Why California Politics Is Different from the Rest of the Country
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“Our still-struggling economy, weak laws and political as well as ideological assaults have taken a toll on union membership and in the process have also imperiled economic security and good, middle-class jobs,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
In 2012, private sector union workers fell to 6.6 percent from 6.9 percent in 2011. In the 1950s, this number peaked at approximately 35 percent. As for the public sector, union membership fell to 35.9 percent from 37 percent in 2011. In fact, the slash to government jobs resulted in more than half (234,000) of the union job losses last year.
States with new “right to work for less” laws, like Michigan and Indiana, as well as states that limited bargaining rights like Wisconsin, had a dramatic drop in union membership.
William Spriggs, the AFL-CIO’s chief economist told the New York Times: “Our labor laws do not favor unions organizing.… It would be one thing to say we’re bellyaching, but the Republican Party is really being vindictive against unions, and employers campaign very hard against workers unionizing.”
But from the Walmart rallies to the Chicago Teachers Union strike, workers have proven last year that they will fight back. And union members see clear benefits. In 2012, union members made, on average, $943 a week, compared with $742 for non-union members. Organizers say another key to resistance is framing workers’ rights in a larger context.
David Johnson, organizing director of the California Nurses Association, which added five new hospitals last year, told the Huffington Post: "To be successful in organizing unions in the United States in 2013…there has to be a broader vision set forth so that people see unions and the labor movement as an answer to the corporate domination and the Wall Street greed that has devastated our country."
The California Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United, has also played a large role in why California has seen an increase of union members. In fact, CNA has continuously increased membership over the last few years as it advocates for a more just society.
RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United, said the union is committed to advocating for an end to poverty and is therefore against any cuts to Social Security and Medicare. DeMoro said, “This is a good time to draw the links between income, healthcare, and Social Security and Medicare, perhaps the two most effective anti-poverty programs ever enacted in the U.S.”
But times are always changing. With increasing right-wing attacks on unions as well as a changing workforce, unions must come up with new ways of organizing. California’s bucking of the national trend of declining union membership gives labor hope. If union organizers nationwide can harness the growing Latino population as well as frame workers’ rights as a means to a more equitable world, they may be able to be a stronger force in helping hundred of thousands of Americans stay out of poverty.