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Benefits of Union Membership Narrow Racial Wage Inequality for Black Workers

black-workers-unions-2016-08-fig12Washington D.C. – Black workers are more likely than workers of any other race to be represented by a union, finds a recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). The report, “Black Workers, Unions, and Inequality”, finds that Black union workers experience higher wages and better access to health insurance and retirement benefits than their non-union peers.

The report investigates the demographic characteristics and wage trends of Black workers, union and non-union, from 1983 to 2015. Compared to their predecessors of the early 1980s, Black union workers of today are more likely to be female, older, have more formal education, be immigrants, and work in the public sector.

Black union workers on average earn 16.4 percent higher wages than similar non-union Black workers. Black union workers are also 17.4 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 18.3 percentage points more likely to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Other highlights in the report include:

  • Black union workers in low-wage occupations have wages that are 18.9 percent higher than their non-union counterparts.
  • Black immigrants are more likely than native Blacks to be unionized. In 2015, Black immigrant workers had a unionization rate of 16.9 percent compared to 13.8 percent for native Blacks.
  • Unionization rates for Black workers have declined across all sectors, but the decline has been especially steep for manufacturing (from 42.3 percent in 1983 to 13.3 percent in 2015).
  • Black union workers on average earn $24.24 per hour, compared to $17.78 for non-union Black workers.
  • 71.4 percent of Black union workers have employer-provided health insurance, compared to 47.7 percent of non-union Black workers.
  • 61.6 percent of Black union members have employer-sponsored retirement plans, compared to 38.2 percent of non-union Black workers.

Despite the clear benefits of being a member of a union, decades of anti-union policy decisions have resulted in a tenuous environment for collective bargaining. Over the past three decades, the Black unionization rate has dropped 56 percent while the overall unionization rate has fallen 48 percent. The deunionization that has occurred over the past thirty years has occurred alongside and contributed to a rise in U.S. wage inequality.

Cherrie Bucknor, author of the report added that “unionization for Black workers is critical to narrowing the wage gap between Black and white workers. When talking about growing wage inequality, you can’t exclude unions and the role they play in that discussion.”

You can find the full report here.

Here is a short video of Alan Barber and Cherrie Bucknor posted just before Labor Day, discussing their new report: Black Workers, Unions, and Inequality.

 

As Union Density Declines Nonunion Workers Suffer Low Wages

Decline in union density costs nonunion workers
$133 billion annually in lost wages

In the new report, Union decline lowers wages of nonunion workers: The overlooked reason why wages are stuck and inequality is growing, Washington University sociologist Jake Rosenfeld and co-authors find that the dramatic decline in union density since 1979 has resulted in far lower wages for nonunion workers, an impact larger than the 5 percent effect of globalization on their wages found in recent research. Specifically, nonunion men lacking a college degree would have earned 8 percent, or $3,016 annually, more in 2013 if unions had remained as strong as they were in 1979.

Between 1979 and 2013, the share of private sector workers in a union has fallen from about 34 percent to 11 percent among men, and from 16 percent to 6 percent among women. The authors note that unions keep wages high for nonunion workers for several reasons: union agreements set wage standards and a strong union presence prompts managers to keep wages high in order to prevent workers from organizing or their employees from leaving. Moreover, unions set industry-wide norms, influencing what is seen as a “moral economy,”

“Working class men have felt the decline in unionization the hardest,” said Rosenfeld. “Their paychecks are noticeably smaller than if unions had remained as strong as they were almost 40 years ago. Rebuilding collective bargaining is one of the tools we have to reinvigorate wage growth, for low and middle-wage workers.”

Rosenfeld, along with co-authors Jennifer Laird and Patrick Denice, find that the effects of union decline on the wages of nonunion women are not as substantial because women were not as heavily represented in unionized private sector jobs. The authors note, however, that any substantial growth in collective bargaining would be expected to have as much or more impact on women as men. Specifically, the authors find that women’s wages would be 2 to 3 percent higher if unions had stayed at their 1979 levels. Their study also reveals that private sector nonunion men of all education levels would earn 5 percent ($52) higher weekly wages in 2013 if private-sector union density (the share of workers in similar industries and regions who are union members) remained at its 1979 level, an increase of $2,704 in annual paychecks for full-time employees.

