News / USA

US Companies, Labor Unions Struggle Over Politics Profits, Wages

Verizon workers picket outside of the company's New England headquarters in Boston, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011. Forty-five thousand Verizon Communications Inc. workers from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., went on strike Sunday after negotiations fizzled ove
Verizon workers picket outside of the company's New England headquarters in Boston, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011. Forty-five thousand Verizon Communications Inc. workers from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., went on strike Sunday after negotiations fizzled ove

Relations between workers and employers have been contentious in the United States this year, sparking protests by thousands of employees, partisan wrangling in Congress, and vows by key labor and business organizations to push harder for their respective political and economic goals.

Protestors chanted and drummed in the capitol of in the north central state of Wisconsin earlier this year.

Related video report by Mil Arcega


Tens of thousands of public employees and their supporters protestested Governor Scott Walker's efforts to strip government workers of their ability to bargain for wages and benefits through unions.  The political debate pitted Walker and other Republicans against unions and Democrats, and went on for months.

Wisconsin is only one dispute this Labor Day as business and workers haggle over jobs, wages, benefits and political power.  

It is a debate about the proper balance between the needs of business to make a profit and the needs of workers to make a good living.  Without profit, businesses cannot survive.  And without adequate wages, workers cannot do the consumer spending that drives most U.S. economic activity.  

Unions once represented more than one-third of U.S. workers, but decades of declining membership mean they now speak for only 12 percent.  While overall union membership is down, membership remains strong among people who work for the federal, local, and state governments.  Public sector employees are more than half of the more than 14 million union members in the United States.

Wages, benefits and job security of these workers have been the target of efforts to cut costs at a time when a faltering economy has hurt tax revenue and created serious financial problems for governments.

Economist Gary Burtless of the Washington-based Brookings Institution says public sector unions have been hurt by nearly one million layoffs and  the situation is growing more difficult.

"Over the last year, there has been a remarkably rapid deterioration in the bargaining power of labor unions and of workers in general who work for public sector employers," Burtless said.

Burtless says workers' salaries have not kept up with gains in productivity and that workers are getting less of a share of the value that is produced by companies, while owners and top managers are getting bigger rewards.

The head of the nation's largest labor union group, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, vows to step up efforts to recruit, organize and mobilize union members.  He says the political actions in Wisconsin are part of a concerted and unprecedented Republican attack on public sector workers at all levels of government.  

"What is at stake is the future of the country and whether you have a country that continues to bifurcate, where you have rich and poor but no middle class, where there is fewer rich and more poor, and the poor keep growing.  That is what is at stake here -- the direction of the country," Trumka said.

Trumka says organized labor will continue supporting political candidates who are sympathetic to labor causes, and do more to boost labor's political agenda and reach out to non-union workers.

The union campaign is being resisted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business association.  The head of the group, Thomas Donahue, says unions have too much political power, and too much influence over the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.

Donahue says businesses could do more to boost the economy and create jobs, if Washington would stop imposing new regulations on companies, particularly regarding environmental and labor issues.

"Now is not the time for a slew of new regulations that kill jobs, now is the time to create jobs," Donahue said.

Although that dispute will likely go on for some time, a new set of labor-management negotiations are beginning in the U.S. auto industry.

The industry has recovered after Washington used emergency loans to rescue two of the three large U.S. car makers, and unions made concessions on wages and benefits.  

Now the companies are making profits and the United Auto Workers union is looking for a way to improve the salaries and benefits of their lowest-paid members.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs