unions – gain their fair share of the country’s post-war prosperity, and it didn’t prevent American companies from growing into international behemoths.
They aren’t perfect. Like all large, powerful, wealthy organizations, successful unions have harbored the same kind of greedy, corrupt officials found in business, government and sports. Even so, unions propelled some of the biggest advances in working conditions involving safety, pay and fairness. Their members shed blood and died from attacks by police and troops during strikes to wrest improvements from employers.
Next time you’re told wage increases, full-time hours, regular schedules, paid vacation time, sick days, parental leave and affordable health insurance will make your employer’s business “less competitive,” take a few minutes to check out what advice or help a nearby union local might have. Here’s a place to start: