The History Of Unions In The United States


Businesses often oppose unions because they can interfere with their autonomy or affect them economically. In contrast, activists from the non-governmental sector are motivated by ideals, are free of accountability and gain legitimacy from being political outsiders. Therefore, the interests of unions are not likely to align well with the interests of those who draft and monitor corporate codes of conduct. Unions have recently been engaged in a developing field of transnational labor regulation embodied in corporate codes of conduct. However, O’Brien cautions that unions have been only peripherally involved in this process, and remain ambivalent about its potential effects. They worry that these codes could have legitimizing effects on companies that do not actually live up to good practices, and that companies could use codes to excuse or distract attention from the repression of unions.

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  • When unions are focusing their efforts on representing and servicing members, there is less time and there are fewer resources to engage in the political activities that so many union members find objectionable.
  • Over 90% of unionized workers have access to a retirement benefit that is provided by an employer.
  • Despite the greater power of employers, sometimes workers are able to form unions and win contracts for two reasons.
  • Uses a survey of firms that underwent organizing drives and their closest competitors to estimate the effects of unionization on businesses.
  • These studies do not create controversy, because both unions and businesses agree that unions cut profits. >A voluntary relationship forces union executives to be more responsive and accountable to workers, and to do a better job. Opponents of right-to-work laws disparagingly refer to them as “right-to-work-for-less” laws. They claim workers in right-to-work states earn lower wages than employees in non-right-to-work states. Study the list of 112 unions that signed the 1921 declaration and generate research questions about labor unions in the early 20th century.

Moreover, there was relatively little militancy in the following year, when the new — and stronger — version did pass. Finally, the labor movement was clearly divided over the issue of organizing industrial unions, making it unlikely that the unity and zeal necessary to defeat major corporations could be mustered without the backing of the federal government. Faced with so much disagreement, but deciding that the time might be right, Roosevelt then insisted on an industrial reorganization plan that was acceptable to both organized business and organized labor, which is nothing to be sneezed at because it at least put the unions’ desires on the agenda. The search for an alternative began on April 11 when Roosevelt told the head of his three-person Brain Trust to ask Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York, an urban liberal with good relations with the AFL, to bring together a drafting group.

The Rise Of Labor Unions In The U S

Here in the United States, income inequality has risen sharply since the 1950s as union membership has dropped. According to a 2021 EPI report, the share of income going to the top 10% rose from 35.9% in 1953 to 45.8% in 2019. Over the same period, union membership fell from 33.2% of workers to 10.3%. Because unions push wages up, they reduce the number of people living in poverty. This saves the government money because fewer people need government aid such as Medicaid, SNAP , and subsidized housing. Unions typically push for policies that give a boost to domestic industries.

But right-to-work laws do not necessarily translate into lower union membership. For example, one of the most powerful local unions in the country, Culinary Union Local 226 in Las Vegas, Nevada, operates in a right-to-work state and boasts close to 100% union membership. The union represents 55,000 hotel and airport food service workers in Nevada and has negotiated high wages and benefits for its members. Workers recognize the value provided by Culinary Local 226 and freely, and happily, pay the dues to fund those efforts. So unions make the decision to negotiate as an exclusive representative in order to reap the benefits it provides, then use that choice as the justification for forcing employees to pay for representation they may not want. In non-right-to-work states, workers who refuse to join the union but must still pay union dues, or agency fees, are forced to pay for representation that results in labor contracts that may be harmful to their economic interests.

The Ways In Which Union Workers Are ‘stuck’

They are most present in change towards a neoliberal political context that has promoted the deregulation and privatization of some industries and accepted increased employer flexibility in labor markets. A plurality of Americans believed labor unions mostly helped the companies where workers are unionized by a margin. A New York Times/CBS Poll found that 60% of Americans opposed restricting collective bargaining while 33% were for it. The poll also found that 56% of Americans opposed reducing pay of public employees compared to the 37% who approved. The details of the poll also stated that 26% of those surveyed, thought pay and benefits for public employees were too high, 25% thought too low, and 36% thought about right.

Labor unions have existed in the United States since the birth of the country, tracing their origins back to the 18th-century Industrial Revolution in Europe. Union power and membership reached a high point in the U.S. during the 1940s and 1950s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employers from discriminating in their hiring practices on the basis of race, religious beliefs, gender, or natural origin—later also by age. The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, was in large measure shaped to regulate the internal affairs of unions and to provide additional safeguards to ensure that the rules laid out in the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 were adhered to. A 2015 CAP study looked at the earnings of people between the ages of 26 and 37 whose parents did not go to college.

They also employed growing numbers of unskilled immigrant laborers at lower wages in order to take advantage of the new machines and other technologies that were becoming available. The big industrialists and their allies in city governments across the country used what was quickly labeled as the Haymarket Riot as a pretext for a major counterattack by federal troops and private business armies. They now defined all union leaders as Communists, socialists, and especially, anarchists. The result of the corporate and government repression was a complete defeat for the Knights of Labor on both the eight-hour day and the railroad strike. Moreover, the organization gradually collapsed over the next few years, losing 90% of its membership in four years (e.g., Lambert 2005, p. 57). Four of the anarchists involved in organizing the Haymarket demonstration were hanged from the gallows in Chicago six months after the riot, even though there was no evidence that any of them were involved in planting the bomb.

Pittsburgh’s Union Station burns, July 1877City officials called out the local militia, but its members were reluctant to use force against workers who were part of their own community. The governor asked for federal troops, leading to a clash in which workers stopped trains and destroyed railroad property. The violence was especially extensive in Pittsburgh, already a growing industrial center based in the iron and steel industry. When militia brought in from Philadelphia fired at the demonstrators, killing several people, the angry mob burned down 39 buildings and destroyed 104 locomotives and 1,245 freight and passenger cars.

Unions Reduce Jobs

Finds no significant trend in the union wage gap in the aggregate over this time but significant changes at the industry level. Industries with large union wage gaps saw them fall, while the union wage premium rose for industries that started with low premiums. Also finds that the industries with higher premiums had larger decreases in union jobs. Consequently, unions do not raise wages in many newly organized companies. Unions can raise wages only at companies that have competitive advantages that permit them to pay higher wages, such as successful R&D projects or long-lasting capital investments.