SOUND OFF: Labor Day, a Day to Remember the Worker, if not the Union

The holiday we celebrate as Labor Day began as a recognition of the American worker, and was begun with campaigns by labor unions.

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day celebration, a day to celebrate the American worker, the unions that represent many American workers are reviled.

Too strong a word? Not really. Many Americans now blame organized labor for rising government budgets, and taxes, for the out-sourcing of jobs to other countries.

Opponents say unions today have grown too powerful, are hampering progress in areas including public education.

Proponents say labor unions ensure that workers are not taken advantage of by employers, in areas including salary, benefits and workplace safety.

A common slogan among organized labor proponents goes something like this: Thank a union if you enjoy your two-day weekend, and a 40-hour work week.

As we start out on the long, Labor Day weekend, what are your thoughts on unions? Do they belong to the past, or are they as relevant today as ever?

Jim Rizoli August 31, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Unions are bankrupting our country. So the union members are happy but our town/city bank accounts aren't. It's all going to come back to haunt them. When there is NO money left what will they do then? I'm not against unions but am against going into bankruptcy. Jim@ccfiile.com
David August 31, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Labor Unions had a purpose in the earlier part of the last century, but now that we have OSHA, Worker's Comp. and Federal Labor Laws, the Union has become an albatross to the american economy. Labor costs are always higher for such industries as manufacturing, transportation, construction and state governments. It slows economic growth and extorts higher wages by threatening to strike.
David Nolta August 31, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Unions are like the people who constitute them--they can be good, bad, reasonable, irrational, corrupt, humane, just, etc. That unions are necessary seems clear when you stop and consider what it was like for laborers in virtually ANY field, from teaching to mining to manufacturing to shopkeeping to movie-making, BEFORE there were unions. Unions in essence keep people from being exploited and forced into poverty by their employers.
Jim Rizoli August 31, 2012 at 08:39 PM
The unions now are he ones doing the exploiting. Jim@ccfiile.com
Mike August 31, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I agree, at one point Labor Unions had their place but not anymore. I know someone who manages people that are part of a union. They are so over protected it’s ridiculous. You have to walk on egg shells around them or they file a grievance. Ridiculous.
Ed Bertorelli August 31, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Unions have evolved into virtual ATMs for the Democrat Party-supplying tens of millions of dollars to Dems. statewide and nationally. Individual members have no choice in who their union endorses and little choice in how their dues money is spent or in the past case of the Teamsters- misspent. Public employee unions are very powerful-having grown as government has expanded. An article in USA Today several months ago said that Federal Gov't Employees have better odds at dying on the job than ever getting disciplined for misconduct. Stories abound on Federal employees misusing credit cards. A lot of people blogged on why there are so many Dems. in Mass-well one major reason is the huge number of public employee union members- they know where their bread is buttered.
David Nolta August 31, 2012 at 09:38 PM
And without unions, there was no such thing as job security, and little incentive among employers to allow workers to rise in their chosen fields. There was rampant discrimination and harassment, poverty-level wages for hardworking people (teachers, police, fire, etc.), favoritism and nepotism trumped work, and violence was regularly perpetrated against the workers by the employers--sometimes with the blessing of government. You have forgotten what life was like before unions existed in this country. The corruption was all one-sided then! And not on the side of the worker.
David Nolta August 31, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Oooh, Ed. Give me the pin number!!!
Milford Senior Man September 01, 2012 at 12:22 AM
If you like your weekends, you can thank unions. Because before unions we worked seven days a week. Our life expectancy was about 30yrs less. Employers hired goons like Pinkerton to beat the hell out of any person who did not tow the mark. Workers got killed and maimed in industrial accidents and their families got nothing. Safety? there was no safety in the workplace until the unions fought for it. The unions fought for health care and in some cases a pension. Get angry at the C.E.O's who make millions while running a company into the ground.
Joe Rizoli September 01, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Unions at first did stand up for the regular person but I have heard horror stories of some of the things they do now. My union at the school system where I work is useless. It has turned into a place for protecting the favorites, got rid of seniority, has a contract that only protects the School and is run by a bunch of nitwits, doesn't have email, and doesn't even have a lawyer on call. so tell me about unions. Joe Rizoli
