With renewed attention placed on growing job losses and an expanding wealth gap between the upper, middle and lower classes, the power labor unions hold is back in the spotlight. As public support for unions increases, 2021 could be a turning point for workers.
Though it’s still too soon to tell what the future holds, we at Sundquist Law Firm have taken a long-term look at the challenges unions face in 2021. Below you’ll find not only our assessment of these issues and how they could affect your union. Study up on these issues to prepare yourself for what 2021 may hold.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw many workers lose their jobs in the face of lockdowns and lost business. Despite this, CEOs made record profits, highlighting a long-standing contradiction in the corporate world — management has to fire workers to protect profits, but higher-ups make more money despite the alleged threats faced by the business.
Labor unions are seeing a renewed push for more robust job security standards for employees. Previously the focus was on the accelerated pace of automation, which has resulted in layoffs across multiple industries. While that continues to be a sticking point, termination related to the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn more considerable public attention to job instability issues.
Company managers have long argued that increasing job security measures make it more difficult to fire underperforming employees. Still, it’s hard to see that same argument applied to a global health crisis or to justify CEOs getting even more money in the face of such firing. As union leaders push for more stability, using the pandemic as an example will likely give them more leverage and gather more support.
Safer Work Conditions
A majority of the businesses that closed during the COVID-19 pandemic were small businesses. Many national and global corporations continued to operate, even when they were at high risk. Many workers were put at risk for workplace injury and had to fight hard for workers’ comp if they could receive it all. Workers found themselves in the unfair position of either continuing to work at extreme risk of illness or harm or leave the workplace and risk termination just to stay safe.
Even before the pandemic, workplace conditions became a hot topic, with Amazon warehouses a constant target. Workers had to work long hours with minimal breaks to maximize profits, creating a high risk of occupational injury. Large corporations use their prevalence globally to cast workers as easily replaced, minimizing the need to invest in a safer workplace.
Obtaining safer work conditions continues to be a significant cause of labor unions, but several major news stories in 2020 and 2021 have renewed the energy behind the fight. Current fights include more comprehensive workers’ compensation and more robust protections against work-related injuries.
Pension Control and Protection
Because the company is paying into your pension fund, they believe they have the right to control how it’s invested. Such a measure may sound reasonable at first, but it only takes one instance of poor management or bad investments to decimate the pension funds of hard workers. With little to no control over how management manages their pensions, workers are often left hopeless and without recourse when this happens.
Since the 2008 financial collapse, the public has been focusing on the issue of pension management, with unions leading the fight to change corporate policy. They argue that management doesn’t suffer from mismanaged pensions and benefit from including employee accounts as part of a company’s investment portfolio through tax deductions. Thus far, the two predominant solutions agree to third-party professional management chosen by union members or allowing union members to vote on investments themselves. Both pose risks (as all investing does) but assuming more responsibility for their retirement is a way for workers to take greater control over their futures.
Collective Bargaining Rights
Unions see workers as equals regardless of experience and position. They use collective bargaining to negotiate on behalf of every employee at once. Besides taking the onus off of each employee to fight for their rights, collective bargaining is a powerful way to make large-scale changes in the workplace.
Collective bargaining rights have been an obstacle for management for many, many years. Those in management positions often believe that workers have value as individuals and a collective, but making changes that benefit every worker unfairly rewards those underperforming or otherwise haven’t developed efficient skills. Collective bargaining rights also allow unions to call strikes for all members, putting a financial strain on the employer until they reach an agreement.
Collective bargaining is perhaps the most potent tool that unions have, with much of their strength coming from strikes. Anti-union management will often falsely present it as workers losing the freedom to make their own choices. As support for labor unions continues to rise, corporations will rely on workers misunderstanding collective bargaining to stop unionization in its tracks, so organizers need to make a concerted effort to educate workers about what it means.
Inflation has long since outpaced changes in the federal minimum wage. While managers argue that people on average get paid more today to perform a job than they did in the past, these discussions rarely account for inflation. So, while the dollar amount per hour may be higher, the value of the dollar itself is much lower.
Even as Congressional discussion has drawn attention to some of the wealthiest companies in the United States paying low wages, there doesn’t appear to be much incentive for corporations to increase wages. Unions try to pressure management to improve pay through collective bargaining and strikes, and when it works, union members see a considerable pay increase over non-unionized workers.
However, automation presents an increasing threat to better wages. Companies like McDonald’s are looking to automation to minimize the number of employees they need, and it’s not hard to see that same automation becoming an argument for increasing wages. Organizers will need to give equal focus to protecting wages against automation as well as fairer salaries.
Trust Sundquist Law Firm
2021 is shaping up to be a definitive year for labor unions across the country, and Sundquist Law Firm wants you to know that we’re on your side. Our work with the Union Construction Workers’ Compensation Program and workers’ compensation laws firmly put our team on the side of workers.
If you need a worker’s compensation attorney or work injury lawyer to help you navigate Minnesota worker’s compensation, reach out to us today.