Americans Fighting Back in Alternative Unions

Pivotfarm's picture

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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

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Emergency Ward's picture

If a corporation is not a person, is a union also not a person?

pondview28's picture

Facts indicate otherwise. Unions now are exclusionary groups. They support high wages for small groups of people. UAW negotiations as example No. 1.
An easy way for unions to get more support? Declare themselves non-political and make no political donations. They need to completely jettison their socialist leanings and concentrate solely on employee relations with employers. Unions will rightly be opposed by half the population as long as they are one-sided political machines.

11b40's picture

What would be the greatest thing to happen to America is if we could simply make it illegal for any non-voting entity to make any type of political donation.  As in NONE!  No money, no donation of time or services.  Nothing.

If you can't vote, you should not be able to influence an election.

Suddenly, this whole political class would evaporate.  It has become a 24/7/365 $6,000,000,000 racket of consultants, operatives, spinmeisters, think tanks, and party aparatchiks, with the people we elect to manage our affairs now spending the majority of their time dialing for dollars and selling us all out.  The media gets huge sums of ad revenues from these campaigns, and from running divisive TV programs, so don't expect them to lead the charge for change.

Get the union money out, get the corporate money out, and that would eliminate the froeign money that flows through corporate donations out, too.


Mi Naem's picture

I like the gist of this, but it's a slippery slope. 

So, no NRA contributions?  No Brady contributions? 

No National Right To Life contributions? No NARAL contributions.  

OK with all that, you say?  Fair enough-----

THEN you get into "in kind" contributions which can include providing physical, technical, intellectual support, loans of equipment, editorial support, endorsements. 

Suppose you and your extended family want to organize a fundraiser for a candidate.  Are you an unregistered PAC?  Oh, you're all voters?  So are the NRA and Brady guys. 

I don't know what the solution is, I only know that coming up with one that works and yet doesn't trample all over people's 1st Amendment and other rights is a friggin' nightmare. 

RevRex's picture

Unreasonable union demands have done more to decimate the middle class than the ObowelMovement has.



But Republicans are in bed with the Unions too, according to idiots who say "both parties are the same"





It seems that there are some people dumber than Democrat voters who HAD a job.....

11b40's picture

Weak management is as much to blame, if not more so, that Union demands.

It's the Union's job to make demands, but it's managements job to say no...then, they reach some kind of compromise.  The problems arise when either, or both, dig in their heels and demonize each other.


But, in business, ALL failures are failures of management.

midtowng's picture

Most people on ZH would rather see everyone starve than see some people get ahead in a collective manner.

Doubleguns's picture

SOME people getting ahead in a collective manner are taking from the ones not getting ahead by charging them more money for services etc.... that keeps them broke and starving. The collective is only good for those that are in it and preys on those out side of it by demanding moar from those outside the collective.


So who is causing the starvation? Overall wages going down but unions demanding MOAR from the populace that needs those services. Moar money, moar vacation, moar personal days, moar life insurance, moar pension, moar, moar, moar!!!!

James-Morrison's picture

I can't recall a thread were most comments advocated mass starvation.

Please highlight these threads when you see them...

Emergency Ward's picture

If you are referring to the collectivist Federal Police/Surveillance/War State, I would like to see that State starve rather than get ahead....

Sonic the porcupine's picture

Unions in the US, as labor laws are currently written, are an attack on private property ownership. You don't really own a business if you can't choose who doesn't work there.

dirty belly's picture

The Red Neck War

[It was the only time in American history that government airplanes intentionally bombed its own citizens. It was the largest armed insurrection fought on American soil since the Civil War.

And it has been almost totally forgotten outside of the lore of the United Mine Workers of America.]

[But the most common complaint from miners was the Yellow Dog Contract that they were forced to sign when going to work. Until it was outlawed in 1932, any miner who even talked about unionizing was legally fired and blacklisted. Of course this also meant having his family kicked out of their home. Mine owners employed dozens, or even thousands of thugs (depending on the size of the company) to enforce company policy.]

