By GREGORY N. HEIRES
The decline of unions since the 1970s accounts for about a third of the growth in inequality in the United States — a gap that now mirrors the sharp economic divide of the Great Depression, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute.
During this period, wages of working families have largely stagnated as virtually all of production gains have gone to the wealthy and corporations.
This reality points to an important truth: When unions are strong,
all working families — not merely union households — are generally better off.
The positive impact of unions on our society is explored in “Strong Unions, Stronger Communities,” a recent report issued by DC 37’s parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
“The strength of labor unions is critical to fixing the rigged economy and political system by helping working families get ahead,” the report says. “Put simply: When unions are strong, communities are stronger.”
The AFSCME report highlights a number of cases in which unions and community activists worked together on campaigns to improve health care, education, public safety, literacy, job training opportunities and child protective services. Among the cases:•
• In 2014, the Fix LA Coalition was set up in response to a decline in public services over the years as the city cut the budget, reduced the municipal workforce by 5,000 and contracted out services. The group successfully fought for an agenda that included bringing back jobs to the city to help local communities and the hiring of 5,000 workers to improve public services.
• Nearly 3.5 million nurses will be needed in the United States by 2022. But while the need for nurses is increasing, the number of trained nurses is declining.
In New Jersey, an AFSCME local worked with employers, medical professionals and educators to develop an apprenticeship program to address the shortage of nurses.
• In 2016, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers in Minnesota worked with parents, students and community members in a successful fight for a contract that didn’t just focus on wages and benefits but also the needs of students.
After months of bargaining, the district’s negotiators abandoned the talks, sparking a public backlash and leading the union to schedule a strike.
City negotiators quickly returned to the table and the teachers won a contract that included provisions on school safety and called for the hiring of more counselors, nurses and social workers.
Other case studies in the AFSCME report show how community and union alliances worked together to provide books for children, prepare hospitals and airports to respond to the Ebola virus, and fight for patient protections.
This article was previously published in Publice
Employee Press, the official publication of District Council 37.