This is the first study providing a broad estimate of the wage decline for nonunion workers as the result of the erosion of unions.

This decline in unions has eroded wages for nonunion workers at every level of education and experience, costing billions in lost wages. For the 32.9 million full-time nonunion private sector women and 40.2 million full-time private sector men, there is a $133 billion loss in annual wages because of weakened unions.

Given dramatically weakened unions, their effect on nonunion wages has declined over time: these effects have fallen to between one-half and two-thirds of their late-1970s levels.

Union decline has exacerbated wage inequality in the United States by dampening the pay of nonunion workers as well as by eroding the share of workers directly benefiting from unionization: union erosion can explain a third of the growth of wage inequality among men and one-fifth of the rise of wage inequality among women. At least for middle-wage men, the impact of the erosion of unions on the wages of both union and nonunion workers is likely the largest single factor underlying wage stagnation and wage inequality.

“Unions have functioned to raise the wages of all workers, union and nonunion,” said Lawrence Mishel, EPI President. “The erosion of collective bargaining has clearly taken a huge toll on nonunion wages in the United States, and is a major factor in the wage stagnation of the last four decades.”

Trump and Pence’s Union Busting Is Nailed Into The GOP Presidential Platform

Right To WorkBy BERRY CRAIG
AFT Local 1360

Donald Trump brags that he has “tremendous support within unions.”

He claims “the workers of this country are going to vote for me, [because] I’m going to create jobs.”

Jobs? Trump, the narcissistic, neo-Know Nothing GOP presidential nominee, has yet to reveal anything remotely resembling a comprehensive jobs plan. Meanwhile, he’s paying workers in China and other low-wage countries to make his line of duds and other products.

Unions? Trump says he prefers “right to work” states to non-RTW states like Kentucky, where I live and pack a union card. He chose a running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is gung-ho for RTW. (So are tea party Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton.)

Trump is cool with U.S. companies exiting one state for another. In other words, he’s down with bosses busting unions in non-RTW states and moving to RTW states.

At the same time, Trump has battled to keep his Las Vegas hotel workers from organizing a union.

Meanwhile, Trump and Pence are running on a GOP national platform that promises, “We will restore the rule of law to labor law by blocking ‘card check,’ enacting the Secret Ballot Protection Act, enforcing the Hobbs Act against labor violence, and passing the Raise Act to allow all workers to receive well-earned raises without the approval of their union representative. We demand an end to the Project Labor Agreements; and we call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, which costs the taxpayers billions of dollars annually in artificially high wages on government projects. We support the right of States to enact Right-to-Work laws and encourage them to do so to promote greater economic liberty. Ultimately, we support the enactment of a National Right-to-Work law to promote worker freedom and to promote greater economic liberty. We will aggressively enforce the recent decision by the Supreme Court barring the use of union dues for political purposes without the consent of the worker.”

There’s more from the platform that Trump’s people helped nail together: “We salute the Republican Governors and State legislators who have saved their States from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions. We urge elected officials across the country to follow their lead in order to avoid State and local defaults on their obligations and the collapse of services to the public. To safeguard the free choice of public employees, no government at any level should act as the dues collector for unions. A Republican President will protect the rights of conscience of public employees by proposing legislation to bar mandatory dues for political purposes.”

“Many a truth has been spoken in jest,” is an old expression.

“A union member voting Republican would be like a rabbit voting for hunting season to open,” former Kentucky labor secretary and Machinists union official J.R. Gray joshed when he was chair of the House Labor and Industry Committee and one of labor’s best friends ever in the state legislature.

It’s still true with the union-despising Trump-Pence and Bevin-Hampton teams.

