Can you guess who said the following quote?
Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
No, it wasn't Karl Marx. It was Abraham Lincoln.
You don't have to be a communist to know the value of labor's contributions to society.
Yet, sometimes it feels that labor is overworked and underpaid.
Unfortunately, your desire for a bigger slice of the pie is at odds with your boss's desire to make as big a profit off of you as possible.
Fortunately, there's a way to gain leverage in the tug of war with capital: employee unions!
What is an employee union?
A union is a group of workers who band together to negotiate for better pay, conditions, and benefits in their organization or industry.
As an individual, it's difficult to demand more money and benefits from your employer if you can be easily replaced by another individual.
The collective power of a group demanding a bigger slice of the pie is harder to fire or lay off and replace, as businesses need their employees to make a profit.
How unions have impacted workers' rights
The 8 Hour Workday and the 5 Day Workweek
During the Industrial Revolution, people often worked up to 14 hours a day, often seven days a week.
Starting in the late 1800s, unions fought many battles against capital in their war for better working conditions including a 40 hour workweek. Sometimes these battles were bloody.
Eventually, in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed that established a minimum wage and normalized the 40 hour workweek by making employers pay overtime.
Safer Working Conditions
Long hours weren't the only horror to come out of the Industrial Revolution.
In order to save money, workers weren't trained properly and faulty equipment wasn't replaced. Both resulted in workplace accidents.
Workers were exposed to dangerous substances such as asbestos.
Workers died in the thousands every year due to unsafe working conditions.
Thanks to unions such as the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union, legislation such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act and Mining Enforcement and Safety Act were passed. Workplace safety drastically improved.
Why join a union?
Better pay: Union members earn 18% more than non-union members.
Health benefits: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, 94% of union members had healthcare benefits, while only 67% of non-union members did. In addition, 86% of union members could take paid sick leave while only 72% of non-union workers could.
Enhanced Safety Procedures: During the COVID-19 pandemic, unions led the fight to enhance safety protocols and make protective equipment available.
Job security: Unions make it harder for employers to terminate workers without good reason.
Collective power: The bargaining power of a group is greater than an individual, so it's easier to win more and better benefits in the struggle against your boss. Some things you could be a part of winning include:
The ability to work from home
Student loan repayment and scholarships
A 4 day workweek
Identify who is most likely not in a union:
A. When Sally was 18 weeks pregnant, it started to show. Suddenly, the company decided to terminate her employment without cause.
B. Employees at the Rough Riderz automobile factory enjoy six weeks of vacation per year ever since they formally got together as a group and negotiated for it.
C. Nearly all Swedish workers earn a liveable and respectable wage even though the country doesn't have a minimum wage law.
D. David demanded that his boss pay him more and give him health and vacation benefits or he would quit. His boss laughed in his face and started seeking David's replacement.
Who is most likely NOT in a union?
If you feel like you deserve a bigger slice of the profit pie, unions can gain you and your fellow workers more rights & benefits!