By Rosemarie Treanor, ILRF Intern
Recently there was promising released information regarding America’s participation in labor unions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced last Wednesday that in 2008 there was the largest increase in union membership in the past twenty five years. An increase of 428,000 members is a promising figure in a constant effort to add more union members to the ranks as reported in the New York Times story "Union Membership Up Sharply in 2008, Report Says." Around 36% of government employees belong to unions, which is drastically different than the approximately 7% of workers in the private sector belonging to unions. These percentages are very low, and often the fear of higher labor costs deter private sector employees from organizing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics declared that 16.1 million workers in the United States belong to a union. This number at first seems fairly substantial, but there is still a tremendous amount of individuals without membership to unions.
It is precisely this lack of union membership that is preventing our country from rebounding from this economic crisis. Robert B. Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor during Bill Clinton’s administration, published an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times titled "The union way up" that states his belief that the way out of an economic recession could be relieved by increasing the number and the influential power of labor unions. He states that the ability to negotiate for higher wages increases disposable incomes, which thereby elevates ones’ ability to purchase goods and services. This increased desire to make purchases paves the way for new jobs to be created. This combination of jobs and spending and higher wages have been voiced as the answer to the economic recession by many political officials, however many do not realize that the membership in unions is what drives this process. Robert Reich does not discredit the idea of tax cuts, however he states that higher wages and benefits for the middle class in particular are more lasting over time. Many often focus on throwing money at a problem, which at times is often a good solution. But Reich and many other supporters of unions highlight the possibility for economic turnaround via increased membership of unions.
Our current economic problem is a desperate one indeed, and there are numerous solutions that have been voiced. One probable resolution is an increase in support for labor unions, which should run concurrently with other economic relief efforts. The statistics from the Bureau are very promising; however there must be a continued effort to maintain labor unions, not only for the benefits of the workers but for the country as well.