What Unions Really Should Have Said in New Ad Campaign

Union workersDo you belong to a union? If so, you're one of a dying breed: As The New York Times reported last year, union membership has sunk to less than 12% of all workers, its lowest level in 70 years. Looking at last year's headlines, it isn't hard to see why: Between public-sector union fights in Wisconsin and Ohio, attacks against unions from politicians across the country, and Wall Street Journal editorials accusing them of fomenting class warfare, it would appear that 2011 was the year for scapegoating organized labor.

On Tuesday, the unions fought back by launching a $1.5 million ad campaign that they unveiled in Pittsburgh and Austin, and that will soon spread to several other cities. The centerpiece is "Work Connects Us All," a slick commercial featuring firemen, teachers, cooks, and a various other stereotypical laborers as an NPR-toned narrator mouths platitudes like "Work is what shakes us awake every morning ... and knocks us out every night." Here's the video:

At first glance, it's not a bad ad. After all, the unemployment rate is hovering around 8.5%, the "underemployment" rate tops 15%, and there are approximately 6 million long-term unemployed who aren't counted in the official unemployment figures because they've given up looking for a job. Selling "work" in this environment is like trying to convince a starving man that sandwiches are mighty tasty.

So, unions have linked themselves to an idea sure to draw plenty of support. The problem, as critics will undoubtedly point out, is that "work" and "unions" are not synonymous. On the other side of the argument, advocates of right-to-work policies claim that unions increase unemployment by making workers less competitive in the global market. For that matter, union concessions like two-tiered wage scale systems -- in which new hires get paid far less than their predecessors -- have been hailed as the salvation of Detroit's auto industry, and a major factor in the creation of new jobs. In other words, when unions get out of the way, opponents argue, work becomes more widely available.

What Unions Actually Do for You

A more effective way for unions to draw support would be to respond directly to the claims leveled against them. For example, while right-to-work fans argue that unions increase unemployment, there's a considerable body of evidence to suggest that they actually boost employment, as well as the average standard of living. According to Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, Oklahoma's right-to-work policies resulted in a steady rise in unemployment, an average income drop of about $1,500, and skimpier benefits packages for workers. And the impact extends far beyond union members: A 2011 study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress showed that the ten states with the lowest union membership -- North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas -- also have the weakest middle classes. Conversely, where union wages increase, the study showed, so do non-union wages.

And if unions want to cast the net a little wider, they can take justifiable credit for a variety of work benefits that most Americans today take for granted. Among other things, unions helped bring about minimum wage laws, the 40-hour work week, the end of child labor, and the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which makes it possible for new mothers to take time off to care for their babies.

But perhaps the best way for unions to make the case for their worth would be to use the It's a Wonderful Life approach: Offer Americans a glimpse of what life would be like if unions had never existed. They wouldn't have to look far: 1911's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 workers, illustrates the tragedies that can result from poor workplace conditions, and the 2010 fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed 28 garment workers shows that the issue is still relevant today. Side note: the Bangladesh factory makes clothes for Gap (GPS), Sears (SHLD), Target (TGT), and several other American retailers that used to employ union labor, but outsourced the work to countries where unions are persecuted and worker protections aren't on the books.

For anyone who works in America -- and enjoys its worker protections -- unions should be a pretty easy sell. Of course, it would help if the unions could learn to better market their message.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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The best cure for employee abuse is not union boss abuse, but the free market. El Condenado (no Salvador he) Allende totally wrecked Chile's economy with abusive "pro-union" and so-called "pro-poor" measures without any help from Anaconda or any other multinational or the CIA either. Free-market reforms introduced shortly thereafter have resulted in Chile being the first Latin American country to join the Developed Countries column. Socialist dictator Manuel Zelaya, Chavez puppet, raised the minimum wage in Honduras and 150,000 poor workers lost their jobs overnight.

February 02 2012 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It looks like blogger Watson, on behalf of leftist AOL/HuffPost, desperately wants to be a union spokesman! LOL!

What are his absurd blogs about anyway? Look at all the extremely partisan "stories" by Watson on this web site. They pretty much all have an obvious political purpose. Even what should be non-political economic advise is turned into political lefty screeds intended to bolster Obama and attack his political opponents.

If this web site is controlled by the DNC and/or Obama's political campaign, shouldn't' there be a public disclosure?

Meanwhile, Watson should send a copy of this blog to the SEIU along with his resume. (They have millions to spend for creative PR spin.)

January 30 2012 at 3:15 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ha6ai's comment

You probably didn't know these things when unions were strong between 1945 and 1973: 1. Wages kept up with inflation and productivity gains for all middle class members union or non union. If that trend continued the average middle class income would be over $91,000 per year. (in 1968 over 61 % earned over (2013 dollars) $47,000, 25% $67,000 to $100,500) today the average family income for the bottom 90 % is $31,200. Source US bureau of labor statistics.
2. Unions were successful at lobbying against free trade treaties like NAFTA and the World Trade Organization.

December 30 2013 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Iraq war provides a good example. Until November 2000, no OPEC country had dared to violate the US dollar-pricing rule, and while the US dollar remained the strongest currency in the world there was also little reason to challenge the system. But in late 2000, France and a few other EU members convinced Saddam Hussein to defy the petrodollar process and sell Iraq's oil for food in euros, not dollars. In the time between then and the March 2003 American invasion of Iraq, several other nations hinted at their interest in non-US dollar oil trading, including Russia, Iran, Indonesia, and even Venezuela. In April 2002, Iranian OPEC representative Javad Yarjani was invited to Spain by the EU to deliver a detailed analysis of how OPEC might at some point sell its oil to the EU for euros, not dollars.

