Perceived Drawbacks and Misgivings Notwithstanding, I Still Must Give Credit to the Labor Movement Where It’s Due
By Ken K. Gourdin
In a recent op-ed that appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune, Kate Rubalcava says the following about Labor Day:
In modern times, Labor Day is loosely translated as a holiday marking the end of the summer where families often squeeze in one last weekend of camping before the leaves change and temperatures cool.
In a historical context, Labor Day is an annual tribute to workers recognizing their contributions to the nation’s strength, prosperity and well-being.1
In a previous post I was critical of the labor movement, asserting that it has departed from its roots of ensuring safety and fairness for workers and has morphed, instead, into a company-killing (if not an industry-killing) entity. That post can be found here, last accessed today: http://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/unions-aint-what-they-used-to-be/. Notwithstanding my questioning in that post whether unions still fulfill their proper role, I also said the following therein:
[My grandfather] came of age as a worker in an era and in industries in which unions were crucial in ensuring not only fair pay and benefits for their workers, but also safe working conditions. He started his working life as a coal miner and finished it as a steelworker, two jobs in which safe working conditions should receive absolute priority, and a large part of a union’s role was to ensure that this did happen. (After all, the importance of profits notwithstanding, no coal will get mined and no steel will get milled if all of the coal miners and steelworkers have been injured or killed).
The modern industrial and regulatory state is much different now than it was during my grandfather’s working life. Back then, there was no Mine Safety and Health Administration or Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure safe and secure working conditions, and there were few federal laws to ensure workers received fair pay and benefits. Then, it was the unions which fulfilled that role.2
One modern-day benefit that may result from belonging to a union is that workers employed by small employers, which otherwise would be unable to offer certain benefits to their employees, are able to get such benefits through a union. In today’s Salt Lake Tribune, reporter Steven Oberbeck quotes Trent Webb, owner of a small asphalt recycling company:
“A lot of people have told me I’m stupid [for allowing employees to unionize],” Webb said. “But when I looked at the numbers, the cost differential [between operating a union versus a nonunion workforce] wasn’t that much. And it is a way to provide my employees with health insurance and pension benefits – issues that the union has to deal with now and I don’t.”3
Whatever misgivings I may have about the potential for government overreach by regulatory agencies and about the harm unions may do to companies and to industries if unions are not well-managed and if they do not make wise decisions, there is no denying that unions historically have played an integral part in protecting the vital interests of their members, and that they continue to play a part today in ensuring the continued vitality of companies such as Webb’s.
Perceived drawbacks and misgivings notwithstanding, I still must give credit to the labor movement wherever it is due. Happy Labor Day, everyone!
- Kate Rubalcava (August 31, 2013), “Credit for low income families,” The Salt Lake Tribune, accessed on line at the following address on September 2, 2013: http://www.m.sltrib.com/sltrib/mobile3/56800563-219/families-working-credit-income.html.csp.
- Ken K. Gourdin (December 12, 2012), “The Old Gray Unions, They Ain’t What They Used to Be,” (Blog post) accessed on line at the following address on September 2, 2013: http://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/unions-aint-what-they-used-to-be/.
- Steven Oberbeck (September 2, 2013), “Embattled Utah labor unions score recent organizing successes,” The Salt Lake Tribune, accessed on line at the following address September 2, 2013: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/money/56788935-79/labor-workers-organizing-utah.html.csp.