Saturday, December 18, 2010
A simple guide for talking unions this holiday season
by Zoe Bridges-Curry
It’s no secret: Not everyone sees unions as key to rebuilding America and the middle class. It’s easy to tune out the misinformation about unions and the workers who make them strong when you hear it on the news, but what should you do when the same misinformation comes from your friends and family? We’re here to help with some simple facts so you can speak up the next time you encounter someone attacking unions, and help shed light on what unions are really all about!
MYTH: Unions are run by big, overpaid bosses.
FACT: Unions are run by workers.
A union is simply a group of employees who join together to address workplace issues, so they can improve their working conditions and have a fair shot at a better life for themselves and their families.
Unions are democratic institutions. At the local, state, and national level, all union leadership is elected by majority votes—just like elections for public office.
MYTH: Unions only care about their members.
FACT: Unions are fighting to improve the lives of all workers.
It’s easy to forget that we have unions to thank for a lot of things we take for granted today in today’s workplaces: the minimum wage, the 8-hour work day, child labor laws, health and safety standards, and even the weekend.
Today, unions across the country are on the frontlines advocating for basic workplace reforms like increases in the minimum wage, and pushing lawmakers to require paid sick leave.
Studies show that a large union presence in an industry or region can raise wages even for non-union workers. That means more consumer spending, and a stronger economy for us all.
So it’s no wonder that most Americans (61%) believe that “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person,” according to Pew’s most recent values survey.
MYTH: Union workers are lazy, and unions are bad for business.
FACT: Unions and profitability go hand in hand.
Actually, unions make the workplace more efficient – despite the stereotype that we all hear.
Unions raise productivity on average by up to 24% in manufacturing, 16% in hospitals, and 38% in the construction. Union workers have higher professional standards because unions increase opportunities for worker training. Many even offer their own training programs.
Union workers are employed in some of the most respected professions. They’re nurses, firefighters, teachers, day care providers, engineers, and NASA scientists. Union members are responsible for building nuclear subs, the space shuttle, The Smithsonian, the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, and even the American flag.
Even small business owners think that unions are good for workers—and the economy. In fact, over 80% agree “strong unions make the free market system stronger.” They’re right. Unions exist at some of the most successful companies out there, including AT&T, Costco, UPS, and Southwest.
MYTH: Unions ask for too much. In this economy, people should be thankful for any job.
FACT: Good jobs mean a stronger economy, and that means more jobs.
This idea is coming straight from the same corporations that ran our economy into the ground. Now they’re taking advantage of our financial worries to grab an even bigger slice of the pie.
It’s just plain wrong to make working Americans foot the bill for Wall Street’s party. And it’s also bad for the economy. Because when workers can’t afford the products they produce, consumer spending takes a serious hit, and the economy does, too.
But when workers can bargain for family-sustaining pay and benefits, consumer spending increases. The result is a stronger economy—one that creates jobs and enables people to work their way into the middle class.
MYTH: Public employees are to blame for our budget woes.
FACT: Public employees earn less than private-sector workers in similar jobs.
You’re going to hear this a lot more soon. But we can’t afford to have extremist policymakers get away with scapegoating civil servants like teachers, fire fighters, and police officers.
Private-sector workers should be angry about the inadequate benefits they receive, but the solution isn’t to take hope away from the public sector workers who keep our communities strong. We have to make the economy work for everyone.
Recent studies show that public employees make significantly less than private-sector workers with comparable education and experience, even when you factor in benefits. And according to Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, state and local employees’ pensions make up only 6 percent of non-federal public sector spending.
Still not convinced? It turns out that what’s bad for public workers is bad for the economy, too. The Center for Economic Policy Research reports that freezing federal workers’ pay will mean a loss of $2.5 billion in consumption by 2012—18,000 private sector workers stand to lose their jobs as a result.
And don’t forget, it was Wall Street’s recklessness that caused budget shortfalls in states across the country—not public service workers. Making public service workers pay for Wall Street’s wrongdoing won’t create jobs, and it won’t save the public services we all depend on.