When workers petition for an election to form a union, they should actually get an election. That’s a basic tenant of democracy, and what the proposed rule announced today by the National Labor Relations Board would do.
Yet sadly, even this modest change to the current rules has already provoked an outpouring of opposition.
The same crowd that is trying to take away collective bargaining rights in the states is opposing a modest improvement to give workers a fairer, more standardized process for voting to join a union. The opposition favors the current system in which elections are frequently delayed and often never happen. Thirty-five percent of the time that workers file a petition for a union election, the election does not occur, according to research by John-Paul Ferguson of Stanford Business School.
Sadly, this kind of opposition to unions is killing our middle class — and thus our economy.
Over the past several decades, the middle class has dramatically weakened as the rich has secured the lion’s share of the economy’s gains. The share of pretax income earned by the richest 1 percent of Americans more than doubled between 1979 and 2007, climbing to 19 percent from 9 percent, according to the most recent data available from the Congressional Budget Office. And for the richest of the rich — the top 0.1 percent — the gains have been even more astronomical — quadrupling over this period.
Over this same time period, both the share of income going to the middle class has decreased sharply – as has the percentage of workers who are unionized. Between 1979 and 2007, the share of the country’s income going to the middle class — defined as the middle 60 percent of households — dropped from 48.9 percent to 40.8 percent, as the unionization rate fell from 24 percent to 12 percent.
Without a strong middle class, our economy suffers. To grow again, our economy needs a strong middle class. And to rebuild the middle class, people need to be able to join unions.
The NLRB’s proposed rule makes relatively modest changes to standardize the union election process. The rule won’t fix every barrier facing workers trying to organize, but it’s a common-sense step to help make the union election process more democratic and restore middle-class Americans’ foothold in the economy.