Unions Representing Healthcare Workers Petition for Workplace Safety

US_Dept_of_LaborWASHINGTON— Today, a coalition of unions—including the AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Government Employees; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Service Employees International Union; and the United Steelworkers—petitioned the U.S. Department of Labor to take a significant step toward safety by promulgating a comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard to protect all workers in healthcare and social service settings. Because we represent workers in the healthcare and social assistance sectors, we all know there is an immediate need to address the preventable and often tragic workplace-related assaults and associated injuries that occur too often in these settings.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between 2005 and 2014, the rates of injuries that resulted in lost time for private sector healthcare and social assistance facilities increased by 64 percent and rates for private sector hospitals increased by 110 percent. And 52 percent of all the incidents of workplace violence reported to the BLS in 2014 came from the healthcare and social assistance workforce. These numbers highlight the urgent nature of having comprehensive standards for workplace violence prevention.

“Workers should never face violence in the workplace, but for healthcare workers it’s a too-common reality. We are calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create national employment standards so that workers have meaningful protections on the job. Our union and our rank-and-file activists have worked tirelessly for months raising these issues and now—in collaboration with unions that represent healthcare workers, including National Nurses United—to craft this proposal. We hope to see it enacted without delay,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“Workplace violence is not part of the job. Our healthcare workers on the frontline of patient care in numerous hospitals and other settings need a strong federal OSHA standard to protect them from workplace violence and assaults,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“This rule is urgently needed to stop the appalling spiral of injuries and fatalities in healthcare and social services, and to protect our members, and all workers,” said Teamsters General President James. P. Hoffa.

“The American Federation of Government Employees represents more than 100,000 nurses, doctors and frontline healthcare providers across government. Their safety, and the safety of all healthcare workers, is critically important. We strongly urge the Department of Labor to adopt a national standard for reducing workplace violence across the healthcare system and ensuring safe working conditions for all healthcare providers.” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.

“The intensification of violence against healthcare workers is alarming because it is preventable,” said United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard. “Our union is proud to stand in solidarity calling for an enforceable OSHA standard to prevent workplace violence and protect all healthcare workers as they care for their patients.”

“Our members deserve to go to work every day and be safe. Our union strongly advocates OSHA develop a comprehensive workplace violence standard for healthcare and social assistance workers. Such a standard would provide needed protections from workplace violence and lead to improved working conditions for millions of U.S. workers,” said Chris Shelton, president, Communications Workers of America.

The US Chamber Of Commerce Releases New Legislative Guide To Steal Workers Rights

Chamber of Commerce Labor Report

The US Chamber of Commerce releases a new legislative guide with suggested legislation gut workers rights and block union organizing efforts.

 

If you ever thought the US Chamber of Commerce was working on your behalf, man were you wrong. Their only agenda is to screw workers out of their rights so they can maximize their corporate member’s profit margins.

Yesterday, the US Chamber of Commerce released their 2016 “Tools for Growth” report that details how states can reform their labor laws to “promote a favorable business climate.”

The report is basically a guideline for state legislators to push anti-union, anti-worker legislation that serves to line the pockets of wealthy business owners and corporate executives.

These laws are not designed to help workers in any way. They are intended to weaken or outright break unions by attempting to legislate away our rights.

Here are just a few of their legislative goals in their “Tools for Growth:”

  • Passing Right to Work – A law that does provide any benefit to jobs or the economy and has only been proven to lower wages.
  • Prohibiting City Ordinances to Raise the Minimum Wage – This legislation would make it illegal for any city or township to raise the minimum wage above the state’s minimum wage. Dozens of cities have already enacted higher minimum wages including New York City, Sea-Tac, and San Francisco to combat the high cost of living in these cities.
  • Legislating a reversal of the NLRB’s “Franchise” decision – The NLRB ruled that corporations could be held accountable for labor law violations in franchised shops.
  • Banning Project Labor Agreements – PLA’s ensure that workers are paid a fair wage, provided healthcare and retirement options, and ensure strong workplace safety protections and workmen’s compensation insurance.
  • Legislating away workers rights to organize and demonstrate – This includes multiple legislative reforms like: Prohibiting card check agreements, prohibiting union-management neutrality agreements, and prohibiting mass picketing [strikes, boycotts, picketing businesses for any reason, or any other demonstration intended to bring harm or attention to a specific business].

