COMMENTARY: Unions create better lives
| September 14, 2022 1:00 AM
This month as we celebrate Labor Day, it is widely reported that labor unions are resurging in the United States.
Unionization declined over the past 40 years, but is now on the rise at Apple, Amazon, Trader Joe’s, and countless other companies. From January to June, the National Labor Relations Board reported 1,411 workplaces filed petitions to form a union.
Several factors account for this comeback. Compensation for lower earning workers has remained flat for decades. Economic inequality is so high today that most young adults earn less than their parents did at their age. Covid-19 caused a labor shortage giving workers more leverage over employers. And importantly, President Joe Biden continues to amplify a long tradition of Democratic support for unions.
Unionization is a good thing. It brings higher salaries and better benefits. Unions reduce the gender and racial earnings gap. And union benefits spill over to non-union shops that are forced to upgrade working conditions to attract and retain workers. A recent US Senate report asserts that “unions provide major economic benefits to workers and their families.” 
Unions are a legitimate and necessary part of a democratic society, just like political parties and a free press.
But when workers try to form a union, they often face threats. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union describes two categories of anti-union threats.
Love Tactics include “love letters” from management that promise temporary changes or improvements in working conditions that can be rescinded, and gifts or meals that suddenly and dramatically appear as a show of “respect or appreciation” for employees.
Scare Tactics on the other hand include misinformation. Managers may claim they won’t deal with a union (by law they must). Managers may distribute anti-union information at “mandatory” meetings, engage union busting consultants, make false claims about the cost of union dues, and stoke fear among employees about work stoppages.
These tactics will sound familiar to anyone who has worked for a large employer. Unfortunately, employers can even deduct the cost of anti-union activities from their taxes, making other taxpayers foot the bill.
Workers trying to form a union face legal threats as well.
In Idaho a Right to Work Law, approved in 1985, exempts any employee who does not want to pay union dues from having to do so. That may seem like support for personal choice and freedom, but instead it is a “get union benefits without having to pay for them” card. It pits one worker against another and keeps earnings low.
And in Idaho public school teachers and firefighters are the only public employees permitted by law to form a union. Other state, county, and city employees must first gain permission from their local employers. Coeur d’Alene permits city employees, firefighters and police to unionize.
Congress is considering legislation that would partly override RTW laws. The Protect the Right to Organize Act (the Pro Act) passed the House of Representatives and awaits action by the Senate. The Pro Act would also give gig workers, most of whom work on a piece basis, employee status, providing them much greater rights to organize. And the ProAct would give the NLRB greater enforcement power over companies that engage in illegal union busting.
At least one state, California, enacted a law that supports labor. Governor Gavin Newsom, on Labor Day, signed legislation that establishes new workplace protections to support wages, health, safety and welfare in the fast food industry.
Fast food workers in Idaho earn on average $11 per hour, leaving them well under the federal poverty level.
Working people must be able to speak with one voice. Unionization does that, and more.
One could even say that unions contribute to a more perfect union.
• • •
Evan Koch is chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.