Here's my wish for this Labor Day - that someone Democrat in Congress would introduce a proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, to protect the rights of working class Americans to try to get a better deal from their employers.
The "Right to Bargain" amendment would be short - just two sentences. And here's what it would say:
"The right of employees to bargain collectively with their employer shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."That's it. With that amendment in place, no state could pass a law telling certain workers that they can't join a union. No state could prohibit unions from trying to negotiate a better deal for its members. This amendment wouldn't force union membership on anyone, and it wouldn't force employers to accept what a union asked. All it would do is say that elected officials can't tell working Americans that they can't even try to get a better deal for themselves.
Follow me below the squiggle to read why that's so important.
After-tax profits of U.S. corporations have exploded since 2003. After dropping precipitously during the last recession, corporate profits have come roaring back since 2009, rising to all-time record levels in the past year. And yet, unemployment remains stuck over 8 percent, and hourly wages for workers have remained flat since the 1970s, once you adjust for inflation.
If companies aren't hiring people, and they aren't paying their existing workers more, just what the heck's happening with all those billions and billions of extra dollars that U.S. companies are earning?
The only way that money "trickles down" in an economy is if employees bargain together to try to force their employers to share some of that extra money, instead of keeping it all for fat cats in charge. That's what a union does. Without a union, an employer can offer as little as it wants and tell prospective employees to "take it or leave it." So long as someone out there is desperate enough to take that crappy deal, employers can get away with offering them. Only when the workers come together does the math change. Instead of one company pitting thousands of workers against each other to keep wages low, a union allows all those workers to negotiate with the company at once, greatly improving their chances of getting a better deal.
Unions - not companies - gave us weekends, eight-hour working days, and living wages for middle-class workers. Union-supported politicians put some of these principles into law, but we'd never had have laws against child labor or protecting safe working conditions if it hadn't been for workers coming together in unions, with many workers suffering, and even dying for the cause along the way.
If we're ever going to see America's profits shared with American workers again, American workers are going to have to come together to demand their fair share. At the very least, government ought not stand in their way.
We need the "Right to Bargain" amendment to protect the right of American workers to demand their fair share of the money they make for their employers, and the value they provide to all of us.
So while the barbecues and the day off are nice, that's what I'd really like to see to help us all celebrate this Labor Day.
First published at my blog, Sensible Talk.