Labor Unions, the Economy, and the EFCA

In addition to the usual melancholy associated with the "official end of summer," this year's Labor Day observance brings with it, for me at least, a particularly poignant reminder of the current state of the economy in the US in general and in Nevada in particular.

Labor unions, once a major positive force advocating for the working class, have fallen into disrepute. Some of this is their own fault, with too many instances of corruption and greed on the part of unscrupulous union leaders, and too many instances of "protecting" their members against job insecurity by ignoring intelligent practices of workers' being accountable for producing an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. In too many instances unions have failed to advocate for all workers, regardless of race or gender, and this has contributed to their loss of the standing they had a century or so ago.

But it's not all the unions' fault. Management and business ownership have, from the beginning, resisted unions' legitimate efforts on behalf of their members where those efforts might increase their expenses and thus cut into profits. In recent years big companies have been particularly ready to demonize unions when the unions used their voices to object to US jobs going overseas and to the radical disjunction between executive (particularly CEO) pay and what was being paid to labor.

During the major economic bubbles of the last 20 years -- the dotcom bubble of the '90s and the housing bubble of the 00s, ordinary Americans, who have traditionally identified themselves with the middle class began to think like the upper classes -- the CEOs and financiers. Maybe the euphoria of the bubbles along with the spate of paper millionaires of the dotcom era created the illusion that we could all become part of the wealthy class, but for whatever reason, we seem to have started to think that CEOs and Wall Street types are entitled to amass wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and if they are entitled, then maybe we are also thinking this way, a great many of the middle class oxymoronically tried to borrow their way into wealth -- a way of thinking that built Las Vegas, but not one that will build an economy, as we've seen.

The unions are attempting a comeback -- advocating for health care reform, retention and return of US jobs, and for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which will afford the opportunity for workers to choose to join unions on their own, while still allowing employers to conduct their own canvasses to determine employee sentiment about joining -- in other words the employers lose nothing while the workers gain a bit more freedom to initiate the process on their own, with the results binding on the employers if a majority choose to unionize. Under current law, employers are not required to take as determinative their workers' signed authorization forms designating a union as their representative and may insist that the workers use a secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board to establish their union "even if 100 percent of the employees provide the NLRB with signed authorizations designating the union as their bargaining agent." The EFCA would allow workers to have their union certified as their bargaining agent by the NLRB if a majority of them have signed valid authorizations."

Naturally employers, particularly large companies that have made it their business to keep unions out, oppose this. Former Home Depot CEO Bernie Marcus went so far as to predict the "demise of civilization" if this basically democratic process were to be instituted. More likely it would lead to a re-empowerment of labor in the face of corporate greed and the possibility of restoring sanity and balance to a system that stacks the deck in favor of the wealthy and powerful and leaves the majority of us (whatever our champagne wishes and caviar dreams) in the dust. The average American, and there are quite a lot of us, needs to realize that the Carly Fiorinas and Meg Whitmans and Bernie Marcuses of the world really don't have out best interests in mind, and that maybe "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" isn't a viable option for 95+ percent of us. The working class and the middle class are the backs on which the plutocrats stand, and maybe it's time we stood up.
Also published in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza