Labor Briefing: February 2017

By BILL ONASCH

Seeing the Light In Baltimore—At the beginning of the Trump era, an important organizing victory has taken place. After a vigorous campaign that included home visits, phone banking, and twice a day plant gate rallies and leaflet distributions, an NLRB election certified the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to represent more than 1400 Baltimore Gas & Electric workers.

Obama Legacy Includes Smaller Unions—There were high expectations in organized labor when Obama took office eight years ago. Their hopes centered on labor law reform. But no significant legislation was passed during his administration, not even during his first two years when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

Some beneficial new Labor Board rulings were passed about overtime coverage and “joint responsibility” of national corporations for workers in franchised workplaces. Those rules can be, and most certainly will be, reversed by Trump appointees. Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary is CEO of the Hardy’s fast-food chain, who will undoubtedly strangle “joint responsibility” in the crib.

Instead of a resurgence in union strength, the final annual report by the Bureau of Labor Standards (www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.htm) shows a decline in union numbers and density on Obama’s watch to a new low since the reporting of such stats began in 1983. In 2015, unions represented 16,441,000 workers, 12.3 percent of the workforce, of which 11.1 percent were actual union members. In 2016, representation declined to 12 percent, and union membership to 10.7 percent. The new figures in the private sector show only 7.3 percent represented, 6.4 percent dues-paying members.

The discrepancy between union-represented workers and union membership is primarily due to free-riders choosing not to join the union in those states where so-called “Right to Work” laws ban union-shop agreements. The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council has succeeded in getting RtW passed in several new states in recent years, including former union strongholds in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Kentucky—and passage in Missouri appears imminent. It is possible Congress will pass a national version.

Still Popular Though—Despite declining members, polls show the number of Americans who view unions favorably is on the rise. A new Pew Poll shows a sixty percent approval rating.

Both the positive public perception of unions and the employer drive to get rid of them are undoubtedly influenced by wages. Full-time union workers had a median usual weekly paycheck of $1004 last year. The same measure for non-union workers was $802.

If you have a story idea appropriate for Labor Briefing, please contact billonasch@kclabor.org