Sean7k's picture

Unions, historically in the US, began as something to be terrorized and brutally put down and gradually progressed to co-opted labor cooperatives lead by bought and paid for puppets (kind of like politicians). Public unions are farcical, in that they can raise wages and benefits based on the ability to raise taxes or their share of taxes, rather than productivity.

Consequently, to think unions are the solution to labor wage rates exhibits a failure to think outside the box. We continue to malign self-employment as a means to this end. Like guild artisans, before the guild created the same conditions as unions, self employment was a means of improving your standard of living. Thus the reason people apprenticed, at minimal compensation, to make better wages later on. Much like we do with a college education where the doctor, lawyer or accountant spends a period in intense training at lower wages.

Guilds arose from the labor shortages caused by the Black Plague. Landowners and tenant farmers quickly figured out whom had the upper hand. Probably why the Elites like to have populations in excess of actual labor requirements, but not too large to require excess entitlements to maintain them at some minimum standard of living.

Since the Elites have their own methods of controlling populations and their locations (eugenics, pandemics and warfare), workers must find a different means to a better end. The means lies in cooperation and exclusion. Cooperation with each other in supporting and using local products and services, using non-currency money substitutes and black markets. Exclusion of corporate food systems, consumer products,media products etc. 

Some products are difficult to exclude, but most are not. We often shop based on price and price alone. This is the great power of the corporation, to deliver goods that are cheap, especially foreign goods. Do we need 10 pairs of cheap shoes? Or two pairs of fine quality shoes? Etc. Fine quality furniture can be maintained for decades. A post and beam home lasts CENTURIES. Extended familes eliminate childcare needs, provide safety nets and efficiently allocate housing and energy expenditures. 

The solution is probably staring us in the face, but is occluded by media brainwashing, substandard educations and State coercion that demands we follow so many rules we must consider where we place our next step as we walk. Labor values are diminshed by excessive tax schedules and fees. Licensing eliminates opportunity. We must ignore the barriers and focus on production methods that offer us the best results, even if it means defiance in the face of the State.

Raging Debate's picture

About public unions. My girlfriends Mom is ready to retire. To collect an extra couple months of pay and benefits she has told them she is coming back for this school year but will tell them the day before schools starts she changed her mind. The amount in payout will be $8,000 plus full health. That is how public union workers act and that behavior is born by the private sector in taxes. Oh I forgot to mention, this person just bought a house near Jacksonville for $600,000. Her dough came from a divorce but my point is this person doesn't even need the money and acts like this.

Jumbotron's picture

How do you know she doesn't need the money.

It's not like our money is worth anything anymore.....or have you been to the grocery store lately...or filled up your tank with your own money?

imbtween's picture

What's the difference between a hedge fund/IB and a union other than one pools financial capital to its advantage and the other pools human capital?

Mi Naem's picture

It is a lot easier to move your money around between various funds, spread the money among funds, or skip the funds altogether and make investments around them.  You can tell the fund how you want your capital invested.  The union?: not so much. 

imbtween's picture

I.wish. tell that to the company that manages my 401k.

Mi Naem's picture

Yeah, 401k's are different.  More like a voluntary hostage situation. 

TrulyStupid's picture

One sometimes forgets that the importation of foreign workers by (mainly) Big Ag and Big Food, was an effective anti union tool that help the bosses supress wages, benefits and their tax obligations. It had the added benefit of shifting the blame to the victims - the "illegals"

So next time you see a wall street executive standing on a corner with a tin cup (or more likely in the corridors of power, with their antitax lobbyist).. throw them a dime.

Mi Naem's picture

"throw them a dime."        ...really hard, right in the eye. 

Mi Naem's picture

I'm not thrilled by the prospect of having some company that pretends to represent my interests, then taking a piece of my paycheck, when it in fact really only represents its own interests which are only somewhat coincident with mine. 

Anyone who is not familiar with that kind of system, see Realtors and Congressmen. 

I'll negotiate my own deals, thank you. 

TrulyStupid's picture

You won't do very well in any negotiation particularly with a large organization, if you're not holding any hammer. You may not even make it to the table.

