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Happy Holidays: GOP Delivers Uncertainty to Middle Class

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For the next quarter century, unions and the nation’s great middle class blossomed. By 1960, a third of the nation’s workers were unionized. Unions bargained successfully for certainty for their members – for work weeks limited to 40 hours, for good wages, for safe workplaces, for benefits like health insurance and pensions. Labor organizations helped all workers because industries without unions strove to match union wages and benefits. In those days, families had the certainty required to buy a home, see a doctor and send kids to college.

But Republican-sponsored amendments to the Wagner Act weakened unions, including one in 1947 that allowed states to outlaw union security clauses. Now just under 12 percent of workers are represented. And the GOP is working on getting that number into the single digits, as it was in the days of robber barons.

Income inequality already matches that in the robber baron era. In the nearly 30 years between 1979 and 2007, income for the richest 1 percent grew 275 percent. For the bottom 20 percent, it grew just 18 percent. For the vast middle, wages stagnated, and in the past dozen years, their income – median income – declined 8.9 percent from $54,932 to $50,054.

Laws banning union security clauses will worsen that situation. In union insecurity states, the average workers’ wages are $1,500 a year lower and the typical worker is less likely to receive health insurance or a pension than their counterparts in states that give workers and employers the freedom to negotiate union security clauses.

Republicans in Michigan were gleeful last week. But Republicans in Ohio were jolly when they thought they smashed public sector unions there. An unintended consequence of Republicans attempting to destroy Ohio’s unions was that it prompted an angry workforce to organize politically to overturn the union-busting law, and that Ohio organization a year later helped re-elect union supporter Barack Obama.

The 12,000 who marched in Lansing last week to protest union busting will now make sure that Michigan’s union insecurity law has consequences for the Republicans who voted to deepen middle class uncertainty.