Friday, June 1, 2012

Jobs Trump Wages: Ironworkers Great Sellout

(Image From Recollection Books)
In an economy with high numbers of unemployed workers who require a year or more on average to find work, it is understandable that workers would fear for their jobs and a secure livelihood. However, for many industries, particularly manufacturing, the problem has been ongoing for the past forty years, as U.S. manufacturing has downsized or moved off shore. The problem has exacerbated the decline of unionism, particularly in the private sector, as union manufacturing jobs disappear and either never come back at all, or get replaced by lower waged, nonunion jobs.

New York’s unionized iron workers, fearing they will be squeezed out of jobs by cheaper nonunion workers, have voluntarily agreed to a 15% cut in compensation (roughly $14 per hour in wages and benefits), in hopes of undercutting their nonunion colleagues. According to the New York Daily News, 86% of union members approved the deal.

This brings up a couple of disturbing questions. What is the point of being in a union if it is not improving wages, benefits and working conditions? If union workers voluntarily reduce their pay to a level commensurate with nonunion workers and must continue to pay union dues, they are actually earning less than their nonunion colleagues. Such a strategy is not likely to preserve union jobs for long, as workers start to see fewer benefits to remaining in the union.

Then there is the question of why there are so many nonunion workers out there to undercut their pay and benefits. If the union was really doing its job, it would be aggressively organizing nonunion jobsites and creating an atmosphere in which it is more painful and expensive for employers not to hire union workers.

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