A Tough Year For Unions, With Few Bright Spots Ahead | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

A Tough Year For Unions, With Few Bright Spots Ahead

Play associated audio

This year was a tough one for organized labor.

In June, Scott Walker — the Wisconsin governor who banned collective bargaining for public employee unions — survived a recall election.

And, despite huge protests in Michigan, the union stronghold became the 24th right-to-work state, banning unions from requiring workers to sign up. That came just 10 months after Indiana passed a similar law.

Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large of The American Prospect, says it's only the latest in years of mostly union defeats. Despite some bright spots, Meyerson tells weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden that the future for organized labor in the U.S. looks gloomy.


Interview Highlights

On the state of unions after years of defeats

"A lot of unions have gone into a somewhat understandable fetal curl. Organizing for most major unions has dried up. Meanwhile, wages, even at unionized companies are going down, because when you represent one unionized company in an ocean of non-unionized companies, you don't have much leverage."

On the effects of organized labor's diminished power

"Companies are sitting on well over a trillion dollars of their own cash. And the chief use their making of their cash is, chiefly, to buy back their own stock. This is happening at a time when wages have either been stuck or declining for some time, but no one is even raising the prospect of using some of their cash to give raises. And the reason for that, in large part, is that there's no bargaining table anymore at American corporations."

On unionizing low-wage workers

"There are efforts afoot to at least get some action in industries that people have long thought impossible to organize. Wal-Mart in particular, also fast-food chains in New York. I would expect to see more efforts along the Wal-Mart supply chain — for instance, the warehouse workers. That would probably be the way to impact a company like Wal-Mart, because Wal-Mart is just too big and too spread-out to do anything frontally."

On public employee unions

"One of the things unions have to hope for is that they don't suffer massive loss of members in the public sector unions because that's really their remaining area of strength. Public sector workers are unionized at a rate way higher than the 7 percent in the private sector. And those are the unions that can still wage very effective political campaigns during the elections, can still get decent benefits and wages for their members. So they have to really work on making sure that laws like the ones in Wisconsin that just eviscerated those unions don't spread to other states."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Long-Time Actress And Comedian Anne Meara Dies

Meara, who was married to Jerry Stiller and mom to Ben Stiller, had roles on Rhoda, Alf, Sex and the City and The King of Queens.
NPR

How Dangerous Is Powdered Alcohol?

Last month, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved a powdered alcohol product, making both parents and lawmakers nervous. Some states have already banned powdered alcohol. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with Brent Roth of Wired, who made his own powdered concoction and put it to the test.
NPR

Senate Blocks Measures To Extend NSA Data Collection

The Senate worked late into the night but was not able to figure out what to do about expiring provisions in the Patriot Act that authorize the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records.
NPR

The Future Of Cardiology Will Be Shown In 3-D

The Living Heart Project aims to create a detailed simulation of the human heart that doctors and engineers can use to test experimental treatments and interventions.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.