Monday, September 03, 2012

Labor Day

So, Happy Labor Day! Hopefully those of you who are still employed have the day off and are celebrating with your loved ones.

This Labor Day is a good one to look at the diminished role organized labor is now playing in this country. Both political parties set their national conventions in "right to work" states. States with Republican majorities have steadily eroded the reach of public employee unions, but Democratic leaders haven't been shy about doing that either (I'm looking at you, Rahm Emmanuel, and the shabby way you've dealt with the Chicago teachers' union).

What is so sad about this is that it has been the unions and their efforts which got us the 40-hour work week, child labor laws, workplace safety, and living wages. They contributed mightily to the rise of the middle class and to a better, safer life for us all. Yet now they've fallen out of favor.

Michael Hiltzig has a wonderful column up which confronts this problem by way of describing one program that a union has put together to keep things moving. The program is from a couple of Southern California locals of the Ironworkers union and works to move apprentices to journeymen status with ongoing training in safety, techniques, and recent developments.

Every six months the program graduates 50 to 80 workers from apprenticeship to journeyman status. The upgrade roughly doubles their hourly wage to about $33 (plus about $22 an hour in retirement and health benefits) and certifies that they've had four years of training in the latest techniques of bridge and building construction, welding, and safety. That's four years of classroom instruction and physically taxing hands-on training on the program's model work site out back, doled out at the rate of one full week every three months, with the rest of the time devoted to on-the-job experience. ...

The La Palma program is a rebuke to the all-too-popular stereotype that a union exists only to provide featherbedding for workers and fat salaries for officers. This is one of the ways a union demonstrates its importance: by bringing the next generation along and doing its part to uphold standards of construction technique and workplace safety that save lives, including those of the people who live and work in and drive on the projects they built.

And the man currently running the training program summarizes quite nicely why unions have been and should continue to be successful:

"People don't remember what the union is all about," Martinez told me as we toured the classrooms and training field of his center, laid out like an obstacle course of girders and beams. "It's about people who choose to negotiate to make their lives better." [Emphasis added]


Go read the whole column. I think you'll be glad you did.

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