This movement, founded in Iraq, was starting to threaten the dominance of the US dollar as the global reserve currency and petro currency. In March 2003, the US invaded Iraq, ending the oil-for-food program and its euro payment program.
There are many other historic examples of the US stepping in to halt a movement away from the petrodollar system, often in covert ways. In February 2011 Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), called for a new world currency to challenge the dominance of the US dollar. Three months later a maid at the Sofitel New York Hotel alleged that Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her. Strauss-Kahn was forced out of his role at the IMF within weeks; he has since been cleared of any wrongdoing.

War and insidious interventions of this sort may be costly, but the costs of not protecting the petrodollar system would be far higher. If euros, yen, renminbi, rubles, or for that matter straight gold, were generally accepted for oil, the US dollar would quickly become irrelevant, rendering the currency almost worthless. As the rest of the world realizes that there are other options besides the US dollar for global transactions, the US is facing a very significant - and very messy - transition in the global oil machine.

January 29 2012 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The "petrodollar" system was a brilliant political and economic move. It forced the world's oil money to flow through the US Federal Reserve, creating ever-growing international demand for both US dollars and US debt. The petrodollar system spread beyond oil: the majority of international trade is done in US dollars. That means that from Russia to China, Brazil to South Korea, every country aims to maximize the US-dollar surplus garnered from its export trade to buy oil.

As oil usage increased in the 1980s, demand for the US dollar rose with it, lifting the US economy to new heights. But even without economic success at home the US dollar would have soared, because the petrodollar system created consistent international demand for US dollars, which in turn gained in value. A strong US dollar allowed Americans to buy imported goods at a massive discount - the petrodollar system essentially creating a subsidy for US consumers at the expense of the rest of the world. Here, finally, the US hit on a downside: The availability of cheap imports hit the US manufacturing industry hard, and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs remains one of the biggest challenges in resurrecting the US economy today.

There is another downside, a potential threat now lurking in the shadows. The value of the US dollar is determined in large part by the fact that oil is sold in US dollars. If that trade shifts to a different currency, countries around the world won't need all their US money. The resulting sell-off of US dollars would weaken the currency dramatically.

January 27 2012 at 5:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tehran Pushes to Ditch the US Dollar

India and Iran are negotiating deal to trade oil for gold. Does this matter, you ask? It strikes at both the value of the US dollar and today's high-tension standoff with Iran.

Officially the US & EU is Tehran must be punished for efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Sanctions on Iran's oil exports meant to isolate Iran and depress the value of its currency to a point that the country crumbles.

Sanctions will not achieve their goals. Iran is far from isolated and its friends - like India - will stand by the oil-producing nation until the US backs down or acknowledges the real matter the American dollar as the global reserve currency.

In the 1970s a deal cemented the US dollar as the only currency to buy and sell crude oil, and from that monopoly on oil trade with the US dollar as the reserve currency for global trades in most commodities and goods. Massive demand for US dollars ensued, pushing the dollar's value up. Countries stored their excess US dollars savings in US Treasuries, giving the US government a vast pool of credit.

If the US dollar loses its position as the global reserve currency, the consequences for America are dire. The dollar's valuation stems from its lock on the oil industry - if that monopoly fades, so too will the value of the dollar. Global fiat currency relationships will change. Gold will rise. Uncertainty around paper money always bodes well for gold, and these are uncertain days indeed.


January 27 2012 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Blogger Bruce Watson and AOL/HuffPost DESPERATELY want to be lefty propagandists for Unions and Obama. Look at all the leftist pro-Obama, anti-Romney propaganda Blogs from Watson on AOL/Huffington!

January 26 2012 at 4:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

"WEALTH" and so call American " POVERTY" are like Heat and Cold. Cold is the ABSENCE of heat. Poverty is the absence of wealth. This means like Heat can not make anything cold wealth can NOT make any one poor! Poverty is the lack of input of wealth buy the individual. Life is not fair and can be very hard, get over it. Free market wealth is fair. Wealth goes to those that produce for others directly or indirectly through labor to producers. Non producers ( able bodied) do not deserve wealth. That's as fair as it gets. Quit wining and get a job, or make one. And no you aren't owed a job so start kissing as s and be thankful to those that invite you to share in their production. Got gold?

January 24 2012 at 10:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment

Typical comment from a conservative (ass kisser) who doesn't know what he is talking about.

December 30 2013 at 10:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Indoctrination by educrats of students to be envious is at an all time high. Time to close the federal dept of education and end the teachers union. Parents and local govt need to be re-empowered to manage education, see what socialism gets you? Got gold?

January 24 2012 at 10:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Yes they should have said " WE RENOUNCE SOCILISM AND ARE CLOSING, TODAY! " Got gold?

January 23 2012 at 3:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The difference between UNION workers and NONUNION workers is that union workers get a little more of what they produce, and get robbed a little less. But because they do that, and because they fight for the betterment of ALL workers, EVERYONE who works for a living benefits from the unions.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------workers do NOT produce their employers are the producers. Workers are an expense and largly replacable with automation. Further proof if your a PRODUCER then why are you NOT out in the market directly with your OWN company? Because you do not have and /or willing to put all three factors of PRODUCTION at risk, Yor Land (purchased or rented) labor, and CAPITAL. Takes all three factors put at risk with fully funded by the individual to be a producer. You have severely over valued yourself. This is why most libtards have been thrown into the street (fired ). Got gold?

January 23 2012 at 3:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply