Labor Day: unions; corporate greed

eating a salad isn’t going to fix the systemic problems at your workplace

unions.afl-cio.2013It’s Labor Day, my first not working in a very long time. Among other things, I was thinking about unions. To the best of my recollection, I have never belonged to one. Yet I have been a big fan of them.

“The early labor movement was… inspired by more than the immediate job interest of its craft members. It harbored a conception of the just society, deriving from… the republican ideals of the American Revolution, which fostered social equality, celebrated honest labor, and relied on an independent, virtuous citizenship.”

Organized labor unions have “fought for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. The labor movement led efforts to stop child labor, give health benefits and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired.”

One of the conclusions I’ve come to as a former business librarian is that when ownership/management treats workers equitably, the need/desire for unions declines significantly. I have been aware of employees who were offered membership in a union but declined because the benefits seemed fair.

On the other hand, I have some knowledge of the formation of two unions. Both are in Albany, created in the past quarter-century, and both were as a result of the churlishness of management.

In other labor news, I’ve read that the immigration crackdown is targeting labor protections. “Undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, but the administration has quietly eroded protections within a federal program for immigrants who come forward to report labor trafficking, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse. The administration is also attempting to crush a union representing immigration judges.”

Truthout says The Answer to Burn Out at Work Isn’t “Self-Care” — It’s Unionizing. “It’s true that healthy food, exercise, and sleep are important ways to deal with stress, and we could all use more of each. But eating a salad isn’t going to fix the systemic problems at your workplace.”

1 in 4 Americans works for a federal contractor. The regime is proposing to drop protections for LGBTQ employees. “Their latest proposed regulation out of the Department of Labor” adds “unprecedented religious exemptions to a long-standing executive order prohibiting discrimination against the employees of federal contractors that includes protections added by President Obama for sexual orientation and gender identity.” His successor promised to keep this order “intact,” but he’s gone back on his word.

Top executives are now earning 278 times more than the average American worker, up from a ratio of 58-to-1 in 1989. A new study, released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows CEO pay has grown more than 1,000% since 1978.

Pay for average workers, though, grew just 12% in the same time period. America’s chief executive officers were paid $17.2 million on average in 2018. Corporate greed is eviscerating the working class.

Hostess: the mostess, for a few

I boycotted Hostess from about 1970 until the Vietnam war was over in 1975.

For me, the issue of the Hostess Brands snack food line apparently going under – I can’t believe that someone won’t buy this venerable line – isn’t the loss of Ding Dongs. It’s that, apparently, the company had “manipulated” its executives’ pay–sending its former chief executive’s salary, in particular, skyrocketing- in the months leading up to its Chapter 11 filing, in an effort to dodge the Bankruptcy Code’s compensation requirements.

Yet the stories I hear on the nightly news Continue reading “Hostess: the mostess, for a few”

U is for Unions

There definitely has been hostility towards unions in recent years.

Here is the state of unionized United States.

In 2011, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union–was 11.8 percent, essentially unchanged from 11.9 percent in 2010. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions [was] at 14.8 million… In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.

In 2011, 7.6 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.2 million union workers in the private sector. Continue reading “U is for Unions”

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

“Unions are also the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing power against corporate power. They’re the only large-scale movement left that persistently acts in the economic interests of the middle class.”


On March 25, 1911, 146 young immigrant workers, mostly female, died in a tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within 18 minutes, the fire spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firefighters who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those workers trapped inside because the doors were locked and their ladders could not reach the factory floor. This tragedy galvanized a city and state to fight for labor reform and safety in the workplace.

And now a century later, it’s clear that organized labor is under attack. You may have seen the cookie joke. “You know: a CEO, a tea party member, and a union worker are all sitting at a table when a plate with a dozen cookies arrives. Before anyone else can make a move, the CEO reaches out to rake in eleven of the cookies. When the other two look at him in surprise, the CEO locks eyes with the tea party member. ‘You better watch him,’ the executive says with a nod toward the union worker. ‘He wants a piece of your cookie.'”

Just because I haven’t spoken much here about the attacks on labor, in the US and elsewhere, Continue reading “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire”