The issue of organized labor unions will likely play a key role in the debates leading up to the November presidential election. The debate began in earnest back in June with the Wisconsin Governor recall vote. Governor Scott Walker’s victory has been seen by some observers as the start of the end for organized labor unions in the United States.
John Kretzschmar, the director of the William Brennan Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha recently wrote an article in the Omaha World-Herald outlining the importance of labor unions and suggested that “Rather than vilify the American labor movement, we should appreciate that unions are the only institutions in our society that introduce democracy into the workplace and allow employees to collectively negotiate with employers about wages, hours and terms of employment.”
Kretzschmar’s staunch defense of the labor union movement comes at a point in time when union membership is at an all time low, especially in the public sector. He highlights how ‘the spillover effect’ helps increase wages and working conditions for non-union members as a indirect result of collective bargaining from union members, in essence saying that all workers benefit from union bargaining, regardless of whether or not they are unionized or not.
Kretzschmar further makes the point that the American labor movement helped create the American middle class, due to people having a disposable income, that’s reinvested in the economy. Interestingly he doesn’t draw any parallels with the apparent connection that the fast eroding middle class could be linked to the decline in the union membership. Kretzschmar does however, make the point that “we should remember that without unions in the public sector, government has a tendency to reduce public servants to a commodity that they wish to purchase as cheaply as possible. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while helping public sector employees resist a management mentality of “do more with less.”
The fact that labor unions have helped to promote democracy in the workplace cannot be denied; the future role of labor unions in the workplace is less clear, with observers on the left suggesting without labor unions, the disparity in incomes will grow. On the contrary, observers on the right believe that free market economy with no organized labor unions will benefit the economy as a whole. Even though the issue of the unions hasn’t been in the news a lot recently one thing is for sure, as the race for the White House heats up the issue of labor unions will continue to make headlines.