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Do Unions ‘Work’ Anymore? Obama Campaign-Walmart ‘strikes’ and Political Influence

Do unions really 'work' anymore?
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Since the election of President Obama, and due to a number of national actions over the last few years, labor unions have been front page news almost daily.  The question being asked frequently today is, do they still really deliver the ‘goods‘ for their workers?Much was made of the actions of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) during the first election campaign of President Obama. Few people had really heard of the union until they began to effectively campaign for Obama.  SEIU gained a reputation for boorish behavior in many communities, including several in California where health care workers were subjected to threats and intimidation for wanting to leave SEIU.  After the election of Obama, SEIU came under the scrutiny of numerous critics, who uncovered evidence of the afore-mentioned threats, intimidation and less then ethical tactics.   While SEIU toned it down considerably during the 2012 campaign, they remained one of the biggest contributors to Obama’s campaign. To many critics, it appeared SEIU was more of a strong-armed political action group than a union concerned about it’s workers.

Move ahead to the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers International) union ‘strikes’ outside of Wal-marts across America.    For some time, Wal-mart has faced sometimes legitimate complaints from workers about schedule shifting, working conditions in distribution centers, and other issues.   But these do not come from the vast majority of workers.

A grassroots group called OUR Walmart began in September to pressure Wal-mart to go to the bargaining table and allow it’s workers to vote on whether or not to join UFCW.  It culminated with protests Black Friday at some stores across the country.  UFCW claims thousands of workers walked off the job,  Wal-mart says fewer than 50 confirmed strikers.  The retail giant has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations board claiming UFCW is illegally using paid protestors, demonstrations at stores, and other illegal strongarm tactics to force Wal-mart to pay it’s workers more, offer better benefits or join their union.  The Black Friday protests, and OUR Walmart are powered by the UFCW.

This leaves many critics asking if the major labor unions are still an effective and necessary tool to help workers today in America.  While generations ago unions helped initially provide wage and benefit stability for workers, today they are often seen as giant political engines, whose purpose is to back candidates who support their agendas.    The Heritage Foundation has written an excellent look at the pros and cons of today’s unions.  According to even SEIU data,  union membership is steadily dropping across the country as many workers do not see the benefits they had been promised by joining.

Consequently, the major unions (especially SEIU and UFCW) have become increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of businesses to unionize.   The Heritage Foundation makes this point about the unions of today:

“On balance, unionizing raises wages between 0 percent and 10 percent, but at a steep economic cost. Unions have the same effect on business investment as does a 33 percentage point corporate income tax increase.”

For more information on this in-depth look at unions and their role today in America, click the button below.

Heritage Foundation How Unions Work

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