Labor Briefing

Teamsters urge members to fight U.S. postal monopoly

Organized labor rightly takes credit for its early support of public services, such as schools, libraries, hospitals, and the like. More recently, unions have opposed the privatization of public-sector jobs held by teachers, clerks, and custodians.

Now the Hoffa-led Teamsters Union has taken a step backwards. The union is calling on its members and their families to demand that Congress end the post office’s “competitive advantage,” which “artificially impedes job growth in the private sector industries specializing in package delivery….”

The union adds that “if the Postal Service is permitted to continue to use profits from its government-granted, first-class mail monopoly to subsidize the price it charges for other delivery services, then our Teamster jobs at UPS are in jeopardy.” On the other hand, postal workers’ jobs are in jeopardy if Hoffa gets his way.

That union leaders would permit bosses to play off the UPS workers against the postal workers is outrageous. A long time ago, workers’ organizations successfully fought for a eight-hour workday, so that all workers might have a job. But that’s ancient history.

More recently, union officials have, in effect, given up the eight-hour workday, in exchange for overtime pay for some, and pink slips for others.

 


 

Interns are workers

For decades, the press has re-told the story of medical interns and residents working 24-hour shifts, certainly not by their choice nor that of their patients. Now the long hours and much more may change for up to 100,000 doctors-in-training.

By a narrow majority, the National Labor Relations Board reversed a 1976 decision and ruled on Nov. 29 that federal law gave the previously excluded personnel at the nation’s 400 private teaching hospitals the right to form unions.

The AFL-CIO and the American Medical Association (AMA) filed briefs in support of the interns and residents. Earlier this year, the AMA voted to support unionization of doctors. About 10,000 interns do belong to unions, but they work at public, not private hospitals.

“This decision gives us the power to negotiate better conditions for the nation’s residents and to advocate better for patients,” a residents’ representative told The New York Times ( Nov. 30).

 


 

As economy grows, workers’ share shrinks

The nation’s economic pie is growing, but are workers as a whole getting a bigger slice? No, according to a university economist. Edward N. Wolff says his new study, as reported in The New York Times (Dec. 5), reveals that despite the current economic expansion, labor’s share “is two to nearly four percentage points below levels reached in the late 1960s and the 1970s.” That’s two to nearly four percent of eight trillion dollars!

Wolff suggests that workers in general are even worse off than his figures indicate. That’s because the “bonuses, exercised stock options, profit-sharing fancy perks and more” received by multimillionaires, such as Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, is included in the government’s total of workers’ incomes.

“This is a shell game,” said Richard Freeman, a Harvard University labor economist. “If Gates does not take his income in Microsoft profits, he pays himself a bigger salary, and labor’s share goes up. But Harry Sixpack has little to show for that improvement.”

Wolff also has an explanation as to why the nation’s working-class majority is seeing its share of the nation’s income falling: “I think it is due to the declining power of labor, reaching back to the Reagan administration’s decision to break the union of air traffic controllers. That was a signal that government wasn’t going to support labor anymore.” Perhaps a Times editor agreed, for the article was captioned, “As Class Struggle Subsides, Less Pie for the Workers.”

Wolff didn’t openly criticize organized labor’s tops for their cowardliness in the face of Reagan’s blatant attack, nor did he mention their collaboration when earlier Nixon ordered a wage freeze. Nor did he mention their rolling over when the bosses demanded take-aways during the 1980s and 1990s, as evidenced by the declining number of strikes. And Wolff didn’t mention the union bureaucrats’ current promotion of labor-management committees and so-called jointness programs.

Neither the so-called invisible hand of the market, minimum wage, or living wage laws have kept workers from losing out, even as the economy expands. That expansion has meant a bit more pie for many workers, but a smaller share for workers in the aggregate.

There may be a more telling indicator of the union bureaucrats’ failure to organize workers to defend themselves from the bosses than workers’ shrinking share of the national income, but perhaps none are as easily measurable. Workers’ falling share will become more obvious and perhaps troublesome for bosses and union bureaucrats alike when the inevitable economic contraction takes hold.