As a broad attack on unions continues, with Republican politicians leading efforts to eliminate unions or weaken them in Illinois and Wisconsin, Missouri and West Virginia, and county-by-county in Kentucky, it’s wise to think about what’s at stake. We now know what happens when employers hold most of the cards and employee power is diminished: profits and CEO pay skyrocket, and worker pay flat lines.
It is no coincidence that, as the Figure shows, the share of income going to the broad middle class began to fall as union membership and power were reduced. The middle 60 percent of families depend primarily on wages for their income, so as the unions’ ability to raise wages diminished, so did the ability of middle class families to earn a fair share of the nation’s growing income. Research has shown that as unions were less able to establish wage standards the wages of nonunion workers in the same occupations and sectors were also reduced. Politicians who care about the middle class should be looking for ways to help workers gain access to collective bargaining and restore union strength. They certainly ought not weaken them further and limit or forbid collective bargaining.