This report is nothing more than a legislative roadmap on how to screw workers, allowing corporations to further line their pockets with our lost wages.

The majority of their supporting evidence and legislative proposals in this new report are backed by, none other than the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, who have spent years trying to block unions and limit workers rights.

The US Chamber of Commerce will stop at nothing to prevent workers from organizing and forming unions and fighting for higher wages.

New AFL-CIO Trade Video Warns That TPP Would Double Down on NAFTA’s Economic Devastation

“We can’t have another NAFTA. There’s too much at risk. It’s too important. What happens if TPP passes? There will be another generation of people that can’t find work.”

(Washington, DC) – Today, the AFL-CIO released a video showing first-hand the devastating economic impact the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could have on communities across the country.

Last week United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard testified at a USTR hearing examining overcapacity in the global steel market and its impact on U.S. steelmakers. There is evidence that foreign governments are subsidizing cheap steel and selling it in the U.S. at unfairly low prices. Countries are able to dump their cheap steel in U.S. markets because they are undervaluing their currency when setting prices.

“Currency manipulation is at the heart of this issue, and the passage of the TPP – which doesn’t address this global problem – could kill American manufacturing for good,” said Gerard. Like NAFTA, it offers no protection for American manufacturing or American workers. U.S. trade policy has not worked for working people or our communities which has led to broad opposition to the TPP. It must be defeated.”

“We know the TPP is a job killer.” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Our trade agreements should help to create good jobs in America, and enable regular working people to succeed by working hard to get ahead. The TPP fails this goal miserably.”

“I’ve seen too many people have their lives destroyed because the jobs went away,” said Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Council Member Dewitt Walton. “We can’t have another NAFTA. There’s too much at risk. It’s too important. What happens if TPP passes? There will be another generation of people that can’t find work.”

Allegheny County which is featured in the video is one of hundreds of local and state governments that have passed or introduced resolutions opposing TPP.

This video is the second in a series examining the real human impact of trade agreements like the TPP. Watch the first video on how the TPP could put the lives of cancer patients in danger.

Transportation Unions’ Agenda Focuses on Job Creation, Safety and Appropriations

Unions begin preparations for the 2016 Presidential election

San Diego, CA — Transportation unions took aim at critical transportation appropriations battles pending in Washington and continued preparations to show their members and the public the stark choices voters will face in the presidential election.

“We are committed to countering the dangerous austerity agenda in certain corners of Congress that threatens to starve job creation investments in transportation,” said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), following the winter meeting of the organization’s 32-member Executive Committee, held yesterday. “We will also focus on critical safety issues plaguing our sector and fighting corporate efforts to weaken the job security and collective bargaining rights of transportation workers.”

Executive Committee members discussed their priorities with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the lead Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Charlie Cook, political analyst and editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, provided a snapshot on the state of the presidential race and key U.S. Senate contests. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka held a roundtable with transportation union leaders that focused on pending policy priorities and collective bargaining battles in 2016.

Transportation unions put their weight behind legislation that imposes stiffer criminal penalties on anyone who assaults airline customer service representatives.

“We have seen an increase in attacks on gate and ticket agents – it is time for Congress and the airline companies to better protect these employees,” Wytkind said.

TTD affiliates joined the growing chorus of opposition to Canadian Pacific’s attempted hostile takeover of Norfolk Southern, citing “the devastating impact these transactions can have on jobs, freight service and safety.”

While praising Congress for boosting authorized funding levels for the Maritime Security Program (MSP), which provides vital sealift capacity to the Department of Defense, the Executive Committee vowed to push congressional appropriators and the Obama Administration to fully fund the program.

