About this episode
Unions are making a comeback. Frustrated with pay, benefits, job security, and working conditions, Amazon workers in Staten Island and Starbucks employees across New York have opted to join unions and initiate collective bargaining with their employers, inspiring a wave of pro-union discussions and meetings among big retail workers across Canada and the US. Many believe that America’s dwindling union membership – down to 11.2% of the workforce compared a near 30% high in the 1950’s – is to blame for rising income inequality and wage stagnation. Organized labour, they argue, is an important tool in fighting corporate influence. They also strengthen workers’ rights, increase private and public sector employee bargaining power, and prevent companies from making low-income jobs obsolete via automation or offshore employment. In short, fewer unions mean lower pay for everybody.
Other economists argue that unions are not the answer to our current economic woes. Organized labour, they maintain, inflates the wages of a privilege few, while reducing economic output by tying job security and pay to seniority instead of productivity and skill, thereby punishing high-value workers. The 21st century, rather, demands a workforce that champions flexibility, individual bargaining power, and risk-taking on behalf of its workers. The answer to income inequality is to do away with unions and put more power back into the hand of the individual worker.