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Treasury touts labor unions during ‘summer of strikes’

A new report from the Treasury Department is singing the praises of labor unions as several high-profile strikes and labor contract negotiations reverberate across the economy.

The report situated unions within the concept of the middle class and found that unions help to raise wages and benefits for workers and have economic “spillover effects” that lead to improved social norms.

5 big questions about the ‘summer of strikes’

“Union workers have been the backbone of America’s middle class, and yet for too long the contributions of union workers have not been fully appreciated,” Vice President Harris, who serves as the head of the White House task force on worker organizing, said about the Treasury’s findings on a call with reporters Monday.

The report lauds many social knock-on effects of unionization, including improved health and safety standards, pay increases within industries that affect nonunion workers, and heightened democratic activity.

“Unionization … has spillover effects that extend well beyond union workers,” according to the report.

“Heightened workplace safety norms can pull up whole industries. Union members improve their communities through heightened civic engagement; they are more likely to vote, donate to charity, and participate in a neighborhood project.”

The Biden administration has often had positive things to say about unions even as it has worked against union wishes on some notable occasions.

Teamsters ratify new UPS contract, avoid massive strike

A railroad strike at the end of last year was narrowly avoided after the administration and Congress got involved, leaving many railroad workers angry and frustrated.

“A disruption to our nation’s economy and supply chain has been averted. But the Senate also voted to reject the bill that would provide paid sick leave for all railroad workers. This leaves me baffled, exasperated, and deeply saddened,” Tony Cardwell, a railroad union president, said in a statement in December.

Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien also asked the White House not to intervene if union-represented UPS employees went on strike before they eventually struck a new contract with the powerful shipping company.

Following a period of high inflation that was triggered by the pandemic and has led to a cost-of-living crisis for many Americans, popularity for unions has hit its highest level since 1965.

More than 70 percent of Americans now approve of labor unions, a Gallup poll found last year. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen described her agency’s report Monday as “the administration’s latest action to strengthen the important role of labor unions in our economy.”

“It’s the Treasury Department’s first major effort to lay out the rationale for why we think this is so important,” she said.

Despite the approval from the Treasury toward organized labor, union membership has been in long-term decline. The percentage of wage-earning workers who are members of unions was 10.1 percent in 2022, half of what it was in 1983 when data on membership was first recorded.

Still, unions have been grabbing the spotlight this summer and forcing a national conversation on labor.

UAW workers vote to strike against Big Three automakers if they don’t get ‘fair deal’

“Any platform you can get to show and demonstrate how important it is to take care of our working people, take care of the working class and hold corporate America accountable — that’s a great platform to be in,” O’Brien told The Hill in an interview in July.

Strikes in the entertainment industry have also been highly visible, with productions of U.S. films and television shows shutting down even as summer blockbusters have attracted audiences.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — a negotiating cartel among ostensible competitors in the media market — hired a new “crisis [public relations] firm,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, showing anxiety among studios.

“Look who’s running Hollywood. You got Amazon, you got Netflix, you’ve got all these corporate companies, global companies, right? Do you think they care about the workers? No. They care about the bottom line and their balance sheet,” O’Brien said.

To what extent the administration’s views on unions take hold within the economy remains to be seen, but they represent a significant departure from the previous Republican presidential administration, which discouraged union membership by canceling the tax deductibility of union dues in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Source: The Hill

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