Oct 30 (The Street Press) – The recent deal between the United Auto Workers and two of the Detroit Three automakers is a big win for labor unions. They’ve been pushing hard for better deals from large companies, and this is another step in the right direction.
Unions have been actively fighting for their rights through well-publicized campaigns in various industries, including industrial, automotive, entertainment, and healthcare. Experts believe that the successes achieved by unions might encourage more organizing and push non-unionized companies to resist such efforts.
The UAW’s negotiations, featuring frequent updates from union President Shawn Fain, have been quite open. The union has reached tentative agreements with Ford Motor and Stellantis (Chrysler’s parent company), while discussions with General Motors are ongoing.
Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley, noted, “This is a set of negotiations, historically, where gains made in Detroit would be viewed and adapted by many other industries across the economy.”
According to U.S. federal data, union worker compensation has now caught up with non-union wage increases that began during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a tight labor market with only 3.8% unemployment.
When you factor in compounding and cost-of-living increases, the tentative Ford and Stellantis deals will result in total pay hikes of over 33%. San Francisco State University labor and employment professor John Logan believes these agreements could become an incentive for non-union shops to consider unionization. Competitors like Nissan may also feel pressured to increase wages to retain their workforce. “The Big Three would want the UAW to organize Tesla,” he added.
Public support for unions has been on the rise, particularly in traditionally unionized sectors like manufacturing and healthcare. A Reuters poll revealed that most Americans are supportive of striking workers.
Efforts by employees to unionize at retailers such as Amazon and Starbucks reflect a shared belief among workers that unions can help them achieve improved wages and working conditions.
Union representation has seen a decline in recent years, with only about 11.3% of workers being unionized last year, compared to 23.6% in 1982, according to data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
The UAW contracts are part of a broader trend this year, including agreements at UPS and Caterpillar, among others. However, workers at some other companies like Mack Truck and equipment makers CNH Industrial and Deere & Co have rejected initial deals, even though some of the contract terms offered significant raises.
Workers’ growing awareness of companies’ record profits has led to concessions and better deals from corporations, according to Marcos Feldman, a senior researcher at Jobs to Move America, a labor organizing nonprofit.
Feldman said that The challenge now is to make these improvements more permanent. Unionization efforts are at their most robust in recent times.
President Joe Biden has emphasized the importance of unions in his economic policies, including the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law aimed at strengthening American manufacturing.
Employers may react by increasing worker pay in an attempt to deter unionization or intensify their efforts to resist unionization.
In some instances, like with Starbucks, employees have alleged that the company illegally retaliated against union organizers by terminating employees and closing stores. Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered Starbucks to provide documents related to anti-union spending.
Similarly, Amazon has actively discouraged unionization, leading to a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that the company had threatened to withhold wages and benefits from employees in two New York warehouses.
UPS AND ITS RIVALS
The UPS deal in August had a significant impact, increasing pay and eliminating a two-tier wage system for drivers at the company based in Atlanta. This move bolstered efforts among Amazon workers to organize and pushed UPS rivals to address the growing wage gap.
By the time the new UPS agreement expires in 2028, the average full-time U.S. driver is expected to earn approximately $170,000 annually in pay and benefits, a substantial difference from drivers employed by contractors for FedEx and Amazon.
In September, Amazon allocated $440 million to delivery contractors for the year to raise the average driver pay to an estimated $20.50 per hour. Amazon stated that this payment was part of regular increases and not influenced by the UPS contract but did not provide comparisons to previous years.
Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at Cornell University, noted, “One thing we’ve seen in this economy is that workers are more likely to quit when they are unhappy. Industries where they’re more likely to stay are the ones where they unionize and they stay and fight.”