A new political landscape, same old lies about labor

First up is the assertion that unions and profitability are mutually exclusive. In such a fragile economy, that would be worrisome—if it were true. As a growing number of responsible employers can attest, unions actually make the workplace more productive and the latest statistics tell the same story. Unions lift productivity on average by 19 percent to 24 percent in manufacturing, 16 percent in hospitals and up to 38 percent in the construction sector. The reasons are simple: union workers have higher professional standards because unions increase opportunities for worker training. Many unions even run their own training and professional development programs.

One of the most persistent myths out there is the idea that public employees are overcompensated and responsible for our struggling state and local budgets. It’s also completely unfounded, which is why the proposed two-year pay freeze for federal workers is such misguided policy. New reports from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Economic Policy Research—as well as the Office of Personnel Management’s own study—indicate that public employees actually make less than private-sector workers with comparable education and experience, even when you factor in benefits.

Make no mistake, private-sector workers have every right to be angry about the inadequate benefits they receive, but the solution isn’t to take those benefits away from the men and women who care for our children and protect our communities, or from the civil servants who make our country strong.

Perhaps most dangerous of all are the recent claims that Americans, including union members, demonstrated deep opposition to labor’s agenda on Election Day. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

When polled on election night, union members voiced strong opposition to far-right policies like raising the retirement age, privatizing Social Security and reducing or eliminating the minimum wage. And unlike Republicans in Congress who seem most concerned with redistributing wealth to America’s superrich, 73 percent of all voters support extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.

America’s hardworking women and men—union and non-union alike—have seen what happens to our economy when we buy into Big Business’ vision for our country. When workers can’t afford the products they produce, consumer spending takes a serious hit, and the economy with it. On the other hand, when workers are able to bargain for family-sustaining pay, good benefits and respect on the job, we all stand to gain. The result isn’t just more jobs, but good jobs that provide a renewed path to the middle class for the millions of Americans still bearing the brunt of Wall Street’s recklessness.

As newly-elected officials take office, we’ll be watching to make sure they put working families first. Voters are calling for a win-win economy that benefits all of us, not just corporate CEOs. And that is what unions are all about.

Kimberly Freeman Brown is executive director of American Rights at Work, a labor policy and advocacy organization.