|Collective bargaining is a process where the parties agree to administer and fix the terms and conditions of employment. / Photo by Damian Boeselager via Shutterstock|
Fifty-six percent of adults in the United States are sympathetic to labor movements and worker protests amid the worst string of layoffs and job loss on record, a new survey found.
Market research company Morning Consult’s polling shows that most adults in the United States strongly or somewhat support labor unions. Collective bargaining actions have a higher level of support among Democrats (70%) compared to Republicans (42%). The two are major political parties in the US.
Employees’ right to bargain collectively
Conducted between April 14 and 16, 2020, the poll comprised 2,200 adults. Online interviews were conducted and data were weighted to estimate the target sample of participants based on gender, age, race, region, and educational attainment. The survey found that 77% of US adults strongly or somewhat support the right of employees to bargain collectively for workplace conditions, like time off, health care, and pay. The support is evident in both parties, 86% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans.
The Labor Department shared that 22 million people in the US filed their jobless claims in the last four weeks before the Morning Consult’s poll. Also, frontline workers, particularly those who work in grocery stores and warehouses, have become more outspoken of their rights.
Tonya Ramsay, a 29-year-old Amazon’s employee, is one of the workers in the US who asserts her right in the workplace. Worried that her co-workers have been diagnosed with Covid-19, Ramsay and her colleagues walked off their job in April. They stood outside the warehouse, observed physical distance, and carried signs to appeal to the Amazon CEO to close the facility and allow paid leave for them so they wouldn’t exposure to the virus. Drivers of cars passing that street honked to support the workers’ cause.
Michigan, the state where the Amazon warehouse is located, is union territory, reports Bloomberg. However, the retail giant is not. The walkout made by Ramsay and colleagues shows the tense relationship of Amazon with its workforce. Employees at Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market similarly called for a sickout or an organized period of unwarranted sick leave taken as a form of group protest.
Amazon has reportedly managed to fend off organized labor in its warehouses for years through corporate anti-union tactics and perks aimed to reassure its workforce and its customers that Amazon is generous to its employees. However, Covid-19 armed the workforce with leverage to fight for their rights. “Our health is just as essential,” a protest sign reads outside the warehouse.
Target Workers Unite, an initiative run by rank and file American retail corporation Target, has also waged a massive sickout. “Target team members are engaging in a mass sickout and exercising our right to refuse unsafe work conditions as defined by the Occupational Safety and Hazards Act (OSHA),” they wrote on their page.
|Collective actions may be more difficult to achieve amid the pandemic too. / Photo by voy ager via Shutterstock|
Protective gear and hazard pay for essential workers
Underpaid and long overworked warehouse and food industry workers, including farmworkers, meatpackers, and grocery clerks, are now considered “essential.” Some of these unionized workers have already secured protective gear and hazard pay but there are still millions in the front lines that remain near or in poverty without adequate safety and healthcare protections. This is why they are striking back and emphasizing the struggles of low-wage employers laboring amid the hazards while corporations report profits and booming business.
Support for labor unions
The New York Times’ former labor journalist Steven Greenhouse explained that support for labor unions was historically high. Last year, support for labor unions reached the highest in more than 15 years. However, the Morning Consult poll found that support for labor unions usually decline during difficult economic times.
In general, labor movements are moving to white-collar jobs, gathering increased support from more Americans. A previous study conducted by Columbia University researchers, for instance, revealed that teacher strikes helped form a positive attitude to organized labor.
It remains unclear, though, whether the high support for unions will translate into an increase in the labor activity. Greenhouse said that a ton of employees in the US are upset that their employers are not doing enough to protect them and this creates increased support for labor unions in the country.
Workers also feel the danger of their work and those still working while others stay at home fear that if they fight or speak out their rights, it may get them in trouble. Collective actions may be more difficult to achieve amid the pandemic too. Some workers use the internet to organize because of the challenge it presents to stay six feet apart.
The International Labor Organization shares that the United States is one of the countries with the lowest collective bargaining coverage rate. Only 12% of employees are covered by one or more collective agreements in 2016. France has the highest collective bargaining coverage rate with 99% of employees covered by one or more collective agreements, followed by Austria (98%), Belgium (96%), Uruguay (95%), Iceland (90%), and Sweden (90%).
The ILO pointed out that it is crucial to ensure adequate working conditions as it determines, to a great extent, our living conditions too. One of the means to promote satisfactory working conditions is through social dialogue, including collective bargaining, dispute prevention and resolution, and negotiations.
Collective bargaining is a process where the parties agree to administer and fix the terms and conditions of employment. Many workers want collective bargaining and are also able to benefit from it.
In the United States, the right of workers to join together in unions and negotiate with their employees is protected by the constitution and law and is also supported by the majority of Americans. More than 16 million workers in the country, most represented by unions, are exercising this right.
Diverse union workers
Nonprofit Economic Policy Institute shares that about 10.6 million of the 16.3 million workers in the US covered by a union contract are people of color, either Asian, Hispanic, black, or other nonwhite workers.
Union workers also come from various sectors, the biggest (39.8%) share of them work in health services or education, 13.9% work in public administration, 12.2% in transportation and utilities, and 9.1% in manufacturing.
Giving workers a real voice in the workplace is important for a fair economy, especially now that the consequences of the global pandemic have led many organizations and firms to face difficult financial and moral decisions.