After months of stalled contract talks, Southland grocery workers are considering whether to go on strike. Over the weekend, union workers from Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons voted overwhelmingly to reject a health benefits proposal from the supermarkets and to authorize a strike, which could be called this week if there are no positive developments between the two sides. This and other labor disputes in the news lately beg the question – how necessary are unions? In America today, union membership has declined significantly. In the private sector, only 7 percent of employees are now unionized, down from 35 percent in the 1950s. In Wisconsin and Ohio, public unions have been under attack. Critics charge that they are largely to blame for spiraling costs that hold taxpayers hostage. But during the bright dawn of modern unionism, collective bargaining rights were considered essential for protecting workers’ rights. So why has there been such a steady drop in union membership? Are unions still essential – or even effective? Or do employers and the government do enough to protect us? If not, where’s the union man with the union plan?
Harold Meyerson, Editor-at-Large of The American Prospect; Columnist for the Washington Post
Lee Ohanian, Professor of Economics at UCLA; Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution