Considering that the US arguably has the bloodiest history of labor of any industrialized nation on Earth, and the role organized labor has played in ensuring rights for workers as well as confronting child labor, pushing for a 35-hour work week and helping establish the country's first minimum wage legislation, it is impossible to understate unions' continued necessity in the anti-worker business environment which characterizes 21st Century America. The Bush-appointed NLRB, which in principle should exist as a redress for workers mistreated by their employers, has been stacked so heavily with anti-labor members as to render it useless as a arbitrator and enforcer of workers' rights.
The article cites a study by John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer at the Center for Economic and Policy Research which found that one in five union organizers can expect to be fired during an organizing drive. From the study, we learn that:
According to the NLRB data . . . since about 2000, pro-union workers involved in union-election campaigns have seen a substantial increase in their likelihood of being fired illegally. In the 1970s, a pro-union worker involved in a union-organizing campaign faced about a 1-in-100 chance of being fired illegally. The probability of being fired reached its historical peak in the first half of the 1980s, with about 1-in-42 pro-union workers being fired illegally..
From the second half of the 1980s through the second half of the 1990s, the likelihood of a being fired declined steadily but remained high, reaching about 1-in-87 pro-union workers by the end of the period. From 2000 on, however, the likelihood that a pro-union worker would be fired in a union-election campaign has jumped sharply --to about 1 in every 53 pro-union workers
And according to Baker and Maxwell:
Without a union, workers have few rights at the workplace. Employers can fire workers at almost any time for almost any reason -just ask the 3,400 Circuit City employees the company plans to lay off and replace with cheaper workers. While good employers will treat workers with respect, even if they don’t have a union, many workers are not fortunate enough to have good employers. That is why more than 20 million workers don’t have health insurance, and nearly a quarter of the workforce has no paid vacation or paid time off. These workers can be told by their employer that they must come to work on Thanksgiving or Christmas, or they won’t have a job the following day.
Union workers are far more likely to have paid time off, health care and pensions than their nonunion counterparts. They also tend to earn better wages. The decline in unions is one of the key factors that led to the enormous upward redistribution of income over the last quarter-century. Finally, union workers don’t have to worry about being fired because their boss is in a bad mood.
See also this briefing paper from the Economic Policy Institute from 2003 on "How Unions Help All Workers". Here are just a few examples of how unions benefit working Middle Class Americans:
1. Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%.
2. Unions reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low- and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree.
3. Strong unions set a pay standard that nonunion employers follow. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries.
4. The impact of unions on total nonunion wages is almost as large as the impact on total union wages.
5. The most sweeping advantage for unionized workers is in fringe benefits. Unionized workers are more likely than their nonunionized counterparts to receive paid leave, are approximately 18% to 28% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are 23% to 54% more likely to be in employer-provided pension plans.
6. Unionized workers receive more generous health benefits than nonunionized workers. They also pay 18% lower health care deductibles and a smaller share of the costs for family coverage. In retirement, unionized workers are 24% more likely to be covered by health insurance paid for by their employer.
7. Unionized workers receive better pension plans. Not only are they more likely to have a guaranteed benefit in retirement, their employers contribute 28% more toward pensions.
8. Unionized workers receive 26% more vacation time and 14% more total paid leave (vacations and holidays).
Finally, unions play a pivotal role both in securing legislated labor protections and rights such as safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and in enforcing those rights on the job. Because unionized workers are more informed, they are more likely to benefit from social insurance programs such as unemployment insurance and workers compensation. Unions are thus an intermediary institution that provides a necessary complement to legislated benefits and protections.