Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert Reich says bank bailouts won't revive the U.S. economy, but an expansion of union membership might, and he says controversial “card-check” legislation should be passed by the Congress now in order to stimulate job growth.
If passed, union organizers would no longer have to conduct a secret ballot election to get employees of a small business represented by a national union.
Rather, unions would be approved through a much faster open petition-signing process.
"The American middle class isn't looking for a bailout or a handout. Most people just want a chance to share in the success of the companies they help to prosper," Reich wrote in The Los Angeles Times.
"Making it easier for all Americans to form unions would give the middle class the bargaining power it needs for better wages and benefits. And a strong and prosperous middle class is necessary if our economy is to succeed."
Go back about 50 years, Reich contends, when America's middle class was expanding and the economy was soaring. Paychecks were big enough to allow us to buy all the goods and services we produced, he argues.
“It was a virtuous circle. Good pay meant more purchases, and more purchases meant more jobs,” Reich maintains. “At the center of this virtuous circle were unions.”
Statistics from the Department of Labor show that workers in some unions earn 30 percent higher wages — taking home $863 a week compared with $663 for the typical nonunion worker — and are 59 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance than their nonunion counterparts.
A recent Hart poll, too, indicates that 57 million workers would be in a union if they could have one.
According to Reich, though, it has become nearly impossible for employees to create a union. Only 8 percent of private U.S. labor is now unionized, down from one in three in the 1950s.
"Those who try to form a union, according to researchers at MIT, have only about a 1 in 5 chance of successfully doing so," Reich says. "Most of the time, employees who want to form a union are threatened and intimidated by their employers. And all too often, if they don't heed the warnings, they're fired, even though that's illegal.”
“I saw this when I was secretary of Labor over a decade ago. We tried to penalize employers that broke the law, but the fines are minuscule. Too many employers consider them a cost of doing business."
The plan is quite controversial in public-policy circles and in the business community.
According to the Heritage Foundation, unions spent an estimated $16.5 million of members' dues to elect Barack Obama and another $85 million for the Democratic Congress and have made it clear that they want the Obama Administration to enact their priorities.
"Organized labor's highest legislative priority is the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, which effectively replaces traditional secret ballot organizing elections with publicly signed cards," writes economist James Sherk on the foundation's Web site.
"Workers would have to voice their choice in public, in front of union organizers, exposing workers who do not want a union to pressure, threats, and harassment from union organizers.”
“This legislation is popular with union bosses but opposed by large majorities of workers."
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