David Nolta September 01, 2012 at 04:13 AM
EXCELLENT points, Milford Senior Man. I wish I'd said that!
Danielle Lizotte September 01, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Go back and read "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. Unions have vastly improved the quality of life for so many and brought some justice to the exploitations of the robber barons. That being said, some labor unions went beyond creating fairness and began to abuse their power. It isn't a perfect system and probably should be replaced with more employee ownership models. Still, we can't discount how labor unions moved our citizens a step futher away from the feudal system. Many of the people who fought for the right to bargain were courageous and some people paid dearly for questioning the "job making" class.
Proud Resident of Northborough September 01, 2012 at 01:25 PM
No one has said that unions didn’t once have their place. At one time those who owned the business' were free from any governmental oversight. They pretty much had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. Many took advantage of that climate and created horrible working conditions. When unions first organized, they forced management to improve working conditions and to stop abuses. Today, the view is much different. We have official oversight over every facet of employment. You have OSHA, Labor Laws, EEO quotas, Child Labor laws, etc. Big Brother has taken over the role of making sure that workers are safe and treated fairly. Today, unions chief function is to be the point of the spear when it comes to collective bargaining. Through strength in numbers, they are able to hold management hostage and artificially inflate wages. Union membership has been able to force both public and private entities to provide unsustainable benefits while the rest of us were limited to more modest increases, or none at all. As a result, they have forced many industries to either go overseas, or to severely curtail their output. The end result being that they cost jobs, rather than create or protect them. While unions once had a place in our society, that no longer is the case. They are now viewed as being counter productive and a chief catalyst for what ails us today.
Penny James September 01, 2012 at 01:40 PM
The Unions were definetly a necessity in the past, however, there days are gone. I'm currently in the teachers union without choice. The union protects and coddles BAD teachers and does not represent most of us who are true educators.
Danielle Lizotte September 01, 2012 at 01:55 PM
I agree that labor unions have flaws and the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of overprotecting incompetent hacks. But don't think for one second that forced are not hard at work at all times trying to dismantle all the worker protection agencies and laws we have in place. Countering the efforts of coroorations and big agribusiness is one task where unions still do most of the fighting.
Justin Taverna September 02, 2012 at 01:19 AM
The country isn't bankrupt because of the unions. The country is bankrupt because the banks loaned moneyto people who couldn't pay them back (for different reasons) and corporate heads outsourcing jobs to the lowest bidder. People act as if the unions have served there purpose and now we don't need them but once they're gone it will go right back to the way it was before.
David Nolta September 02, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I totally agree with Justin and Milford Senior Man--People forget pretty fast in this country--and then they pay for everything all over again. Unions are subject to the same abuses as the people in them--but they are the only protection for working people. There should be more of them--they are one of the things that makes the American Dream possible (unless your dream is to be a corporate executive, run the company into the ground, ruin the lives of your workers, and leave the building with a 60-million-dollar payoff).
Dan Fredonia September 02, 2012 at 07:40 PM
I just love how some people scapegoat the unions as a whole and say that they are "destroying the country" or that they are ruining america economically, like it's some huge looming socalist entity. In fact, only 11.8 percent (14.8 million) of the workforce is union. That's down from 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, when the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers. This is according to the US Dept of Labor's board of statistics report last year. * And I'll echo other setiments here where just like ANY entity, there are flaws in the system. But unions as a whole are important in protecting the american worker (and I'm not even IN one but recognize the need for fair treatment of workers). And please don't try to sell me on the ficticious notion that 11.8 percent is ruining the 88.2 percent of america. * http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm
Dave Lenane September 03, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Dave, can't help but notice you are using the past tense when alluding to the unions. Does that mean you agree that the times for Unions have passed?
Dave Lenane September 03, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Anybody know anybody that gets a pension anymore? Besides some government hack?
Dave Lenane September 03, 2012 at 09:57 PM