“Funding MSP is vital to national security and it supports middle class U.S. mariner jobs,” Wytkind said.

Transportation union leaders also condemned underhanded attacks — disguised as measures to monitor the productivity of U.S. ports — on the rights of longshore workers to bargain for job security, and good wages and benefits.

“We will not let the world’s largest retailers and their army of lobbyists eviscerate the bargaining rights of the men and women in our ports,” Wytkind said.

The Executive Committee called for immediate funding of the federal-state compact to build-out the Gateway Project. That project will fix a transportation crisis on the Northeast Corridor that promises to “reverberate across the entire economy” if Amtrak is forced to start shutting down century-old tunnels or severely deteriorated bridges in a region that supports 30 percent of the nation’s jobs.

Transportation unions also urged Congress to ensure that measures to boost aviation security strike the appropriate balance between protecting against terrorist threats and honoring the “legitimate rights of employees.”

Transportation unions focused on the upcoming presidential election with an agreement to work together in rolling out the views and records of the Republican and Democratic nominee for president.

“We are already seeing in this race a contest between candidates who want to massively rebuild our transportation system and expand our middle class, and those who will likely pursue a dangerous austerity agenda tantamount to economic retreat,” Wytkind added.


The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, provides a bold voice for workers in every mode of transportation devoted to protecting middle-class jobs, expanding collective bargaining, and ensuring modern, safe, and secure transportation operations and infrastructure. For more information, visit us at www.ttd.org.

Workers In Right To Work States Are Less Likely To Have Access To Retirement Plans

Pew Analysis Shows Access to Workplace Retirement Plans
Varies Widely Across States

Big differences among industries, incomes, ages, education, race and ethnicities

Wide differences in access to and participation in employer-based retirement plans exist across states, with variations by employer size and industry type as well as by workers’ income, age, education, race and ethnicity, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report, Who’s In, Who’s Out: A Look at Access to Employer-Based Retirement Plans and Participation in the States, examines the rates of access to and participation in plans in all 50 states and assesses the challenges facing workers and employers in ensuring that Americans have sufficient resources to pay for their retirements.

Access and participation is higher in the Midwest, New England, and parts of the Pacific Northwest—and lower in the South and West. The report also finds that among Hispanic workers, access to a plan is around 25 percentage points below that for white non-Hispanic workers. Black and Asian workers also report lower rates of access than white workers.     

“Access to workplace retirement plans varies widely across the states,” said John Scott, director of Pew’s retirement savings project. “Recognizing the savings challenge faced by so many Americans, half of the states are looking at their own solutions.” 

There is a correlation between traditionally strong union states and access to retirement plans.  Workers in Right To Work (for less) states generally have much less access to retirement plans or pensions.

Below is an chart from the report that shows the percentage of workers who has access to some type of retirement plan.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.45.19 AMBelow is the current map of Pro-Labor / Right To Work states.  Notice that the overwhelming majority of Right To Work states have drastically less access to retirement plans. (Note: Wisconsin became a RTW state in March of 2015, Michigan in March of 2013, and Indiana in February of 2012.)

righttowork_uschart2015

Overall, Pew’s analysis, based on a pooled version of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), found that 58 percent of private sector workers have access to a plan, while 49 percent participate in one. Pew also found that more than 30 million full-time, full-year, private sector workers ages 18 to 64 lack access to an employer-based retirement plan, whether a traditional pension or a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

The report notes the numerous efforts at the state and federal levels to increase retirement savings. Illinois, for instance, adopted the Secure Choice Savings Program in 2015, which will start enrolling certain private sector workers in new payroll-deduction retirement accounts by 2017. In another example, the state of Washington created a marketplace in which small employers and the self-employed can shop for retirement plans. In addition, the federal government has rolled out the “myRA,” a new national savings program that is geared toward low-income savers. 

“Workplace retirement savings plans can be a critical piece of the retirement security puzzle,” said Scott. “But for millions of Americans, this piece is missing.”

