Union members represent a broad cross section of America. They come from all walks of life in all parts of the country. They want what any American wants. Peace. Prosperity and Security. Dignity of the Individual. They want these for each and every American.
There are two ways they go about getting them. One is through collective bargaining. The other is through political and social action. Let's talk about them one at a time.
Collective bargaining is a rational, democratic and peaceful way to resolve conflict. In recent years, some 150,000 collective bargaining agreements have been made. Only two percent of them were affected by strikes. So in 98 percent of all cases, collective bargaining was successful. Not a bad record.
Back around the turn of the century, things were different. There were not very many unions then, and those that existed had a tough time of it. Employer resistance to collective bargaining was fierce and many times violent. There was no National Labor Relations Act then to give workers the right to organize and to promote collective bargaining. But workers persisted and the fledgling unions survived. Collective Bargaining became the accepted way of regulating employer-employee disputes.
It took a lot of nerve for employees to stand up for their rights in those days. There were no job safety standards, paid vacations, sick leave or retirement plan. Hiring and firing, promotion and layoff policies were under the exclusive control of employers.
But they did it, and today we are enjoying the results. You can't put a price tag on the human dignity individual workers feel when they stand up for their rights, either.
It hasn't changed today. Every time the Union-negotiated contract expires, the members have to assess the situation again. They look at their wages and compare them with current price levels; look at company profits; determine if pensions, health and medical plans are adequate. These are quantitative factors that go into wages and salaries at Collective Bargaining time.
There are qualitative factors, too. Things like work rules, work speeds, occupational safety and health, time off for vacations and holidays, and promotion policies.
Put them all together and you have a package of wages, benefits, and work rules that becomes the subject of contract negotiations. Employers - large or small - don't just hand out this package. The employees have to stick together, send their elected representatives into the negotiating room with employers or their representatives, and through a process of fact finding, discussion, argument and debate, make an agreement on just what the package will contain. Then the membership has to ratify or reject it.
We call it collective bargaining, and it has played a vital part in lifting the living standards of the American worker to the highest level in the world.
Think about this next time you hear a company official say, "Here's what we give our employees." Even if that company doesn't have a Union or the employees he is talking about aren't part of the Union in the firm, do you really think they would give these wages and benefits if there were no Unions? Maybe. But it isn't likely unless a pattern of Union-won gains is in existence.
But even then, the employee has no voice in matters affecting the job. Where's the dignity in that system? Or security?