The past several decades have been a
struggle for this nation’s once proud labor movement. Yet the
problems that this movement set out to remedy remain, illustrated
recently by a strike involving workers at Yale University in New
Clerical, maintenance and dining hall staffs are on strike,
demanding job security, wage increases and pension plans. Garbage
is starting to pile up as the strike goes into its second week.
Prominent national figures have also joined in support, including
Democratic presidential hopefuls and Yale graduates Howard Dean and
Joseph Lieberman – with events recently building up to a Labor Day
march, featuring civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson.
Despite working for one of the most prestigious, heavily-endowed
universities in the world, Yale workers have had no resolution
after months of back and forth. Unfortunately, there seems to be no
end to these labor disputes in sight.
Organizations like the American Federation of Labor-Congress of
Industrial Organization have seen their ranks steadily decline.
Memberships have dwindled, contributions have sagged and many
speculate that the heyday of organized labor has come and gone.
But the need for pro-labor institutions remains as strong as
ever. In addition to issues like those at Yale, the past 36 months
have seen employment in manufacturing decline by 2.6 million jobs.
Over the past several decades, the U.S. economy has become
increasingly service oriented – making the task of organizing
workers into unions substantially more challenging. The
difficulties and barriers that service employees face when
attempting to organize need to be overcome. Service jobs will
continue to grow as the main employer in the United States and
without adequate union representation employees in this sector of
the economy will be unable to fight for necessary fringe benefits.
Many service positions suffer from chronically low wages and
intentionally high turnover rates that prevent workers from
providing for their personal and familial welfare.
Critics have argued that unions have, in some cases, driven the
cost of labor up past the market demand and that unions tend to be
cumbersome bureaucracies, both costly and difficult to maintain.
However, it is impossible to ignore the advances made in the areas
of workers’ rights over the past century and the role that unions
have played in that progression.
The Yale labor struggle is only the most recent battle in what
has become part of a larger struggle for unionization within higher
education. Earlier this year, the same employees went on strike
over similar issues. Additionally, graduate students at Yale and
have thus far seen their efforts to unionize stonewalled at every
opportunity by the administration, with allegations of harassment
and even threats. An educational institution of the size and wealth
of Yale, which sports an endowment of about $10.5 billion should
have no financial, or for that matter philosophical excuse for
failing to pay its employees fairly.