arnold September 03, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Now its the unions that act like goons against any person that doesn't tow the mark. And now the union leaders are the ones with the bloated salaries and benefits all at the expense of the very people they claim to represent. Get angry at the union leaders who are shafting their members, forcing them to pay their dues to support politicians who advance positions that contrary to their interests like granting amnesty to Illegals who will undercut their pay and jobs. Like Jamie Eldridge.
arnold September 03, 2012 at 11:22 PM
The banks loaned them the money because they were forced to by the government who told them if they didn't they would be subject to discrimination complaints. Once they found out they didn't have to hold on to the mortgages themselves but could dump them on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and stick the taxpayers with the garbage the die was cast. You can thank our own Barney Frank for this.
David Nolta September 04, 2012 at 01:41 AM
No, I am still very much in favor of unions--and I am in favor of oversight, too. The corruption that some people equate with some unions is, to my mind, nothing compared to the widespread corruption and exploitation that were available to large-scale employers (including governments)--going all the way back to the ancien regime! A tradition of powerlessness among working people that is another of the many things people conveniently and increasingly choose to forget since the 1950's. I am for unions, and I am for them being regulated.
Dave Lenane September 04, 2012 at 08:17 AM
Dave, This is just my opinion, but all unions are today are big corporations. Did the Unions work in Wisconsin? Did Obama fulfill his promise to get out there on the picket lines with those voters? How about the Unions in professional sports? Would you say they are doing their job? The time for Unions have passed. Massachusetts has Labor laws that protect the basic rights of workers. I am not in a Union, and I have a GREAT paying job with benefits that make most people jealous, including my wife. This isn't "The Jungle" anymore.
Deb Spence September 04, 2012 at 03:34 PM
There seems to be a dichotomy here where people want smaller government yet cite the government for protecting workers rights. If major corporations had their way they would dismantle OSHA and EEO and all of the other regulations they believe stifles competition. Corporations didn't send jobs overseas because of union costs, they sent them overseas because no one in America can afford to live on the salaries that foreign workers can live on. As more and more corporations become public and CEOs are responsible to profits for investors, the workers suffer. Yes there are some companies out there that do well by their workers but many do not. The pension used to be a large selling point for employers but not so much now. Time will tell how well the stock market holds up for those who depend upon it for retirement. Honor and respect the workers. They deserve it !
Will Oliveira September 04, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Deb, the 401k was introduced in the late 1970's, offloading pension responsibilities of corporations to the individual and the results are starting to come in. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 60% of workers 55 and older have less than $100k saved for retirement. Only 22% of workers in that group have $250k or more. It seems that as pensions have declined, so has the middle class.
Jim Rizoli September 04, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Too much corruption and the members are the ones who suffer for it. Jim@ccfiile.com
Paul Bishop September 04, 2012 at 05:38 PM
David- I worked for one of the largest employers in the area, Fidelity Investments. Certain portions of their operations are unionized, and those areas avoid events like those that occurred to me. You see, in Massachusetts, it *IS* "Legal" to preferentially select (and add to rolls due to) employees with disabilities for Layoff. My position was not eliminated, I was replaced by a NEW HIRE "healthy employee" and subsequently my medical insurance and disability insurance was taken by legal wrangling by the corporation while I was literally fighting for my life, never mind the financial security of my family. What occurred to me would simply not have occurred had I had a union to represent me and my basic human rights... "Legal" or not.
David Nolta September 04, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Congratulations, Dave, on having a great job. And it's good that you feel sufficiently protected by the Massachusetts labor laws. A lot of people, however--more and more--do not enjoy the benefits you claim, have poorly-paying jobs with little or no security, and certainly have nothing to compare with the salaries of people in professional sports. I am talking about librarians, nurses, school teachers, bricklayers, police and fire workers, janitors, etc. And to say that their unions are like big corporations is to betray an insensitivity to their struggle for decent wages and working conditions (it is SO still a jungle out there, for others if not for you), not to mention an inexplicable denial of the way so many REAL corporations treat their workers--even worse than their shareholders--and not a long time ago, but especially throughout the past two decades--in other words, NOW.


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