I saw this post a few weeks ago and thought it was worth revisiting. Writing for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, David Madland and Nick Bunker explain how an increase in union membership would create a ripple effect throughout the economy, benefiting middle and working class households regardless of their union affiliation:
…a 10 percentage point increase in union membership would translate into an extra $1,479 per year for the average middle-class household, whether or not that household includes union members—about the same effect as boosting college graduation rates by the same margin.
During the past couple of weeks, much of the talk within the presidential campaigns has centered on the increasing number of people receiving government assistance such as food stamps, unemployment benefits, or welfare payments. It’s been widely reported recently that something like 23 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed and almost 47 million are receiving food stamps. While Mitt Romney says it’s not his job “to worry about those people”, and President Obama’s most oft-touted fix is more stimulus (something I support, by the way), perhaps the simplest solution would be to get out of the way of the biggest proponent of workers: labor unions. As more and more states (most recently Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana, while Michigan may be next) pass laws to limit the abilities of workers to organize and weaken the power of unions (most notably, so called “right to work” legislation), elected officials in those states are effectively undermining the earning potential of their constituents.
As Madland and Bunker point out, since the 1970s union membership nationwide has been falling steadily in correlation with a decrease in real wages for middle income earners. Unions not only advocate for their own members, but also work to advance the cause of all workers through the political process. Again, from Bunker and Madland:
… unions are champions of economic programs that create a strong, robust, and expanding middle class. Unions pushed for and have defended Social Security, the minimum wage, and more recently the Affordable Care Act.
The last few weeks of the presidential and congressional campaigns is sure to be another silly season, with politicians on both sides busting out their favorite whipping boys. For conservatives, demonizing labor unions is a favorite past-time (third favorite actually, just behind “job killing Obamacare” and “job killing taxes”). They’ll claim that unions want special privileges and that any time one union gains concessions for its members, it counts as a loss for everyone else. But benefits for workers are not a zero-sum game; concessions gained by one union will benefit all workers, regardless of their union status. And efforts to limit organizing have and will undoubtedly continue to put a ceiling on the aspirations of millions of working families. As JFK (and later, Ronald Reagan) said in regards to shared economic prosperity, “a rising tide lifts all boats”. I couldn’t agree more, and there exists no stronger or more reliable economic tide than strong labor unions.