With the advent of unions in the USA in the 19th century, they were once synonymous with downing tools and walking out to hold the management and the company they were working for to ransom. Collective bargaining and across-the-board pay rises were high on the agenda back then. In the latter part of the twentieth century they were the ones that were relegated to the back offices, shunned by society as an example of not how to be in the USA. They are still there, but their power is diminished today; they are of little benefit to you as a worker if you are not unionized since you wouldn’t be gaining any of the benefits from their deals (that’s reserved for union members only). In some countries, unions gain the benefits for all workers rather than just their own members.
But, today, workers are forming new types of unions that are based quite simply on the fact that workers have had enough of being paid two cents for doing the hard work while the executives lord it in their ivory towers.
Today, there are few people in the USA that actually belong to a union and the figures are continually falling.
• In 2013, there were 14.5 million union members in the USA.
• That’s compared with 17.7 million in 1983.
• Union Density (or the percentage of workers that were unionized) stood at 11.3% in 2013 in the USA.
• That figure is a drop from the 20.1% one of 1983.
• In Finland at roughly the same time, there were 70% of workers that were unionized. We would hardly consider Finland as the epitome of the country that downs tools and goes on strike for better wages though, would we?
• The typical union member is probably male according to statistics and he works for the public sector (government workers, teachers and the police force). They also normally live in the Northeast, Midwest and in California.
• If you are a union member, then you get an average of somewhere between 10% and 30% more than a non-union worker in terms of pay for equivalent employment.
Joining a union hardly serves any purpose today and as sociologists have proved, whenever an employee threatens or mentions that they might be willing to join one, they are immediately replaced by another worker.
There are some 10, 000 employees every year in the USA today that lose their jobs because they are putting union-talk on the table at company meetings between management and workers. Yes, the law states that companies have to pay a fine for such abusive firing; but they is far better than running the risk of having an organized and powerful trade union on the premises. Today it’s all about informal unions that are being formed or alternative unionization. Take Fight for 15 or OUR Walmart, which are both backed by unions but that are non-affiliated to any union structure. Back in 1992 there were just 5 worker centers that coordinated these campaigns for informal worker-right organization in the USA. That number has exploded today to over 200.
One of the most powerful organizations that is grouping workers together is the Restaurant Opportunities Center, which was founded in 2001. Its aim is to group together the 10 million workers that work in the restaurant sector in the USA. Only 1% of those 10 million workers are actually unionized today.
These organizations came about because since the Second World War unions have been more about management than actually playing a role of contestation in companies. They simply haven’t managed to change the political system or have clout to help workers benefit.
The last report that was published actually mentioned that restaurant-sector workers were paid so little that it was the taxpayer that was providing subsidies in the form of state benefits for those workers, just so they could survive. That’s all the time while working for restaurants that are sometimes very profitable. US taxpayers fork out $7 billion a year to help them out. They only have a median wage of $8.69 per hour and that’s at front-line fast-food restaurants.
There are still 5 states in the USA that have no minimum wage requirement and it’s tantamount to slavery in modern times (Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina). There are still four states with minimum wage rates that are lower than the Federal rate (Wyoming, Minnesota, Arkansas, Georgia).
Originally posted: Americans Fighting Back in Alternative Unions