Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Pushback Against Unfair Labor Practices

As noted in a post yesterday, the wages of most Americans have stagnated over the last 40 years and most of the profits of soaring worker productivity has gone to business owners and large corporations.  The power of labor unions which helped build America's middle class has been crippled and far too many employees find themselves with no real bargaining power.  Adding to the employment racket is the practice of making employees "salaried workers" and then demanding hours of work that effective drive down the real hourly wages paid to the ridiculous with no chance for overtime pay.  Jeb Bush thinks American need to work longer hours and the GOP wants to destroy unions to further erode workers' power.  As a column in the Washington Post notes, some efforts are being made to even the playing field.  Here are highlights:

On this Labor Day, American workers may be beginning to reclaim what by right should be theirs. To be sure, the economic statistics continue to appall: In the second quarter of this year, for instance, labor costs rose at their lowest rate since the early ’80s — a measly 0.2 percent, despite steady economic growth and falling unemployment. That’s what happens when the income gains from work accrue almost entirely to owners, stock players and top executives.

But the pushback against the imbalances of power and income between workers (who have little) and employers (who have lots), which has been spurred by fast-food workers’ “Fight for 15,” is showing some distinctly positive results. Ordinances to raise the local minimum wage, for instance, which first popped up in liberal strongholds such as San Francisco and Seattle, have in the past few weeks been enacted in St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; and Birmingham, Ala. A proposed ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2021 in California — home to one of every eight U.S. workers — commanded 68 percent support in a Field Poll survey last week.

Unions are polling better, too: In a mid-August Gallup Poll, they had a 58 percent approval rating, including 66 percent among adults under 35. That’s radically at odds, of course, with the percentage of private-sector workers who actually belong to unions, which is just 6.6 percent. The chasm between the number who approve and the number who belong stems from decades of union smashing by employers

Last week, the President Obama-appointed majority on the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a local union representing staffing agency employees at Browning Ferris, a California waste-management company, could bargain with Browning Ferris itself: The parent company, the board members said, was really a joint employer. The new joint-employer standard will help fast-food workers seeking to unionize chains such as McDonald’s, but it likely will spur even more immediate unionization efforts in such permatemp-reliant workplaces as warehouses, hotels and factories.

No effort to reduce our towering levels of inequality can succeed unless workers can amass more power. On this Labor Day, they appear to be finding ways to do just that. 

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