Not long ago, I was dining at a hometown eatery and had an exchange with an acquaintance about my role as a labor leader. He chastised me for my involvement with SEA/SEIU Local 1984 saying that all labor unions do is protect undeserving, lazy workers. I was quick to remind him of all that labor unions have done for him, even as someone who has never belonged to a union. He seemed surprised to find out that it was the efforts of collective bargaining and a voice in the workplace that have brought all American workers things like paid vacation; paid sick leave; eight-hour workdays; weekends; breaks at work (lunch); overtime pay; wage increases; safety standards in the workplace; and so on. These are some of the reasons we salute the labor movement by celebrating Labor Day.
People fought long and hard to win those rights, some even died fighting for them.
The struggle is far from over, though. Those rights are constantly being challenged by those who would benefit most from silencing our voice and weakening our collective bargaining for fair working conditions, wages and benefits – the nation’s wealthiest and large corporations.
Those who control the wealth in our country are spending obscene amounts of money countering unionization. Billionaires and large corporations are doing all they can to keep workers from organizing so they can keep the wealth for themselves. And, their efforts have been working. Unionization has declined dramatically, particularly in the private sector, since the 1970s.
According to a study, released last month by the Economic Policy Institute, the decline in union membership has contributed to wage losses among all workers, even those who do not belong to a union. Unions help boost the wages of all workers by establishing pay and benefit norms that many non-union employers adopt. That boost has weakened as unionization has fallen. The study estimates that the associated loss of income for non-unionized men alone is a staggering $2.1 billion fewer dollars in weekly paychecks or an annual loss of $109 billion.
So, the next time someone speaks negatively about unions, share some of this information and let them know they are missing the point about what unions really are – good for everyone.
In the meantime, please know that as I have traveled around the state and gotten to meet and hear from more and more of you, my admiration and respect for all that you do to provide public services for NH citizens continues to grow. Year after year, you maintain your professionalism and high standards as demands for services grow and resources shrink. On this Labor Day, I salute each of you for your efforts and spirit.
I wish you a safe and healthy holiday.
Rich Gulla, President SEA/SEIU Local 1984