The importance of unions
American workers’ rights are being restricted in several states and this trend is in danger of spreading across the country. In Wisconsin, a law banning collective bargaining for all public employee unions except firefighters and police has passed in the state legislature. Although a Wisconsin judge has deemed the new law as having been passed without due notice, it is only one of several bills that are in development in states across America.
In Ohio, a new bill denies unions the right to bargain over health care, sick time or pension benefits. Although this law does not restrict unions from all forms of bargaining, like Wisconsin’s, it affects about twice as many workers, including police and firemen. Bills restricting the rights of workers unions to bargain are also in development in other states. In Indiana, a right-to-work bill, which prohibits anyone from being forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment is under consideration. Union members are protesting this bill, saying it will kill their unions’ abilities to bargain and deplete their benefits. In Tennessee, a bill has been proposed that would eliminate teachers unions’ collective bargaining rights. In Massachusetts, a bill that would eliminate bargaining rights for all issues except salary has also been proposed.
In the last two months, tens of thousands have gathered in Wisconsin as well as hundreds of people in other states to protest Wisconsin’s anti-union bill. As I write this, people across the state of Ohio are gathering signatures in an attempt to obtain a referendum against the new law. It is obvious that this matter is incredibly important to any Americans who believe in the importance of workers’ rights. After all, it is due to the work of unions that American workers have the rights they are entitled to today.
Unions affect society in general. You may believe the passing of these new bills won’t affect you unless you are a fireman or teacher, but the way that these unions are doing their jobs affects all sorts of things we take for granted. If you are opposed to the idea of organized unions, take a second to think about what unions have done for the workers in our country. Imagine America without any unions. It would be an America without a 40-hour-work-week, an America without a minimum wage, an America without appropriate safety standards, women worker’s rights or weekends off.
It was due to organized strikes by labor unions in America that the eight-hour-work-day was established. The National Labor Union requested Congress for an eight-hour-work-day in 1866. Although this request was initially denied, wit was due to further work by the union that awareness of the issue was brought to the public. This lead to organized strikes, often in turn leading to shortened workdays and eventually leading to enough political pressure to influence Congress to pass the National Industry Recovery Act, which established minimum wages, maximum hours and the right for unions to have collective bargaining.
Unions have been intrinsically influential in supporting America’s working class since they were introduced. It is the unions that protect the rights of the workers involved. Big businesses aren’t concerned with the rights of individual workers; they are concerned about their profits. If unions lose the ability to bargain for the rights of workers, they might as well lose their existence entirely. These new laws will have the effect of depleting many of the rights the working class people of America have struggled to obtain.
In a sense, it is understandable that government officials in these states believe that something needs to be done. There are budget deficits that do need to be dealt with, and in some cases the unions may be asking for more money from the state than is necessary. However, the way that these state governments are going about dealing with these situations is atrocious. Instead of renegotiating with the unions about how much money they need, officials are opting to pass laws to ban unions from negotiating at all.
Instead of attempting to shut down workers unions to decrease budget deficits, the state governments should be working with the unions to achieve an agreement which benefits the budget without damaging worker’s rights. Democracy is the backbone of our society, and destroying the rights of workers unions to bargain democratically with the government is damaging to democracy in general. So if you do believe that more money is being paid to workers unions than is necessary, support a decrease in appropriated funds; don’t support a bill that will annihilate American workers freedom to be allowed to negotiate for their rights.
Jaron Lewin-Berlin is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.