We are all too familiar with the ugly facts that constitute the current state of the Labor Movement. We’ve been in decline for over fifty years. Private sector unionization is below 10 percent. For decades we have argued that the decline was due to unyielding opposition to unions by employers. This argument is not so much wrong, as it is unhelpful. For more than 30 years the Labor Movement has fought to reform the nation’s labor law to increase penalties and reduce the employer’s opportunities to interfere with an employee’s decision to join a union. After 30 years, three Democratic presidents, and nothing to show for it, it is time to try something different.
Rather than defusing employer opposition with the blunt force of the law, an alternative approach is to try to partner with employers by offering greater value. Here at my union, LIUNA in the Mid-Atlantic Region, we are using this approach every day.
Here’s what we tell businesses that we will do for them. LIUNA will supply the most highly trained, productive workers on the market. LIUNA will provide and support all or virtually all of your skills and safety training to keep your projects on time with great safety records. LIUNA will work with you to provide good wages and benefits to your employees, while beating your competitors and making a tidy profit for yourself.
And here’s what we will not do. In my Region, LIUNA will not seek to impose wages or benefit obligations that will make our business partners uncompetitive. LIUNA will not prevent employers from awarding any form of merit pay they want to provide, as long as the pay is above the union’s negotiated floor. And LIUNA will not waste your time frivolous grievances.
Unions have always been right to demand a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. Workers who create all of the society’s services, wealth, and materials goods should not be subjected to poverty themselves. Full time workers are entitled to family-sustaining pay, basic health care insurance, and should earn a benefit to retire in dignity. For any union, these are non-negotiable requirements. But in return for these, a union should be prepared to deliver greater productivity to an employer. I am talking about a “win-win” relationship between business and labor.
At LIUNA in the Mid-Atlantic Region, we are practicing this philosophy on a daily basis. And it is working. During the worst economic period since the Great Depression, membership in our Region is growing, not shrinking. The reason is simple. Employers appreciate the value they receive from skilled labor. On this Labor Day, I offer this as a positive alternative model for the rest of the Labor Movement.
Dennis L. Martire is, vice president and regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Mid-Atlantic Region and a resident of Ashburn
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