Unions across America

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

What factors have impacted the success of unions?

The recent United Auto Workers strike in Detroit and the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike have been indicative of a notable rise in unionization across the United States. However, the question remains whether this unionization, a historically effective measure to empower workers, continues to have the same impact on employee treatment and rights that it did in decades prior. Thus, we at the Technique wish to discuss the circumstances surrounding the initiation of strikes, as well as how larger trends and governance impact the workers and companies involved. Unions have numerous positive attributes. They empower the working social class, who generally answer to large companies far above their heads, to demand fair pay and other workers’ rights. Through numbers, unions allow workers to leverage their power and importance to the daily functioning of any company to communicate their needs. Further, unions often empower women and minorities, such as Black workers. 

However, while unions have continued to be prevalent since their emergence in modern society, they have been less successful as of recent. The current state of business operation is far contrary to decades, even centuries, prior. Certain states are “Right to Work” states, meaning there are laws against union membership. As the economy becomes more and more globalized, companies can easily move from state to state in order to find workers whom they can utilize most efficiently for their profit margins. 

Here in Georgia, the law states that if teachers join unions, they will face dire consequences. As a “Right to Work” state, teachers cannot participate in strikes without getting fired; thus, they are unable to unionize. This issue was especially notable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some teachers were uncomfortable with having to come to schools and teach, but they possessed no leverage to stand up for themselves. While it would not be illegal for these teachers to create a union, its effectiveness is lost by the lack of ability to strike, which is driven by deeply flawed administrative issues and policies. Two-thirds of Americans support unionization, and even in such a divisive political climate, this is not along partisan lines. Yet, there has been a notable lack of success in unionization. Starbucks’ infamous union busting has been in the headlines for years. This was a landmark victory for unionizers in that it gained mass awareness for the cause. However, Starbucks continues to break the law by union busting to this day.

The National Labor Relations Board continues to do little in remediating this problem. While they have accused both Starbucks and Amazon of union-related wrongdoings, they have done nothing to truly address the issues. There are no real repercussions, which are necessary to induce action from large corporations. This all comes down to the ethical argument of how to enact justice on large companies. While public support of unions can encourage their success, it is hard to expect the individual to bear the crux of taking action against corporations who hold the blame. From a policy standpoint, it is also difficult to set time limits on companies and unions when negotiating to avoid companies brushing the issue aside. That elongated time is sometimes necessary to come to the best compromise for both parties. However, stricter labor laws are imperative, from a state and national level.

Overall, unions have accomplished many feats for workers and will likely continue to do so in the years to come. However, there also continues to be many elements that impact issues with fair labor laws and worker rights. While these may be difficult to overcome quickly, there is a third player that is not doing nearly enough to represent people’s needs: the government. The government must do what it can to encourage the individual, rather than play lackey for the corporate world.

The Consensus Opinion reflects the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of the Technique, but not necessarily the opinions of individual editors.