Want A Stronger Economy? Try Collective Bargaining

By Bethany Swanson
USW Intern

Well established collective bargaining systems improve wages, working conditions, and economic equality. They also can protect the economy as a whole against downturns.

These were the findings of a study published last week by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental agency founded after WWII, dedicated to improving economic and social conditions for workers across the globe.

Yet collective bargaining systems are facing serious challenges in many OECD countries, which make it unsurprising that the study also revealed that even with the unemployment rate decreasing, wage growth remains lower than it was before the recession in nearly every OECD country.

In the United States, which ranks at the bottom for both collective bargaining and worker security, workers are especially vulnerable.

The OECD found that countries like the United States that have decentralized collective bargaining systems generally have slower job growth and higher unemployment than other advanced nations. It also concluded that low paying jobs can create a slowdown in productivity and a sluggish economy.

Out of the 36 countries represented by OECD, the United States is currently ranked at the bottom for employee protection. The United States also has one of the highest job displacement rates at 16.4 percent and is in one of the highest percentiles for a low income rate, or households that earn less than half of the median outcome, creating a higher level of income equality than almost any other advanced nation in the world.

At one point unions represented nearly one-third of American workers; in 2017 however, only 10.7 percent of workers were covered by collective bargaining. With the decline of unions, workers are left to face serious challenges including unfair global competition and lack of government support on their own.

When workers have the opportunity to unionize, the OECD discovered, there is more room for personal and economic growth, with more training options and more opportunities for career advancement. Being able to collectively bargain doesn’t only strengthen workers, it also strengthens the economy as a whole.

If the American economy is going to continue to grow and workers prosper, there needs to be a place for organized labor. As this study proves, the ability to collectively bargain is one of the best solutions for improving the lives of workers everywhere.

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Who Really Pays for Tax Cuts?

Who Really Pays for Tax Cuts?

Union Matters

What's Wrong with GM?

Corporations’ stranglehold on our economy was put on further display last week, when General Motors announced it was laying off up to 14,000 workers across North America.

On a special episode of “State of the Unions,” co-host Tim Schlittner talked with AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council Executive Director Brad Markell, a lifelong UAW member, about what the layoffs say about the state of the economy as a whole:

Tim Schlittner: “Reading the CEO’s statement, Mary Barra, where she says this is about making GM agile, resilient and profitable, then thinking about all the stock buybacks, thinking about some of the incentives they got in the tax law that just passed. Mary Barra made about $22 million last year—that’s 295 times more than the GM median employee—my feeling is like this is crap. That’s just a crap excuse for hoarding more at the top, at the expense of the workers that make GM go. Am I wrong to say that?”

Brad Markell: “I think there are a couple issues there from my point of view. Mary Barra makes a lot of money and executive pay is out of control in this country. Part of what’s the problem with executive pay is how is it incentivized? It’s not that Mary Barra making $22 million is going to kill the company. It’s what does she do to get there, right? What does she do to make those cuts and—and those things that Wall Street wants to see because so much of it’s stock options—so instead of playing to the real economy, you’re playing to Wall Street. That’s a problem.”

Tim Schlittner: “And the stock went up that day. So Wall Street saw this decision to close these plants and basically took that as a positive sign, which shows to me an economy that is completely out of whack.”

Take a listen to the full episode here.

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