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The Washington Postreports that for the first time in the 25 years it's been measured, union membership has shown a statistically significant increase.

Yep, yep, not surprised, you say. Unions have been starting to turn things around, organize more workers, etc, etc.

But one of the key causes economists give for the upturn may surprise you.

The Post reports that in 2008:

union members represented 12.4 percent of employed workers, up from 12.1 percent a year earlier, according to a report from Bureau of Labor Statistics issued this morning. Until last year, union membership had generally been in a slow and steady decline since the 1950s.

The Post reports several different possible causes—and here’s a particularly revealing one:

"Part of what I think is happening is that the economy is shrinking but union jobs are not being shed because they have union contracts," said Jim Walker, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics who worked on the new figures.

And doesn't that say it all? In tough economic times, in times of job uncertainty, in times when Wall Street is dining out and flying high on the taxpayer's dime, while record numbers of workers are laid off in a single day--in times like these, if you have union, you have job protection.  

There are lots of reasons that more and more workers are choosing to join unions, including good benefits, better wages, and a say in the workplace—but I can't think of a better one during an economic crisis than job security.

Originally posted to 4workers on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 11:28 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  That was my first guess (10+ / 0-)

    Large numbers of government employees (cops, teachers, civil servants, etc.) are government employees and while they're having to do givebacks and hiring freezes, they're not being laid off yet.

    Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

    by milkbone on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 11:38:16 AM PST

  •  don't want to jump you tip jar, but... (11+ / 0-)

    Needed to say: great message.  And right on target.
    I just finished 2 and a half months on the bargaining team for nurses at my hospital and we negotiated over thirty significant improvements in our contract, even in the face of this economy.  Admittedly, nurses are in a special position, but non-union nurses are taking cuts all over the country.

  •  Workers are not commodities (12+ / 0-)

    And the way to get this across apparently is union representation.

    In a society where the corporate administrative class are taught nothing but the bottom line where workers are commodities on a spreadsheet rather than productive assets it appears that unions, at all levels, are needed more now than ever.

  •  We need to drag the rest of the world's labor (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lams712, 4workers, Dirtandiron, MsGrin

    upward by unionizing the US workforce and demanding that our major trading partners do the same to keep the playing field level.

    There has been enough of a race to the bottom and all it has done is concentrate more wealth in the hands of the powerful few.

    A diverse economy includes a thriving labor market that unions provide.

    •  So then if all American workers are unionized (0+ / 0-)

      and we hit another recession like this, doesn't it mean that either the economy fails or it is as if there are no unions?  

      There is a difference between unions to protect the rights of workers and unions being used to give a competitive advantage to one person who is equal to the next.  

      I certainly understand that the concern that without unions a few at the "top" may arbitrarily fire workers to gain a few bucks or will try and fire for cheaper work but that is a far cry from contracts with unions being so dominant that prudent economic practices can't be followed (laying off those positions which are least valuable to the success of the company and continued employment of the workers).  If that is indicated by the statistics, it may be winning the battle but losing the war.

      •  Um, you've left out some imortant details (0+ / 0-)

        like how much the coporate execs pay themselves.  

        Nice how several comps who got bailout money seemed to have used it for executive bonuses... I feel pretty good about that, don't you?  How about that new jet in the news yesterday - how many annual salaries of average workers could have been paid with the cost of that jet?

        Just because there has been a huge amount of PR about how decent wages hurt corporate bottom lines, doesn't mean that's the full truth.

        Impeachment in the New Year, please.

        by MsGrin on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 12:41:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I totally agree with you on that exec comp, (0+ / 0-)

          the jet etc.