The collective bargaining process has long been the key to ensuring a fair wage and access to retirement. As union membership declines we are continuing to see a reduction in our wages and access to benefits including retirement plans.  


More detailed information, including state-by-state breakdowns, is available in the report’s online interactive data visualization at www.pewtrusts.org/retirementaccess. 

Click here to download the full report.

Workers In Right To Work States Are Less Likely To Have Access To Retirement Plans

Pew Analysis Shows Access to Workplace Retirement Plans
Varies Widely Across States

Big differences among industries, incomes, ages, education, race and ethnicities

Wide differences in access to and participation in employer-based retirement plans exist across states, with variations by employer size and industry type as well as by workers’ income, age, education, race and ethnicity, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report, Who’s In, Who’s Out: A Look at Access to Employer-Based Retirement Plans and Participation in the States, examines the rates of access to and participation in plans in all 50 states and assesses the challenges facing workers and employers in ensuring that Americans have sufficient resources to pay for their retirements.

Access and participation is higher in the Midwest, New England, and parts of the Pacific Northwest—and lower in the South and West. The report also finds that among Hispanic workers, access to a plan is around 25 percentage points below that for white non-Hispanic workers. Black and Asian workers also report lower rates of access than white workers.     

“Access to workplace retirement plans varies widely across the states,” said John Scott, director of Pew’s retirement savings project. “Recognizing the savings challenge faced by so many Americans, half of the states are looking at their own solutions.” 

There is a correlation between traditionally strong union states and access to retirement plans.  Workers in Right To Work (for less) states generally have much less access to retirement plans or pensions.

Below is an chart from the report that shows the percentage of workers who has access to some type of retirement plan.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.45.19 AMBelow is the current map of Pro-Labor / Right To Work states.  Notice that the overwhelming majority of Right To Work states have drastically less access to retirement plans. (Note: Wisconsin became a RTW state in March of 2015, Michigan in March of 2013, and Indiana in February of 2012.)

righttowork_uschart2015

Overall, Pew’s analysis, based on a pooled version of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), found that 58 percent of private sector workers have access to a plan, while 49 percent participate in one. Pew also found that more than 30 million full-time, full-year, private sector workers ages 18 to 64 lack access to an employer-based retirement plan, whether a traditional pension or a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

The report notes the numerous efforts at the state and federal levels to increase retirement savings. Illinois, for instance, adopted the Secure Choice Savings Program in 2015, which will start enrolling certain private sector workers in new payroll-deduction retirement accounts by 2017. In another example, the state of Washington created a marketplace in which small employers and the self-employed can shop for retirement plans. In addition, the federal government has rolled out the “myRA,” a new national savings program that is geared toward low-income savers. 

“Workplace retirement savings plans can be a critical piece of the retirement security puzzle,” said Scott. “But for millions of Americans, this piece is missing.”

The collective bargaining process has long been the key to ensuring a fair wage and access to retirement. As union membership declines we are continuing to see a reduction in our wages and access to benefits including retirement plans.  


More detailed information, including state-by-state breakdowns, is available in the report’s online interactive data visualization at www.pewtrusts.org/retirementaccess. 

Click here to download the full report.

What the Case Against Union Dues Is Really About: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

photojpeg-2016-01-01-at-5-55-16-pm1-e1451949966541

Image by California Teachers Association

By Alan Shapiro for Unions Matter

On January 11, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that greatly concerns all union members working in the public sector, including teachers and other state and municipal workers. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, aims to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that has stood for nearly 40 years. In the important and unanimous 1977 decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court upheld the right of public sector unions to collect “fair share” or “agency” fees from workers who choose not to join the union, because those workers benefit significantly from union representation.

The current lawsuit is viewed by many as an attack on unions, which it clearly is. As Jean Ross, co-president of the union National Nurses United, wrote:

“The intended effect is to essentially bankrupt public sector unions….The architects of this move are the management-linked groups, funded by some of the wealthiest corporate interests in the U.S., whose goal is to eliminate the ability of workers to have a voice in the workplace or limit the ability of corporations to put profits ahead of worker rights, workplace rights.”

