August 1, 2021

Workers Don’t Share Democrats’ Nostalgia for Unions

It wasn’t even close. The final count was 1,798 against and 738 for, 71% to 29%.

The issue in question was whether the employees at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, wanted to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Not, as The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, put it: a contest of “Big Tech vs. its workers.”

The workers weren’t one of the adversaries; they were the judges, and 71% of them decided — contrary to media coverage and despite nudges from President Joe Biden — not to choose the union.

That has significance far beyond the individuals involved. Amazon is now America’s second-largest employer, after Walmart, with more than 950,000 domestic employees. With the increased demand for delivered merchandise during COVID-19 restrictions, Amazon reports that it has hired some 427,300 workers over the past year.

It’s no secret that organized labor unions would like to represent employees at firms like Walmart and Amazon. That would bring in millions in union dues and, in the opinion of union advocates, better wages, benefits and working conditions for workers.

It’s more of a secret that Democratic politicians want unions to organize these firms. Perhaps they think it would help workers, but another reason is that unions channel large amounts in campaign contributions, almost every single dollar to Democrats. Unionization is — though liberals don’t like to hear this — a form of public financing of campaigns for one political party.

The retail workers union and other unions haven’t tried nationwide drives at Amazon or Walmart. That would require a hugely expensive national organizing campaign, with low chances of success. The Bessemer warehouse, with its majority-black workforce in a majority-black county, looked like a more feasible target. In partisan elections, they undoubtedly vote heavily Democratic.

That was also true of Nissan’s auto assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, whose majority-black workforce the United Auto Workers attempted to organize in 2016 and 2017. But in August 2017, 63% of the 3,500 workers voting rejected union representation. Like the Amazon workers in Bessemer, they were evidently satisfied with current wages and benefits and felt that union dues wouldn’t be worth paying.

Since the Nissan vote, two national UAW presidents have been convicted of embezzling union funds. That’s not going to make it easier for the UAW to snap its losing streak of never organizing non-U.S.-based auto plants. And it’s a sad contrast with the austere integrity of longtime (1946-1968) UAW President Walter Reuther and his immediate successors.

Many liberal commentators look back to Reuther’s time and the “midcentury moment” when private-sector unionism peaked in the United States, at 35% of the private sector workforce in 1954. The most recent figure is 6%. Public employees, almost none of them unionized in the 1950s, now make up about half of all union members.

The surge in private-sector union membership came in the late 1930s, when the UAW and other unions organized auto, steel, rubber and other heavy industries. Unions staged sit-down strikes — illegally occupying huge factories — and Michigan’s Democratic governor refused to order troops to enforce court orders. The companies recognized the UAW, but the governor was defeated in 1938.

Why did the union win? Factory pay was good, and in a slack Depression economy, fired workers could easily be replaced. Workers’ longstanding grievance was management’s use of “Taylorism” time-and-motion studies that speeded up assembly lines and treated workers like unthinking machines, under threat of grueling and often-unsafe speed-ups.

Today, Taylorism has long since been replaced by Japanese-pioneered methods encouraging worker autonomy, and in the tight Donald Trump-era labor market, companies have had to offer good wages and benefits to attract workers and can’t easily replace them. The argument that 1950s unions promoted the “family wage,” allowing a man to support his wife and family, has little appeal to today’s cultural liberals.

The Biden Democrats’ major legislation is interlarded with provisions they hope will promote unionization. They want to sign up subsidized home care workers and preschool attendants into unions, as some Democratic states have, and to classify gig workers (like Uber drivers) as full-time employees, with minimum hours, weekly schedules and mandatory union dues, as California tried to. They want to repeal 27 states’ right-to-work laws.

Some of these may work, at least temporarily, and channel millions of tax dollars to Democratic campaigns. But they’re not likely to recreate the 1930s era of explosive union growth or midcentury moment of contented union membership.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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10 Responses

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    1. Single Mom Makes $89,844/Yr in Her Spare Time on The Computer Without Selling Anything. you can bring from $5000-$8000 of extra income every month. working at home for 4 hours a day, and earning could be even bigger.

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  2. the modern demoncrat party started in cities as a marriage between mobsters and union thugs. out in the hinterlands we don’t want any of that.

  3. Car companies unions don’t listen to workers. How many unions boss have been arrested for stealing from the union dues? Union strike fund? They hardly get anything from a strike.

  4. The Unions have taken workers dues, and most of the higher ups use that money for themselves. They make sure they are paid HIGH wages, and most of them are crooked as a dogs hind leg!!!

    1. UNIONS HAVE, AND CONTINUE, TO RUIN AMERICA!! THEY ARE ANTI FREEDOM TOO !!! WHY HASN’T AMAZON, AND FACEBOOK, TWITTER, ETC,ETC, BEEN TAKEN OVER ???? UNIONS SHOULD BE BANNED EVERYWHERE !!

  5. IT’s TIME TO IMPEACH BIDEN AND HARRIS!

    WE THE PEOPLE (aka SILENT MAJORITY) had countless opportunities to have stopped this nightmare, but we chose to give the DEMOCRATS what they expected of us, to REMAIN SILENT! Thus, making us equally complicit in the fraud perpetrated against United States Americans!

    Isn’t it time you actually did something, took action? How much more damage needs to be done?

    I urge everyone who reads this to PICK UP THE PHONE and call your REP AND SENATORS in DC and DEMAND IMMEDIATE IMPEACHMENT OF BIDEN AND HARRIS.

    BIDEN is completely UNFIT FOR OFFICE! Biden is guilty of 18 U.S. Code CHAPTER 115—TREASON, SEDITION, AND SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITIES.

    HARRIS is guilty of violating 18US Code 2381 Treason, 18 US Code 2382 Misprision of Treason, 18US Code 2383 Rebellion or Insurrection, 18 US Code 2384 Seditious Conspiracy and 18 US CODE 2385 Advocating Overthrow of Government!

    Can you tolerate gasoline prices, product prices all going up, the WH being run by Harris, Pelosi and Schumer? Literally destroying our country, allowing thousands of illegals into our country bringing in God knows what diseases?

    Then copy and paste this information into an E-Mail and send to friends and family asking them to make the calls, then forward on to their friends asking them to make the calls and forward on! WE NEED TO MAKE THIS GO VIRAL!

    Members of the House
    202-224-3841

    Members of the Senate
    202-224-3121

    TOLL FREE:
    866-272-6622

    Keep in mind: SILENCE = ACCEPTANCE

  6. Hey workers now U wake up to Dems playing Union games
    Union bosses make cash while U toil like in the 1880s to date
    Chap 7 AFL CIO & AFSCME too

  7. Only union bosses get real benefits by ripping of their parties. The bosses get full pay while the members get what they can.

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