Fain is president of the United Auto Workers. This year, he convinced the president of the United States to put on a UAW shirt, hoist a picket sign and come as close to walking the line as the Secret Service would allow.
More importantly, he led a strike that, for the first time, went after all three major automakers at once. It worked brilliantly. Each time one company made a concession, the other two were required to begrudgingly go along. By only striking selected plants, he was able to turn the pressure up or down, based on the company’s level of cooperation.
The result was a new deal that will increase salaries by 25 percent for those at the top end, making $40 an hour or more, and by up to 160 percent for lower-paid workers. It also restores regular cost-of-living adjustments and requires Stellantis to reopen a factory in Illinois that it had shuttered.
Honoring Fain would really be a group-achievement award, also recognizing other successful efforts this year by organized labor.
Writers and actors went on strike to earn better pay, new compensation rates for streaming and new protections for how their work can be used in the future. UPS avoided a strike by agreeing to a new contract that increases wages for both full-time and part-time workers, creates more full-time positions and improves working conditions through things like requiring air conditioning in the delivery trucks. Healthcare workers employed by Kaiser Permanente secured a 21-percent wage increase over four years following a three-day strike.
By the end of November, there had been 393 strikes involving 500,000 workers, according to statistics compiled by Cornell University. And, they were effective. Workers represented by a union had their wages increase by 7 percent in the first quarter of the year, the greatest increase since 2007.
Every success story for organized labor widens the chasm between those workers who have union protection and those who don’t. Workers left to fend for themselves keep falling further behind.
Democrats supporting Joe Biden’s re-election bid have been stumped as to why he hasn’t received credit for what are, overall, strong numbers on the economy. It’s because not enough of the newly created wealth is reaching the middle class, and almost none is filtering to the bottom.
The top 10 percent of wage earners have an average net worth of about $6.6 million and saw their incomes increase by 22 percent from 2019 to 2022, according to the Federal Reserve Board. Middle-income wage earners had just a 5 percent increase during the same period, not enough to keep pace with inflation.
As of those at the bottom, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 has not increased since 2009. Some states, including New Mexico, have passed increases. But workers can’t rely on the government. They have to look after their own interests.
The only way to do that is through organization and collective negotiations. Workers must unite to protect their rights.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.
Listen to the audio version