Unions: The Real Homeland Security
Americans are obsessed with national security. Over half of the national budget is spent on defense. The Department of Homeland Security has brought us the biggest bureaucracy in the history of human kind. But for most of us real security is a job with a future, a family supporting wage, affordable healthcare, affordable housing, and a secure retirement.
Family supporting jobs are on the decline. Average workers are being paid less when adjusted for inflation. Homelessness is on the rise. Workers in their 20’s are especially insecure with high costs of schooling, student loan debt, poor job prospects, and continuing high housing costs. Secure retirements are disappearing for most people.
We used to have these basic measures of financial security. At least those of us fortunate to have a union job, or to work for a major employer, enjoyed them. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s union workers achieved a decent middle class lifestyle. The “American Dream” never reached all workers but, for the first time in human history, many ordinary workers had a measure of economic security. What happened?
Since the 1980’s and Ronald Reagan there has been an aggressive effort to destroy unions. The effort has been largely successful. Workers have been divided. Right-to-work laws have increased. Trade deals have decimated the manufacturing sector. But, most importantly, workers have bought into the “free market” propaganda. They have failed to defend and support unions. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s attack on public employee unions is succeeding because too many union workers refused to voluntarily pay union dues.
The facts are clear that there is a significant union advantage for wages and benefits. Collective bargaining works for workers! A few hundred dollars a year in union dues is a bargain.
- Median weekly earnings of union workers are 28 percent higher than non-union workers. That’s a yearly difference in salary of $10,400 for union members vs. non-union members.
- 92 percent of union employees in 2009 had access to health care benefits, compared to only 68 percent of non-union workers.
- Union workers pay less in healthcare co-pays and are 5 times more likely to have family coverage.
- 82 percent of union workers have paid sick leave, compared to 63 percent of non-union workers.
- 77 percent of union employees in 2009 were covered by pension plans that provided a guaranteed monthly retirement income vs. 20 percent of non-union workers
There is a battle raging for homeland security but it is not with Middle Eastern terrorists. It is with the 1% and the elected officials at all levels who fail to support the general public. It is with budget cuts, contracting out, privatization, and globalization.
All of us can support a more fair economy. We can support the right of workers to form unions and negotiate contracts with their employers. We can vote for candidates who support economic fairness and unions. We can all reject the “divide-and-conquer” politics of union bashing. We can vote our own self-interest and reject Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, and the radical ideologues of the far right.