More NLRB violations for UPMC

UPMC workers up in armsIn the ongoing battle between healthcare giant UPMC and workers seeking to unionize, an Administrative Law Judge recently found that UPMC engaged in unfair labor practices in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act by:

1. Denying non-employee organizers access to its cafeteria by causing the police to remove them while permitting other visitors and guests of hospital personnel to use the cafeteria, 

2. Engaging in the surveillance of conversations and meetings between employees and union organizers,

3. Engaging in the surveillance of employees meeting with union organizers by requiring employees to produce identification,

4. Discriminatorily prohibiting employees from wearing union insignia in patient care areas while permitting employees to wear insignia regarding other entities not related to the hospital in patient care areas,

5. Prohibiting employees from wearing union insignia in non-patient care areas,

6. Discriminatorily prohibiting employees from posting union materials on its bulletin boards while allowing the ESS employee council to post materials on its bulletin boards,

7. Coercively interrogating employees regarding their union activities,

8. Threatening to discipline employees for refusing to participate in an unlawful interrogation,

9. Impliedly threatening an employee with a poor evaluation because of her union activities,

10. Instructing employees they were not allowed to post any union materials on bulletin boards,

11. Coercively requiring employees to write a statement regarding their union activities, and,

12. Demanding employees’ consent to be photographed and photographing employees engaged in union activity without proper justification.

Attack on unions creates two Americas – one rich, one struggling

The level of inequality — which fell during the New Deal but has risen dramatically since the late 1970s — corresponds to the rise and fall of Unions in the United States. Take a look at this graph showing  union membership and the income share claimed by the richest 10 percent of Americans over time. As union membership has fallen to around 1920s levels, economic inequality has worsened substantially.

GraphUnions help workers achieve higher wages. Union members in the United States earn significantly more than non-union workers. Over the four-year period between 2004 and 2007, unionized workers’ wages were on average 11.3 percent higher than non-union workers with similar characteristics. That means that, all else equal, American workers that join a union will earn 11.3 percent more — or $2.26 more per hour in 2008 dollars — than their otherwise identical non-union counterparts.

Unions help ensure that American workers’ wages grow with their productivity. Workers helped the economy grow during this time period by becoming ever more productive, but they received only a small share of the new wealth they helped create. Throughout the middle part of the 20th century when unions were stronger, American workers generated economic growth by increasing their productivity, and they were rewarded with higher wages. But this link between greater productivity and higher wages has broken down.

Prior to the 1980s, productivity gains and workers’ wages moved in tandem: as workers produced more per hour, they saw a commensurate increase in their earnings. Yet wages and productivity growth have decoupled since the late 1970s. Looking from 1980 to 2008, nationwide worker productivity grew by 75.0 percent, while workers’ inflation-adjusted average wages increased by only 22.6 percent, which means that workers were compensated for only 30.2 percent of their productivity gains.

The cost of benefits — especially health insurance — has increased over time and now accounts for a greater share of total compensation than in the past, but this increase is nowhere near enough to account for the discrepancy between wage and productivity growth. For example, according to analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, between 1973 and 2006 the share of labor compensation in the form of benefits rose from 12.6 percent to 19.5 percent.

If American workers were rewarded for 100 percent of their increases in labor productivity between 1980 and 2008 — as they were during the middle part of the 20th century — average wages would be $28.53 per hour —42.7 percent higher than the average real wage in 2008.

Slow wage growth has squeezed the middle class and contributed to rising inequality. But increasing union coverage rates could likely reverse these trends as more Americans would benefit from the union wage premium and receive higher wages. If unionization rates were the same now as they were in 1983 and the current union wage premium remained constant, new union workers would earn an estimated $49.0 billion more in wages and salaries per year. If union coverage rates increased by just 5 percentage points over current levels, newly unionized workers would earn an estimated $25.5 billion more in wages and salaries per year. Non-union workers would also benefit as employers would likely raise wages to match what unions would win in order to avoid unionization.

War on the middle class

“Right-to-work” laws weaken unions by making them provide services to union and nonunion members alike, without making all beneficiaries pay their fair share. By severely weakening unions, which are vital to strengthening the middle class and improving the economy, “right-to-work” laws have broad negative consequences.  Here are the key facts you need to know about unions’ value for the economy and the middle class.

1. Unionization increases income, not just for union workers but also for the entire middle class. A study conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund controlled for a host of other factors that also impact the strength of a state’s middle class—such as education, unemployment, and types of industries—and found that if unionization rates increased by 10 percentage points, the typical middle-class household, unionized or not, would earn $1,501 more each year. To put that figure in perspective, we found that a 10 percentage-point increase in the share of the population with a college degree would increase the average middle-class income by $1,664 a year.

2. In non-“right-to-work” states, workers are more likely to receive employer-provided health insurance and pensions. Workers in “right-to-work” states are significantly less likely to receive employer-provided health insurance and pensions. If benefits coverage in non-“right-to-work” states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide.

3. Unions improve workplace policies and have beneficial policy effects more broadly. Unions advocate for broader worker protections needed for families to make human-capital investments—strong public education, social safety nets, minimum wages, paid leave, and even civil rights and efficient regulation.

4. Unions balance structures of power in the workplace, resulting in greater efficiency. Unions support high-productivity workplaces where information can flow from the bottom-up to improve business performance.

5. “Right-to-work” legislation fails to grow state economies. The laws have failed to increase employment growth in the 23 states that have adopted them, and in states more recently adopting “right-to-work” policies, employment growth and business relocations have reversed their previous expanding trends. In other words, the economic evidence shows that unions and union membership—not “right-to-work” laws—are what are conducive to broad economic growth.

6. Unions strengthen businesses and the economically vital middle class by giving workers a voice in both the workplace and our democracy. Unions do this by pushing for fair wages and good benefits, and also by encouraging citizens to advocate for middle-class-friendly policies such as a strong Social Security system and family-leave benefits.