Labor Voices: Unions can jump-start economy
Watching the response of the Teamsters and other unions’ members to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey makes Labor Day this year more meaningful than ever.
The Teamsters have always been an early responder in times of crisis, donating and distributing emergency supplies, coordinating logistics, raising money for those in need and more. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and countless other catastrophes, we have been there to help.
We face many challenges, but we are up for the fight. Even as elected officials in Michigan and elsewhere have increasingly bought into corporate propaganda that argues more jobs will come if states do away with collective bargaining rights, unions aren’t backing down. When members are affected — whether from an employer, legislation unfair to working families or even natural disasters — the union family stands together.
Unions have a decades-long history of growing wealth for workers. Today, the median union worker makes more than $10,000 a year more than the median non-union worker nationwide. They are also much more likely to have retirement security due to a pension. But lawmakers are increasingly tamping down on workers’ rights.
We see it here in Michigan, a right-to-work state, where proposed changes would limit union negotiating for state employees. Under the plan, for example, unionized state employees could not bargain for enhanced job protections. This is just part of a continuing effort to weaken collective bargaining rights.
The U.S. economy benefits more Americans when unions are strong. As Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate and chief economist for the Roosevelt Institute, pointed out in “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy” last year, “As unions fade, so too does their ability raise wages in the broader economy.”
Working people want the freedom to join together and negotiate a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. And when they have more money to spend, they buy more products, creating more jobs and better wages for all workers.
Some are taking a stand for union rights. Workers in Missouri made their voice heard last month when they gathered three times the number of petitions needed to stop the implementation of a right-to-work law there. The Teamsters and other unions refused to accept the passage of legislation that would have curtailed workers’ rights, and did something about it. Now state voters will determine the fate of the measure in November 2018.
But that’s not all. Across the country, there are people who are standing up and fighting back. Many did so this past weekend, when workers came together on Labor Day from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to Detroit and Boston to demand to be heard. They know that their value together is much greater than it is apart.
Here is the reality — the American Dream is slipping away for too many. Corporate offshoring and globalization have pushed U.S. wages down and put working people’s health and safety at risk. Workers are tired of empty promises.
Working people should have the freedom and rights to negotiate a fair return on their work. While politicians fight with each other over how to fix income and gender inequality, the Teamsters and other unions have been effectively combating these issues successfully for decades. And that is something to celebrate on Labor Day.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.