2015 July - September President's Perspective: Perhaps there is support for Unions after all?

Published: Oct 21 2015 9:37AM



This August, a Gallup poll revealed that 58 percent of Americans approve of labor unions. It was welcoming news for organized labor — a positive turn of public opinion from just six years ago, when the same polling company found only 48 percent supported unions (Gallup poll, 2009).

The newest polling coincided with the August 24th stock market nose dive, billed as “Manic Monday,” where the Dow Jones took a plunge of 1,100 points in the first few minutes of trading. Markets are prone to peaks and valleys, but “Manic Monday” shook up Wall Street traders, who remain weak in the knees from the Great Recession of 2007.

There is a corresponding theme to the volatility of the stock market and the American public’s renewed faith in unions. In an economy that is rigged to benefit only the rich, where real wages have stagnated for decades, and meager savings accounts have been tapped in order to stay afloat, the average American worker is worried about never reaching the finish line.

The Baby Boom generation is approaching retirement age. Estimates are approximately 77 million Boomers are within sight of retirement, at least age-wise. Financially set for retirement? Well, that’s an entirely different story.

You probably know some Boomers who have retired on their Railroad pensions. After 30, 40, even 50 years working on the tracks, their day finally arrived. A party was thrown, hugs and perhaps even tears were shed, and that Brother was sent off to enjoy the spoils of his or her Railroad Retirement. Everyone who has ever picked up a spike maul has looked ahead to the day their retirement becomes reality. But, when it comes to retirement, we are the fortunate ones.

Far too many Americans — hard-working, talented, responsible, dedicated people — are living in financial instability. Working paycheck to paycheck, saving is all but impossible and retirement is out of reach. Opponents of defined pension plans, like our Railroad Retirement system, argue that prudent saving and strategic investment can replicate and replace pensions. However, that assumption is predicated on making enough money to save and invest, as well as having a stable and reliable stock market.

Unfortunately, pensions have disappeared for most Americans — replaced, in best cases, with more volatile 401Ks and IRAs, or in the case of underpaid workers, nothing at all. For decades now, more and more American workers are facing the reality that their retirements are uncertain. For some, retirement may never arrive.

Wisconsin Governor and notorious Union hater Scott Walker’s campaign for President of the United States lasted a scant 70 days. Less than a week after delivering what he hoped would be a campaign revitalizing anti-Labor stump speech, doubling down on his reputation for Union busting, Walker’s poll numbers continued their nose dive into “no-chanceville.” (“No-chance-ville” is in a right-to-work state, by the way). Walker’s calling card as America’s top Union buster not only got him zero traction in the race for the Republican nomination, it propelled him even further down the drain. I think that is particularly noteworthy.

For many American workers, it is rough going out there. Our organized railroad jobs are some of the best working class opportunities in the entire country. This does not go unnoticed to those who are stuck in jobs without Union representation. I truly believe that most Americans do not view Unions as an “enemy.” They recognize that Unions exist to help the middle class. The ever-quick demise of Scott Walker’s presidential campaign is evidence of this. I suggest that the remaining Presidential candidates take note of it. Union busting is a losing strategy.