Northern California Carpenters Political Action
Guaranteed rights vs. guaranteed results
Daniel M. Curtin, Director California Conference of Carpenters
American workers have the right to organize, guaranteed primarily by the constitutional rights of free speech and free association. These guaranteed constitutional rights allow workers to fight on behalf of their own interests. What they don’t guarantee is the results of those struggles.
American workers in the private sector and their unions are currently facing one of their most difficult times in modern history. It’s the highest level of continued unemployment, still over 12 percent in California, and roughly double that in construction, combined with the lowest level of unionization, now under 7 percent in the US, and the highest concentration of wealth, 38 percent of all wealth owned by the richest 1 percent of Americans, since the Great Depression.
It’s the highest level of continued unemployment... combined with the lowest level of unionization—now under 7 percent in the US, and the highest concentration of wealth, since the Great Depression.
The decline of American workers in the private sector has been steady and continuous since 1973, except for a brief period in the early 1990s during the Clinton administration. The rise of public-sector unions during the same period has masked this decline in the private sector. Current headlines regarding the impact of public unions on the finances of state and local governments continue to obscure the desperate situation of America’s private-sector workers.
Reversing the decline of America’s private-sector workers will be neither easy nor swift. First, and perhaps most critical, is the full recognition of the depths of this dramatic decline by Labor leaders themselves. Second, union leaders must get past the attitude that workers are entitled to a middle-class standard of living. We are guaranteed the right to organize and struggle, not to success. That part is up to us. As a great Labor leader once said, “There are no reserved seats at the table of America’s bounty.”
Cries and slogans that the public or politicians must honor Labor during this crisis are like spitting in the wind. Honor, like respect, must be earned, otherwise it will disappear as quickly as it is granted. Private-sector unions must prove once again, and continually, that they provide value to America’s economic engine.
The marketplace is where this battle will be fought and won or lost. If employers see unions as irrelevant or—worse yet—a hindrance, no laws, regulations or tactics will stem the tide of decline. Union workers must be better trained, more efficient and more productive than their competition.
Private-sector unions that negotiate good wages and benefits must provide the skilled, efficient workforce that allows their employers to compete in a low-wage world and an increasingly low-wage America. Only then will our employers be able to sustain a middle-class wage that allows us to raise our families in prosperity and dignity.
Carpenters national and California leadership understand this problem and are making the tough choices that will keep us standing through this crisis. Working union carpenters understand that skill and a solid work ethic, not a sense of entitlement, will keep them working, keep the union strong and build a better America.