By Daniel Morson
Of Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano
There was a time when the hopes and aspirations of countless Americans were realized through the pursuit of “the American Dream.” This dream; or rather the promise that with hard-work and sacrifice, freedom and happiness can be found, has been and will always remain what separates our country from the rest. For so long we have lived in times of certainty and security, however what will happen now that the backbone of society, middle-class working America, is being persecuted at such an unprecedented rate that its very existence is threatened?
The first of many union-restricting bills was Governor Scott Walker’s legislation in Wisconsin that removed all collective bargaining rights from state union employees. Despite the hoard of protestors rallying outside the state capitol, the bill was passed and took effect on March 25th. Aside from eliminating collective bargaining rights, the bill also forces state employees to double their current pension contributions to 5.8% of their salary, increase their health insurance contributions from 5% to 12% of their salary while trimming overall benefits in health plans, and limits state employee salaries to no higher than the Consumer Price Index. (http://thefreshexpress.com)
With the GOP now having the majority in both lawmaking chambers in 25 states, as well as control of 29 governor’s offices nationwide, similar bills are appearing throughout the country in what appears to be a snowball effect of anti-union legislation. In Idaho, Senate Bill 1108 has been passed, restricting collective bargaining rights for teachers’ salaries and benefits. The bill will also eliminate tenure for new teachers. While supporters of the bill argue that tenure is harmful and has become a tool to keep bad teachers from being fired, opponents believe that the bill allows districts to fire teachers when school enrollment drops and limits negotiations to salaries and benefits along with the importance of seniority.
(http://thenewamerican.com) Likewise, the Indiana legislature is considering a right-to-work bill, which would prohibit anyone from being forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment, although those same non-union employees would still receive all benefits gained through bargaining done on the union’s behalf.
In Tennessee a newly proposed bill would also eliminate teachers unions’ bargaining rights, while in Massachusetts a bill was proposed that would eliminate bargaining rights for all issues except salary. (http://dailycollegian.com)
One only needs to look at the historical facts to see the intrinsic role that unions have played in the economic growth and stability of America. When unions first grew to prominence around 1935 the percentage of the labor force with union members was 16.6%. As this number consistently increased throughout the decades up until 1970, so too did the national average income level. The income of the bottom 20% of Americans grew from around $10,000 in 1945 to over $20,000 in 1980, when 23.3% of the workforce consisted of union members. Contrarily, statistics now show that since 1979 the top 1% of Americans have seen their income grow by 281%, while the bottom fifth have seen only 16% and the middle fifth 25% income growth. Now that union membership is down to only 11.9% according to the Labor Department, the top 1% continues to get rich beyond belief, while middle class working America has had to endure years of stagnant income levels that have barely kept pace with inflation rates. (http://www.examiner.com)
There is no denying that America is experiencing a period of financial crisis, however to suggest that the answer is to remove the rights of union members, and attempt to eradicate unions all together, is outrageous. We must not forget that we owe the privileges of the 40 hour work week, minimum wage and healthy working condition requirements to these unions in the first place. And now we attack them on the claim that they are the root of the fiscal budget deficits at the state level nationwide. It seems that it is time for legislatures to take a closer look at the dysfunctional role that big business plays in America, to abolish the loopholes, tax breaks and corporate welfare programs that are given out, and allow democracy to flourish as it once did. For it is the working class of society, and not the corporations, that has always been the foundation of our country.