A Strike to Worker’s Rights

National Labor Relations Board allows employers to classify more employees as supervisors. That’s just wrong.

The National Labor Relations Board voted yesterday to allow employers to categorize more workers as supervisors, thus denying them the right to unionize. This latest step by conservative policymakers to gut the union movement is bad for workers and debilitating to our economic growth.

Union rates have steeply declined over the past fifty years due to aggressive corporate tactics to undermine the freedom to form unions. In 1954, 35 percent of the American workforce was comprised of union workers. By 2003, that rate was reduced to only 8.2 percent in the private sector and 12.9 overall. The NLRB decision yesterday strikes again at the core right of workers to unionize.

The Center for American Progress released a report in 2004 on the important democratic and economic roles that unions play, and its conclusions continue to be true today. Union movements forge a link between economic growth and rising wages, which paves a sturdy road for working families to enter the middle class.

Right now the American middle class is in turmoil. Workers across the country face stiff barriers to annual wage gains that actually outpace inflation, in large part because of the failure of Congress to boost the minimum wage. Yet Congress is eager to foist Health Savings Accounts on employees even though they shift the cost of health care even further onto the average wage earner.

Economic Policy Institute researchers have found that unions raise the wages of their members by roughly 20 percent. Furthermore, 83 percent of unionized workers have employer-provided health insurance, while only 62 percent of non-unionized workers receive health benefits. Unionized workers are also 24.4 percent more likely to receive health insurance coverage in their retirement and 54 percent more likely to have pension coverage.

The Center for American Progress held an event last month that confirmed worries that the NLRB decision in these “Kentucky River Cases” will damage movements for equal or increased wages as well as universal healthcare. Sarah Fox, a panelist at the event, did express hope that the outcomes of this decision will help to frame the labor movement more clearly within the progressive movement as a whole.

Progressives must push forward with legislation—particularly minimum wage legislation—to help strengthen labor in the absence of unions.

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