Monday, February 20, 2012

What about the workers?

How do the presidential candidates stand on unions?

Mitt Romney has done nothing but bash them. He vows to pass so-called "right to work" legislation barring job requirements of union membership and payment of union dues. "I've taken on union bosses before," he said, "and I'm happy to take them on again". When Romney's not blaming China for US manufacturers' competitive problems, he blames high union wages.

Rick Santorum says he's supportive of private-sector unions. While in the Senate he voted against a national right to work law (Romney is now attacking him on this), but Santorum isn't interested in strengthening unions, and he doesn't like them in the public sector.

Newt Gingrich would jettison child-labour protection laws.

Free-marketeer Ron Paul would take away a key protection Americans currently enjoy at work. He supports ending a provision of the National Labor Relations Act that makes it illegal for employers to fire workers based on their support of unions.

Meanwhile, President Obama praises "unionised plants" but the president has not promised that if re-elected he'd push for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organise a union. He had supported it in the 2008 election but never moved the legislation once elected. The president has also been noticeably silent on the labour struggles that have been roiling the Midwest - from Wisconsin's assault on the bargaining rights of public employees, through Indiana's recently enacted right to work law

The once-mighty United Auto Workers has been forced to accept pay packages for new hires at the Big Three that provide half what new hires got a decade ago. At $14 an hour, new auto workers earn about the same as most service-sector workers in the US. GM just announced record profits - but its new workers won't be getting much of a share.

US corporations - in both manufacturing and services - are doing wonderfully well. Their third-quarter profits (the latest data available) totaled $2 trillion. That's 19 per cent higher than the pre-recession peak five years ago.

Wages continue to drop, adjusted for inflation. Of every dollar of income earned in the United States in the third quarter, just 44 cents went to workers' wages and salaries - the smallest share since the government began keeping track in 1947.

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