Labor Day 2023: Labor Unions Gain Strength in USA
The last decade has seen labor unions emerge as a force to reckon with and companies bowing down to recognize their workers. As the USA marks Labor Day 2023, there has been a resurgence in labor union influence. More people in the USA now approve of labor unions than ever before with the government acknowledging that it strengthens the middle class.
According to Gallup, 67 percent of Americans approve labor unions and believe unions benefit various aspects of business and the economy. The latest poll shows an unprecedented uptick compared to previous years. In 2009 following the Great Recession, union approval fell to an all-time low of 48 percent. Approval has risen, but has not returned to its all-time high of 75 percent in the post-World War II.
Unionization in 2023, in the US, has been driven by the ongoing Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes. An overwhelming majority has sided with the workers seeking higher pay and protection from losing work to artificial intelligence (AI). By 72 percent to 19 percent Americans, as per Gallup, sympathize more with the television and film writers than with the television and film production studios.
The Year of Strikes
2023 is notably the year of strikes. During the first eight months of 2023, over 323,000 workers (nurses, hotel cleaners, restaurant servers, and screenwriters among others, walked off their jobs. Midyear, hundreds of thousands of UPS would have joined them if not for the new contract agreement. This month, hundreds of thousands of autoworkers are likely to walk off their jobs if the United Auto Workers Union and General Motors, Ford and Stellantis fail to meet their demands.
Experts describe the rising number of strikes as a sign of balance of power between workers and employers. A gradual shift of power is being noted from employers to employees. Strikes become common when economic conditions change, and this is very much true for the US which is witnessing tight labor markets and high inflation. Experts say unions and workers become bolder in their demands when there are fewer candidates available and prices are rising. US inflation which soared to 8 percent in 2022 has impacted workers’ purchasing power, amid soaring company profits and economic inequality.
Unions Make Economy Strong
US Vice President Kamala Harris believes union workers make the country’s middle class and the entire economy stronger. Unionization reduces wage gaps by race and gender, and improves benefits and procedures like retirement plans, grievance policies and steady work schedules.
According to the US Treasury, union membership rates and income inequality have diverged over the last century. Union membership plateaued in 2022 at 10 percent of workers, while the top one percent of income earners earned almost 20 percent of the total income. The Treasury believes that unions have the potential to address some of the negative trends by raising middle-class wages, improving work environments, and promoting demographic equality.
Moreover, there is strong evidence that unions improve fringe benefits and non-wage features of the workplace. Public support for unions is critical to grow the middle class and provide opportunities for working people to thrive. Furthermore, labor unions have gained political momentum, with politicians increasingly voicing their support for workers’ rights and the importance of unions.