Mi Naem's picture

Then I either take their crappy deal until I find myself a better one, or I don't take it while spending more time finding a deal I like better, or I make my own deal in the form of a business formation.  All cases are better than making my self subject to two separate management hierarchies with disparate agendas neither of which are actually in my interests, and which conflicting hierarchies tend to make the enterprise I might work for even less efficient and effective than it already is. 

Citxmech's picture

The only problem with your approach is it doesn't deal with this problem:  "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."  When the job market is tight, taxpayers should not be subsidizing the low wage structure of mega-corporations. 

Mi Naem's picture

Your statement "taxpayers should not be subsidizing..." is the key here. Agreed.

I refer you to my post above: "Anyone who is not familiar with that kind of system, see Realtors and Congressmen."

AdvancingTime's picture

The main benefit of unions has been to better distribute labor the rewards of labor. This gives more people a path to finding real and fulfilling work. The cost of inequality is taking a toll on our culture. Robots and new technology have streamlined and increased productivity and at the same time eliminated many jobs. Unions are only part of a much bigger picture in a fast changing world.

Many other issues exist such as the role of big business in society. What is good for big business but not necessarily for the masses. Consolidation often means a gain in efficiency, but this often comes at the cost of losing diversity and a "robustness" to both society and the economy. The benefits of efficiency sometimes come with a huge hidden cost.

How the fruits of labor are divided is important, this includes not just the wage deserved by a common laborer, but how much  those in management, top CEO's, and those that can't, or choose not to work, receive. The article below delves into this important and complex world wide issue.

taketheredpill's picture



Also worth doing research on how much production time was lost to Strikes during the boom times for Unions.  It turns out to be WAY less than you might recall, largely a result of anti-union hype.


taketheredpill's picture



Other benefits that Unions fought for include 5 day work weeks, 8 hour days, workplace safety etc, before we started outsourcing to foreign workers.  So we still have sweat-shops, just located off-shore.


When I was young and less well informed I used to believe that crap about "the best man for the job" and "seniority is wrong", but the alternative is treating workers like draft horses.



Stuck on Zero's picture

Unions, like any big organizations, become corrupt.  Nuff said.

Ghordius's picture

the first time I was impressed by Judge Napolitano was when he reminded an audience (I think it was on FOX, yet it could have been on Jon Stewart's Daily Show) that unions, as such, are applauded by libertarians, as part of a healthy market

interesting article, good reference to the high participation in unions in european countries like Finland. unions are one thing, how they act is a different one

usually, the biggest criticism versus unions on ZH comes from critics of public unions, to the point of conflating all unions to those

it would be very interesting if this trend to informal unions continues, particularly in our age of social media networks

Kreditanstalt's picture

ALL unions, when their "rights" are protected by government, collective "bargaining" is forced by government or union "recognition" is ordered by government force, are interferences with the employer's private property.  It's the employer's money.  It's his business.  The hired help is there only at the emplyer's discretion: anything else is an interference in the free interplay of capital and labour.

Think about it.  Without the government's guns, where would striking unionists be?  OUT ON THEIR EARS, replace by more efficient labour.


Uncle Remus's picture

."Judge Napolitano [...] reminded an audience [...] that unions, as such, are applauded by libertarians, as part of a healthy market"

I can't speak for the good Judge, but I suspect that was an anachronistic perspective of a union. US public sector unions are an abomination - there is no means of counterbalance to their excesses. The UAW has become a de facto public union.


Bindar Dundat's picture

private sector unions are great! ....Government employee Unions are the root of all evil.

Ironmaan's picture

Your right. Public unions are the problem. There is no problem with private unions as long as they are not eventually bailed out by government (GM). If they bankrupt the company they work for...oh well. I really couldnt care less. Both the company and the workers got what they deserved. 

However...public unions can demand demand and demand and have those demands met without fear they will bankrupt the company they work for. Hell all you got to do is raise taxes. 

By the way...I will NEVER buy a GM vehicle again.