POINT OF VIEW: Decline in unions a failure of public education

The Post’s Labor Day editorial — “It’s time to get serious about raising wages in U.S.” (Sunday) — was spot-on regarding the disjunction between metrics showing economic “improvement” and the steadily declining real-dollar wages working families are enduring, and the correlative decline in unionized workers as a percentage of U.S. workers.

The Editorial Board connected the dots but stopped short of explaining the correlation; albeit, the letter from Florida Atlantic University’s Mike Budd on the same page offered one example of how this is happening (“Adjunct professors are exploited”). It’s no accident that high school and college graduates are confidently fluent on gratuitous economic theories that cutting costs of “labor” results in higher profits; that the “free market” positions workers and employers on a level playing field, rendering unions anachronistic in a world governed only by supply and demand. Yet, those same graduates accept as economically expedient associations of employers to advance their corporate interests.

Textbooks my daughters studied in K-12 omit entirely from American history the role of unions to bring about the federal 40-hour workweek, federal wage and hour laws, child labor laws, laws protecting workers’ occupational safety and health, and even the modest and mercilessly employer-protective Unemployment Insurance and Workers’ Compensation laws in most states. For whose benefits, really, does an unemployment insurance system exist that provides less-than-minimum wage “benefits” for workers who lose their job without cause? For whose benefits, really, does a workers’ comp system exist that cuts the pay of workers injured in the service of their employers’ bottom line and prohibits them from suing?

Unions have been cartoonized relentlessly part and parcel with corporate employers’ campaigns against them, begun immediately after the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 codified private-sector employees’ rights to bargain collectively for their wages and benefits. It’s no accident that public employees could not win similar rights until long afterward, and not in Florida until 1974 as a direct response to teachers exercising their inherent “free market” right to withhold their labor in strikes during the late 1960s.

Sadly, I have heard the cynical distrust union members have for their own labor organizations. Ultimately, the decline in unions and the directly consequent stagnation of all U.S. workers’ wages is the measure of success of those corporate employers’ anti-union campaigns and the failures of our public education.


Editor’s note: Gary E. Lippman is former general counsel for the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association.

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