The Bill is Coming Due for Sending Good Paying Jobs Overseas & it's Called Unionization

American workers are fed up with minimum wage "Do you want fries with that?" jobs that you can't raise a family on or pay off student loans with

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Reagan’s neoliberal policies — maintained to this day — sent our good manufacturing jobs overseas and now most all we’re left with are, “Do you want fries with that?” service jobs. Americans are furious.

The American working class clawed its way out of poverty and the Republican Great Depression with help from FDR’s New Deal which, for the first time, gave workers the legal and federally protected right to unionize with the 1935 Wagner Act.

After a century of workers being threatened, intimidated and often even murdered by big business and industrialists, Democrats in the 1930s fought for unionization rights, which mostly went to manufacturing workers and built, between 1940 and 1981, the most prosperous and stable middle class in world history.

And then came Reagan with the Republican’s “War On Labor” in 1981.

Reagan’s “War” had two parts; the first (which I wrote about yesterday) being to move tens of millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries, cutting the union movement off at its knees and pushing our workforce into notoriously poor-paying service jobs.

The second part was to change the rules and laws that made unionization and union efforts like strikes perilous, even in the service sector; in that effort the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court were only too happy to help out.

And now the bill is coming due for 40 years of neoliberal Reaganism labor policies that encourage corporations to rip off working people and financially reward their CEOs when they crush worker movements.

When Starbucks’ former CEO and largest stockholder flies into Buffalo to tell Holocaust stories to his company’s employees, you know things are getting desperate.  And Howard Schultz wasn’t the only visitor to the Queen City: Starbuck’s North American President Rossann Williams has also shown up, along with a gaggle of senior executives and management types, and one of the most high-powered law firms in the country.

Today — unless Starbuck’s law firm’s latest motion filed Monday to block it is accepted by the NLRB — voting begins on an effort by a handful of stores in Buffalo to become the first Starbucks in the US to unionize. 

It was 40 years ago this August that Ronald Reagan kicked off the Republican Party’s official “War On Labor” by firing 11,345 striking air traffic controllers affiliated with PATCO, shattering that union (which, ironically, had endorsed Reagan in the 1980 election) in the process. 

About a third of American workers had union protection when Reagan came into office, but by the end of the Reagan/Bush era membership in the non-governmental sector had sunk by almost half.  Today only about 6 percent of private workforce employees are unionized.  

And those non-union workers, particularly in “Right To Work For Less” states, are pissed.  All across America, workers are feeling newly empowered and demanding decent treatment by their employers. 

Part of it is that the Covid brush with death has caused many to reevaluate their lives and work; part is that Covid deaths and disabilities (estimated 30% of symptomatic cases) along with boomer retirements are tightening the labor market; and part is that after 40 years of Reagan’s neoliberal “War On Workers” people are finally saying, “Enough is enough.”  

To compound the situation, as I noted on October 27th, the 26 states run by Republicans who are trying to keep the Covid pandemic hot and alive to hurt Biden’s economy (and thus his political popularity) are being hit the hardest by worker shortages, particularly in vulnerable sectors like child care.

In the face of this new labor market, companies like Starbucks — which is one of America’s more reasonable service sector employers, notwithstanding their opposition to unionization — are doing whatever they legally can to put obstacles in the path of union organizing efforts. 

Amazon just barely fought off a unionization effort in Alabama, and more are on the horizon; the Alabama employees are even coming back for a second effort.

This is all taking place in what is the most labor-hostile legal environment since the 1930s. That’s in large part because of a series of rightwing Supreme Court decisions, combined with Reagan, Bush, and Trump anti-working-people Secretaries of Labor who have, step by step, gutted NLRB and other worker protections and the ability to easily unionize.

(There’s a free PDF “bonus chapter” to my book The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America that deals exclusively with labor law here.)

The only way to overturn most of these rightwing SCOTUS decisions is to pass a law explicitly protecting unionization efforts. And, sure enough, Democrats in Congress have written such a law, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) that was first promised by President Obama and is now ready to pass.

As the law’s fact sheet points out:

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act protects the basic right to join a union by:

  1. Introducing meaningful, enforceable penalties for companies and executives that violate workers’ rights,

  2. Expanding workers’ collective bargaining rights and closing loopholes that corporations use to exploit workers, and

  3. Strengthening workers’ access to fair union elections and requiring corporations to respect the results.

 The law has already passed the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis and is sitting on Chuck Schumer’s desk, the victim of a Republican filibuster in the Senate and Leader Schumer’s apparent timidity.

Between 1981, when Reagan took office and turned our nation upside-down, until 2017, average incomes for the bottom 90 percent of US households rose only 1.1 percent.  Not 1.1 percent per year: 1.1 percent for the entire 37 year period. 

And that’s average household income: we went from slightly more than one average worker in a household in 1980 to now when most households average around 2 workers as women’s workforce participation has exploded

In other words, actual individual wages have gone down as a result of the de-unionization of America. As has working class purchasing power and standard of living, since the price of pretty much everything, particularly medicine and housing, has exploded while wages have stayed flat.

Meanwhile, CEO pay — which pretty much maxxed out at $3 million a year in 1980 because that’s where the top 74 percent tax bracket kicked in — has exploded by over 900 percent and, in some cases, is so obscene that morbidly rich CEOs are literally using their spare change to shoot themselves into outer space.

American workers are doing everything right and trying their best to gain union protections in the workplace.  They’re badly hampered in that, though, by “Right To Work For Less” laws and a tragic and bizarre series of rightwing Supreme Court decisions that are nakedly anti-labor

One small step in the right direction is a PRO Act provision that made its way into President Biden‘s Build Back Better legislation that says:

Section 21006. Penalties Under the National Labor Relations Act. Authorizes civil monetary penalties for employers that violate existing unfair labor practice provisions of the National Labor Relations Act. Penalties are up to $50,000 for each violation and can be doubled up to $100,000 for any violation resulting in termination and serious economic harm and where the employer has previously committed such violation in the preceding five years.

If the American middle class is to recover its world-class status, we must end Reagan’s “War On Workers” and reverse the damage the Supreme Court and Red state lawmakers have done in stripping labor rights from working people, particularly in the South, during the past 40 years.

That means blowing up the Senate’s filibuster rule so a handful of Republicans representing only 24 percent of Americans can no longer hold legislation hostage on behalf of their corporate and billionaire funders.

The number for the Senate switchboard is 202-224-3121 and there are also a number of great activist groups working on this. 

Let’s restore decency and fairness to our labor marketplace and bring prosperity back to American working people. It’s time to seriously raise some hell!

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