June 18, 2005

Stern on CNN

I was glad to find that CNN's Lou Dobbs isn't the only news anchor on television willing to talk about labor issues. Last Thursday, Tom Foreman of Inside Politics interviewed Andrew Stern of the SEIU. Short excerpt, emphasis mine:

STERN: Well, first of all that's not true across the board, and I think -- here's the good news. Yesterday at the press conference was Angenita Tanner (ph). She's a child care worker, works every day taking care of our kids. She and 49,000 other child care workers last month voted to have a union. In Michigan last month, 41,000 home care workers voted to join a union.

People want to join organizations, but the problem is we have to change too. The world has changed. The economy has changed. Our employers have changed and the labor movement is the only people trying to stay the same. That's not going to work in a global economy.

FOREMAN: What do you have to offer these people? Give me the top three reasons, quickly, why somebody should join you, because, you know, frankly, you know, business professionals are saying, hey, get new skills. That'll get you a job. The union can't protect you.

STERN: Well, the truth is, union workers are twice as likely to have health care than non-union workers. Union workers, if you're African-American, make $10,000 more a year than non-union workers who are African-American. Union workers have a much greater chance of having retirement security.

There are real economic reasons, but we have to reach out to people. They're just not going to come to our door. Employers have had a vicious assault. The economy has changed, but we have to reward work by reaching out and growing stronger.

FOREMAN: Why do I a meet so many workers around this country who would have been traditional union supporters who now say, unions are part of the problem, bunch of fat cats who don't really have our interests at heart. They're just like the bosses.

STERN: Well, I think that's part of the discussion at the AFL- CIO. What we need -- unity -- is where it matters, which is at workplaces. We don't need unity in Washington, D.C. We don't need politicians to save us. We need to talk to American workers, to reach out our hands.

And, here's the good news, what we do in our union, we've grown by 900,000 members in the last nine years. This is not impossible but you have to change. You have to have unions that are strong enough with the resources and the focus and that are new and modern and dynamic and understand the new workforce. We have to change to win, which is why we formed this new organization. ...

It only took the possibility of a splintering of the AFL-CIO to get their attention, but maybe it'll start a trend.

Finally, I'm a little disappointed that Stern didn't more directly challenge Foreman on the issue of getting new job skills. As someone going to college to change careers and get a first degree, I'm wildly in favor of new job skills. But how many new careers can people be expected to skip through before we reach a point where people have to choose between underemployment and spending more time training for jobs than actually having them?

Considering that tuition is rising and federal aid is decreasing, how feasible an approach to employment is it to leave people's ability to get a living wage up to their personal ability to pay for schooling? The era of strong unions was a time when people could get decent jobs with a high school diploma, jobs that provided not only a good standard of living but the wherewithal to send their children on to better futures.

As household income erodes, not only does the tax revenue base (and therefore the government services budget) and consumer purchasing power decline, but the advancement of our workforce over time is degraded. It's a recipe for putting the blame for our crashing job market on workers, and letting this treasury-looting government off the hook.

Posted by natasha at June 18, 2005 05:32 PM | Labor | Technorati links |