There's obviously no easy way to bridge the
income gap between the rich and the rest of us or to combat the other serious economic problems raised by the Occupy Wall
Street movement. But keep in mind the crucial – if not decisive – role that labor unions can play in righting
our economic wrongs.
Union members earn a lot more
than non-union workers overall and within particular occupations, and in age, gender and racial groups, and so spend more.
They have more and greater fringe benefits, a greater voice in community and political affairs and otherwise are in a good
position to span the income gap as well as contribute to the growth of the economy that's so badly needed.
Unionized workers are paid nearly 30 percent more than non-union workers
generally, a median of about $900 a week to about $700 a week. That's an advantage of $4.95 an hour, or more than
$10,000 a year, that can be spent to help boost the sagging economy.
unionized workers' much greater access to employer-financed health care helps, too, as does their invariably longer paid
vacations, their sick pay and, among other key benefits, the pensions that go to more than three-fourths of unionized workers
but to only about 20 percent of other workers.
clearly provide the purchasing power needed to drive the economy and narrow the income gap between hugely paid corporate executives
and the people who do the actual work of the country. Unions could very well do that, in part by helping improve working conditions
that would attract more workers to particular employers and help the employers retain workers and compensate them well.
Although unions have been declining in numbers to the point
that only about 13 percent of today's workers are in unions, indications are that their numbers will be growing, thanks
in part as a reaction to the current economic troubles.
past practices of unions, in any case, indicate they'll undoubtedly provide lots of help to ease the current crisis.
They played a major role, for instance, in passage of the laws that set a minimum wage and a standard workweek, regulate on-the-job
safety and provide workers' compensation for on-the-job injuries.
more, union members usually have more training and thus greater productivity. Their unions commonly work on local economic
development in partnership with employers, community groups and local governments and commonly invest union pension funds
to help rebuild declining communities and, among other local projects, help finance moderate–income housing.
Don't forget, either, that non-union employers sometimes
offer pay and benefits equal to union pay and benefits in their areas, in hopes of avoiding unionization.
Unions, which had much to do with pulling the nation out of the Great
Depression and helping establish a true middle class, are in position to provide help that's as necessary in 2011 as it
was in the 1930s.
Copyright © 2011 Dick Meister