WASHINGTON - Labor unions have a long and colorful history in America. Often demonized by corporate special interests, unions have historically been the voice of the under-represented working man (and more recently, woman) in the fight for fair and ethical treatment of workers.
This morning's Washington Journal presented the case for and against the continued viablity of labor unions in America. The guests were Mark Mix, National Right to Work Legal Defense president, and Mike Williams, the Florida American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization president.
Mix, contrary to caller comments and perception, didn't appear to be against the organization of labor unions.
"There has been, there is, and there will be a place for workers organizing voluntarily," Mix said.
According to Mix, organized labor unions as they are currently defined by federal law have too much authority in the states in which they are allowed to operate. Compulsory unionism, the ability of unions to force non-members to join a labor organization as a condition of employment at work sites, is the issue.
"Since 1935, federal law has permitted unions to suggest that certain workers be fired for failure to pay dues or union fees," Mix said, even if these workers were not members of their local union.
Facing a 10-year decline of about 1.5 million workers in nationwide union membership, Florida AFL-CIO president Williams spoke to the continued need for labor unions in America.
After a peak membership of about 33% nationwide during the 1950s, currently only about 12% of public sector workers are members of a labor organization, according to Washington Times reporter Patrice Hill.
"Many dropped out of unions because they no longer have a job. You can't participate in union business if you don't have a job," Williams told a caller.
Despite the decline in membership, most American workers, (51%) see unions as positively effecting working conditions for all American workers (non-union and union) and 53% believe unions have a positive effect on covered workers salaries and benefits, according to a Pew Research center survey from 2011.
However, this same suvey found that, overall, only about 45% of workers hold a favorable view of unions, and more than 40% held an overall unfavorable view of unions.
Williams went on to say that the "rich and elite" want a non-existent middle class, voicing his concern about some of the budget and policy prosposals presented by Republican nominees for president and vice president,and , respectively.
"The Romney-Ryan ticket is trying to reinstitute the policies from 12 years ago that we are still suffering from today. Do we want that? I say the answer is no," Williams said.
Scott Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, reiterated this view.
"Ryan and Romney want to slash taxes on the rich...(and) starve education funding and leave us (America) with a compromised infrastructure," he said via Skype.
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Written by Benjamin Burton Jr.