The Oregonian: Marick Masters on modern unions

After a 50-year decline that has seen union membership in the United States plunge to just 6 percent in the private sector, critics proclaimed organized labor to be finished. Last year’s Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court was supposed to be the final nail in labor’s coffin. The ruling prohibited public employee unions from compelling government workers to pay union dues. Nationally, 485,000 workers were involved in strikes or other work stoppages in 2018, the biggest number since 1986, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The predictions of post-Janus doom have proven inaccurate. Membership in public-employee unions is holding steady. Union leaders, grassroots organizers and some workers say labor has reached an inflection point. Americans are simply fed up with flat wages and what they say are the false promises of the trickle-down economy. In the era of temps and gigs and Uber, workers feel expendable and easily replaced. Amid that anxiety, the public’s view of organized labor has shifted dramatically. More than 63 percent of Americans view unions favorably, the highest number since 2003, according to a national poll by Gallup last summer. Some workers want no part of a movement they view as corrupt, a problem that persists to this day. In late August, the FBI raided the homes of additional leaders of the United Auto Workers suspected of taking payoffs from Fiat-Chrysler. Nine union officials have been charged with criminal wrongdoing so far. Businesses “are also more adept at suppressing unions and resisting organizing drives,” said Wayne State University Professor Marick Masters, who has long studied organized labor. “Present labor law provides inadequate protections to many workers who want unions and fails to punish sufficiently those who resist unions unlawfully.”

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