State of the unions 2015

labor unionPresident 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:


Walk in these scuffed shoes, Wall Street Journal editors


The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has tut-tutted 90.6 million Americans for being jobless, disabled, uninsured or broke enough to need food stamps.

They “aren’t even looking for a job,” sniffed the Journal, blaming this on too easily accessed social safety net components “that substitute for work” – unemployment insurance, disability payments, food stamps and (“soon”) Obamacare.

According to this view, only the threat of destitution will motivate workers to get jobs.

Why is it that, in this view, workers deserve the stick while executives are thought to merit the carrot of incentives?

Considering the kind of low-wage, dead-end drudgery produced by the ever-expanding “service economy” of burger flipping and bathroom cleaning, it’s understandable why motivation might be hard to maintain. Those seem to be the only kind of jobs that haven’t been outsourced by the hundreds of thousands to subsistence-wage workers in India or Mexico.

I propose a challenge for the Journal’s editorial writers: a one-month sojourn for each of them in the shoes of a laid-off teacher, a disabled factory worker or a single mother whose full-time job doesn’t pay a living wage or provide health insurance.

Move into their homes, shop for clothes with them at Goodwill, wait with them to see a doctor in a community health clinic.

Then tell us what you think based on your experiences, instead of offering judgments that substitute for first-hand knowledge.