LETTER: Unions have accomplished muchI first became aware of the benefits of union membership in 1967 when I was a freshman in college working as the assistant manager of a local theater. I was paid 80 cents per hour, which was below minimum wage.
To the Editor:
I first became aware of the benefits of union membership in 1967 when I was a freshman in college working as the assistant manager of a local theater. I was paid 80 cents per hour, which was below minimum wage.
Theater owners had successfully lobbied the state legislature to exclude theater workers from the minimum wage law. But the guys working in the projection booth were unionized and paid in excess of $3 an hour.
I knew this because I did the payroll each week. I quit the theater and went to work for a highway construction company, a union job. My hourly wage jumped from 80 cents to $4.10. In today’s dollars that was like going from $5.50 per hour to $28 per hour.
The 25 years after World War II were the high point in union membership in America. Approximately 40 percent of private-sector employees were union members. The middle class grew, productivity soared and median household incomes rose by 102 percent.
Since then, private sector union membership has dropped below 7 percent and with it the percentage of economic reward that lands in the pockets of middle class workers. In 1955, the 10 percent of the population at the top of the economic ladder earned one third of the nation’s income.
In 2007, with depleted union membership, the top 10 percent enjoy half of the financial rewards. Top executives and shareholders take home more while the portion left over for the average worker continues to shrink.
The evisceration of labor unions by conservative politicians and powerful business interests is a concerted campaign and one of the main reasons why middle class incomes have been in decline for 30 years. If and when the labor unions of America become extinct, well-paid middle income workers will become a phenomenon of the past.