And veteran firefighter MichaelAnthony Parrotta of Myrtle Beach, president of the state firefighters association, pointed out that South Carolina is home to tens of thousands of unionized workers already, working daily to keep the state's economy afloat and to preserve, protect and improve our quality of life.
More than a week ago, editorialist Barbara Kelly of Savannah published a note in Bluffton Today saying similar things and offering some historical context for the benefit of readers. Her point is spelled out in the headline: "Labor unions help workers know their rights."
A labor union is an organization established by and for workers to pursue collective workplace goals such as wages, benefits, and workplace rules.
Because of labor unions the whole society has benefited — hours of work per week, vacations, sick days, rules for safety and health of workers. These benefits were not gained through free market generosity but through years of work and sacrifice by those who wanted workers to have a say in their day-to-day life. Workers vote about whether or not they want to be in a union and they elect their representatives.
So why do some hate unions so much? They are not always perfect, but neither are most organizations. But they provide power to their members that those people could not gain as individuals.
In 1619, North America had its first labor uprising. Polish craftsmen who produced glass, pitch, and tar for the Jamestown Colony went on strike because they had no voting rights. They were given rights and went back to work.
In 1884 the Federation of Organized Trade (forerunner of the AFL) said that eight hours shall constitute a legal work day.
In March of 1911, 147 people, mostly women and young girls, died when the top three floors of a 10-story New York building caught fire. (The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire) These workers would probably have lived if rules for workplace safety had been in place.
In 1955, the AFL-CIO merged.
Those are just a few of the important dates for the labor movement in this country.
Almost none of the benefits that workers expect today happened by accident. The idea that companies will take care of workers when there are no rules is a chance workers shouldn’t have to take. Also, a level of job protection is another benefit of unions. One can’t be fired on a whim, but can be terminated only for good cause.
In 1938, the Fair Wages and Hours Act set a 40-hour work week and banned child labor. I doubt this would have happened without unions.
In a “right-to-work” state, such as South Carolina, membership in a union and payment of dues can’t be a condition of employment. A map of these states includes all of the south and a part of the midwest and west. The average worker in these states earns about $5,000 less than workers in other states. So are these really just right to work for less states?
I did a quick comparison of teacher salaries in these states as compared to other states. Both beginning salaries and average salaries were less in most right-to-work states, compared to states that allow unions. But that is only one of the benefits for teachers. Union contracts also negotiate for things such as class size, a free lunch time, health benefits, planning time, and assessment. For other workers, they can negotiate for things that are relevant to their workplaces and conditions. Pension benefits may also be negotiated.
In the end, workers are better off with unions than without them. But they have a choice. And many of the right-to-work states have very high unemployment and are no more attractive to companies than other states. So this hatred and demonizing of unions makes no sense.
It seems like just another one of those political arguments that doesn’t really benefit people. Another talking point. Another campaign slogan.