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) was filed in behalf of just ten teachers in California by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a right-wing law firm. Rebecca Friedrichs, the lead plaintiff in the case, said in the court declaration: “I object to many of the union’s public-policy positions, including positions that they have taken…in collective-bargaining.” And Terry Pell, president of the CIR, said that the case “is about the right of individuals to decide for themselves whether to join and pay dues….We are seeking the end of compulsory union dues….”

These arguments are simply untrue and misleading. First of all, these teachers already have the right not to join the union or pay union dues. However, in keeping with the Abood decision, those who don’t join are still required to pay “fair-share” fees for the benefits they receive through the union. It should be noted that under current law teachers who opt out of union membership are not required to fund any political activity. It’s important also to acknowledge that one of the “positions” unions have taken in collective bargaining is that every worker deserves fair compensation. A person’s not liking certain “positions” taken by the U.S. government does not annul that person’s obligation to pay their fair share of income taxes.

         What Motivates This Case?

 As a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) for nearly thirty years, I want teachers and other union members everywhere to know what Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel, explains about our profit-driven economy and unions. It is knowledge that can have all my union brothers and sisters clearer and more equipped to combat the vicious battering union members have been forced to endure. Like other attacks on public sector unions in recent years, this case is part of a huge ethical battle going on in economics. Aesthetic Realism explains that it is like the battle that goes on in every person between contempt—the feeling we will be more by making less of something else, and respect—our desire to be just to the world, including other people.

       The Ethics Unions Represent    

At their basis, unions stand for respect and justice: men and women joining together so that they all can get what they deserve in return for their labor. This purpose is ethical

and kind And it’s completely opposed to the purpose of our profit-driven economy, which is based on contempt: seeing people as existing to make some few individuals wealthy while paying those who do the work as little as possible.

I’m grateful to my union because the UFT—like the CTA—fought hard and steadily for salary increases, pensions, health care, safe working conditions, paid sick leave, and fair grievance procedures. And the union protects these hard-won rights and benefits for all employees covered by the binding contracts they negotiate—union members and non-members alike. The teachers represented in this lawsuit are ungrateful, because they enjoy the benefits that the union fought for and won, and their desire not to pay their fair share should not become the law of the land.

      Our Economy Today

Beginning in 1970, Eli Siegel showed that profit economics could no longer work efficiently. In a series of historic lectures titled Goodbye Profit System, he gave abundant evidence for this failure—centrally the success of unions. Every pay raise, benefit, and safety regulation won by unions cuts into profits.

That is why for decades there has been a massive attempt by corporate America and a number of politicians to destroy unions—which is clearly the purpose of this lawsuit. After successfully weakening private sector unions, including through the passage of “right-to-work laws,” they are now going after public sector unions, trying to convince people (including union members themselves) that unions are the cause of America’s huge fiscal turmoil.

The situation we have today is commented on centrally by Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education. In the periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, she writes:

“What the American people need to be told clearly is who, or what, is really to blame for America’s economic suffering, job losses, government deficits. They’re being told unions are to blame, because unions have been able to negotiate for their members some of what all people deserve, including pensions and health care. If unions thrive, all Americans can have these, and more. Unions stand for all of us. The cause of our economic trouble is 1) the persons who are using, and want to continue using, America and her workforce for their own private profits; and 2) governments’ funding those persons and their businesses, with the people’s money—through tax breaks, subsidies, and outsourcing public work to private companies.”

The practical alternative—and the only thing that will now work—is an economy based on ethics, on honestly answering this essential question, first asked by Eli Siegel: “What does a person deserve by being alive?” This can be the beginning of having an economy that is fair at last to every man, woman, and child in these United States.


Alan Shapiro is a jazz pianist who performs with the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company. For 28 years he was a music teacher and choral director in the New York City public schools.  He is a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Musicians (Local 802).

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