          Let's look at Citibank--Let's say we unionized all workers at Citibank below upper management.  This would include the mortgage writers, debt collectors, credit card sales people, people who processed foreclosures, marketing, financial entry level etc.  Many of these workers would not have been hired if Citibank wasn't flying high with revenues but such revenues based on risky assets. October comes.  Was the deciding factor in Citibank's need for aid (I know, "need" snark)--the jet and the uppermanagement waste, greed and bonuses?  My guess is that Citibank is in deep do do because of failed mortgages, unpaid credit card debt, risky ventures.  If we put Michelle Obama as CEO, what would she have to do.  She would have to lay off workers.  She would insist on a policy of issuing mortgages at reasonable fixed rates to people who could affort them.  Which means that there wouldn't be the excess revenues of predatory lending and therefore there would be less money to pay payroll.  It would mean less activity and less need for employment.  If they cut the number of mortgages in half, they need fewer mortgage writers. To employ the same amount of mortgage writers with half the business solely because of a union contract doesn't make sense.  Citibank would go down not because of their risky practices of lending but because they are paying too much labor for the product.

          Likewise with GM.  They weren't making a profit with 16.1 million cars est (US) a year.  They were so crashed strapped, that if they were an individual they would be consistently 2 payments behind in their mortgage,3 0-59 days behind on their auto loan, and 29 days behind on their credit cards with zero credit but still slinking by.   Now if 2009 comes in at 10.3, that is probably 1,000,000+ less cars for GM.  At the same time, layoffs are abundant and the GMAC arm (barely making it also) is seeing record past due on auto payments.  If they are going to make it, they cannot afford to pay the number of people it would take to make GM's share of the 16.1 million (six million I think) with revenues based on their share of the 10.3.  To minimize the number of jobs lost, I want GOOD management with good decision making skills who will make the most prudent choices of job cuts that will ultimately lose the fewest jobs.  If one group or members of one group can't be layed off solely based on a contract, even if they can't be utilized effectively, then ultimately it could cause catastrophic situation where everyone (or nearly everyone--those not taken over by another entity when the company goes bankrupt) loses their job or many more from the contracted group lose their jobs then if the management could have planned prudently in the beginning.

          I can tell you from where I am sitting, the stream of the fawcet is lightening.  This nearly trillion has been allocated. . . there can't be perpetual bailouts.

        •  Or here is another scenerio (0+ / 0-)

          Let's say GM makes cars in Michigan and Ramen Noodles in Florida.  All the 80,000 GM car employees (average hourly at $20 plus healthcare and retirement pension based on hourly) other than upper management are union and none of the 4,000 Ramen Noodle makers in Florida are union (average hourly at $14 plus healthcare and retirement pension based on hourly). Florida and Michigan's cost of living are equal. The economy continues to subside. Estimated car sales are below 10 million (annual US all).  Ramen Noodles are selling like hot cakes (much better actually).  

          Laying off, re-training, reducing wages, moving of union employees must be negotiated.  The cost of moving and re-training would be very expensive.

          What do you do to keep the company afloat?

  •  wish my union could get me more than $8/hour (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lams712, MsGrin

    but i'm still glad they have my back.

    The cruelties and the obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans.

    by charliestl on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 12:16:23 PM PST

    •  Eight whole bucks, eh? (0+ / 0-)

      According to Beth above, you're potentially the economic downfall of the nation, you greedy bas-tahd.  Next you'll want to be able to eat and have housing and health care in exchange for your labor - there's just no stopping you, is there?!  

      Impeachment in the New Year, please.

      by MsGrin on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 12:45:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Assuming this isn't snark, what do you do? (0+ / 0-)

      I live in an extremely low wage state, and it would be hard to find a job paying less than $9.  Not that a $9.50/hr job allows a lifestyle that much more luxurious than a $8/hr job, but what the hell is wrong with your union?

      •  I work in a deli. (0+ / 0-)

        I'm in the UFCW, in the local Meatcutters. My store actually pays $8.20, which is more than other stores with the same union. It is really tough work. I was thinking about being a butcher but they don't get paid any more than we do. And they just all the part-timers hours in half.

        The wages and benefits used to be better; it's not the Unions' fault, it's the stores.

        The cruelties and the obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans.

        by charliestl on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 08:47:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  oh and i live in missouri. (0+ / 0-)

        The cruelties and the obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans.

        by charliestl on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 08:48:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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