President Barack Obama argued during a speech to Detroit autoworkers Wednesday that collective action through labor unions is critical for workplace fairness.
“The attacks on unions have been going on for a long time,” the president said. “And when union participation is down, workers have less leverage to get a raise. The fact that companies can move because of increased technology means more global competition.”
The president highlighted how much the economy has improved in the last few years but noted more must be done. He claimed his policies have put the country on the right track and hopes people have confidence in the direction it is headed. He also warned, however, that automation and unions losing power have put workers at risk.
“Now, this is a union facility,” the president noted. “So you know the importance of secure health benefits and secure retirement benefits. But not everybody in this new economy has that. So real security in this new economy, in addition to encouraging workers to join together so they have a voice and some leverage, also means benefits and protections you can count on.”
Unions have struggled with declining membership rates for decades. While their approval was able to jumped to 58 percent in August, membership rates continue to fall. One possible issue is that unions may not be as critical for workplace protections as they once were. Employers and the government provide many of the benefits unions used to fight for.
“We’re going to work side by side to make sure more folks got jobs,” he concluded. “And more folks got better wages and benefits, and more people have the ability to join a union when they want to, and more people are able to start businesses, and more people have health benefits, and more companies are thriving.”
The decline in membership has prompted action by the Obama administration. The Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board have both made efforts to change decades worth of labor laws. The changes, some have argued, benefits unions while hurting employers and their workers.
The changes include shortening the amount of time union elections are held and new overtime rules along with a new rule which some argue could undermine the franchise model and contracting. The changes to contracting make it easier for large corporations to be considered employers over the small companies they contract with rather than those small companies being considered their own operations. It’s easier for the union to organize one large employer as opposed to multiple smaller companies.
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