The last few decades have seen a dramatic decline in unionized labor across America. Despite the political right's frequent justification of anti-union laws under the guise of "choice" and voluntarism, data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reveals that some 60 million Americans—or 48 percent of the entire nonunion workforce—wanted to join a union in 2022 but were unable to do so.
This divergence between union density and the desire for union membership is owed, in large part, to employer-friendly laws and regulations that actively discourage Americans from joining unions, even when a majority of workers may favor such an arrangement. The result has been an uphill battle for American workers to join unions at their workplaces, one in which capitalism has consistently shown its disdain for organized labor.
This is best illustrated by examining how employers are allowed to act during organizing campaigns. A study by University of Oregon labor scholar Gordon Lafer found that employer behavior during union elections often resembles that seen during sham elections in one-party dictatorships: existing laws governing unionization are heavily slanted toward employers.
What is more, when management does break the rules—employers are charged with violating federal law in more than 40 percent of union elections—penalties are often so lax that they can be treated as little more than the cost of doing business, thus allowing for rampant intimidation and election-rigging.
Examples abound; at Tesla, for instance, the Labor Board recently concluded that the company committed a series of violations:
- Illegally firing one union supporter and disciplining another because of their union activity,
- Threatening employees with a loss of stock options if they joined a union;
- Restricting employees from speaking with the media;
- Coercively interrogating union supporters;
- And barring employees from distributing union information to their co-workers.
At its most basic level, this type of conduct reveals capitalism's disdain for organized labor: rather than allowing workers to make decisions about their working conditions through collective bargaining or other methods provided by unions, employers instead make use of unfair tactics such as threats and intimidation to suppress any potential resistance against them.
This hostile attitude towards unions is not limited to corporate America: politicians on both sides regularly introduce legislation designed to weaken labor rights or prevent workers from forming unions altogether. Although such actions may seem counterintuitive since surveys have repeatedly shown high levels of public support for unions—most recently measured as a 50-year high registered by Gallup in 2021—it becomes clear why many lawmakers would prefer keeping organized labor weak at best.
The good news is that there is hope on the horizon: spurred on by strong job growth and galvanized by movements such as Fight For $15/hr and Black Lives Matter, hundreds of thousands of workers successfully joined unions last year alone - despite an increasingly hostile environment for organized labor.
And if current trends hold steady - rallies like those happening across America calling for an end to unjust working conditions - then it stands to reason that millions more could soon follow suit, provided they receive support from their elected officials rather than seeing them continue down the same path which seeks only serves to suppress worker rights nationwide.