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How's the "union" thing going for Biden?

Shortly after WWII, over one-third of American workers belonged to a union. Now, except for Gov workers (whose unions contribute to political campaigns and pay to play) the figure hovers near 6%.

Why? Workers have figured out that paying unions a significant share of their salary is a losing proposition. Especially now with our nation experiencing a massive labor shortage. Don't like your wage or working conditions? Plenty of jobs out there to pay better. Go somewhere else.

A strong economy and robust demand for workers achieves more than some corrupt Jimmy Hoffa type.

Even With Biden as a Pro-Labor Champion, Unionizing Is Still a Grind

Sept. 5, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET

By Farah Stockman, NY Times

DETROIT — This city is known as a capital of organized labor; a legendary 113-day auto strike here in the 1940s helped make health care coverage and pensions the gold standard for employers nationwide. But this year, a notable strike in Detroit happened in a coffee shop, not a car factory.

For more than 150 days, baristas refused to return to their posts at the Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company, a popular chain with a main spot in Midtown Detroit where the owners showed their respect for coffee farmers in Brazil and other countries by writing their names on a blackboard near their beans. During an outbreak of Covid in January, the baristas demanded protective gear and tests. In February, they decided to form a union.

Their strike was part of a flurry of new union activity across the country that Democrats hope will translate into more votes in November. Since President Biden took office, there has been an uptick in petitions to form unions, and today public approval of unions is at its highest since 1965.

Mr. Biden, who pledged to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” deserves some credit for that. He isn’t shy about using the bully pulpit to promote organized labor and wasted no time putting labor-friendly members on the National Labor Relations Board. In August, an emergency board he appointed helped reach an agreement that would award 15,000 railway workers a hefty raise.

But that doesn’t mean that Middle-Class Joe from Scranton is winning back the blue-collar hearts that fell for Donald Trump, or has reversed the decades-long exodus of working-class white people from the Democratic Party. Much of the new labor organizing is taking place among white-collar professionals who already lean toward Democrats.

Architects in New York, graduate workers at Yale and employees of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Capitol Hill have all attempted to establish collective bargaining units. (Workers at an architecture firm in New York on Thursday formed what may be the industry’s only formal private-sector union in the country, the Yale graduate students are still trying, and the Democratic staff members are part of the Teamsters now.)

But what’s clear is that Mr. Biden has been the most vocally pro-union president in generations, perhaps since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Democrats hope that his strong stance will erode the appeal of the Republican Party for old-line union workers.

Mr. Trump exploited rifts between union leaders and the rank and file, positioning himself as a champion of blue-collar workers even as he attacked union leaders. “Spend more time working — less time talking,” Mr. Trump tweeted at the president of a steelworkers union in Indiana in 2016. “Reduce dues.” He promised to bring factories back to the United States, even if it meant killing unions and cutting wages and taxes and rolling back hard-won safety regulations.

It worked. Internal polling from the United Automobile Workers union found that more than 30 percent of their members bucked their leadership and voted Republican in the three presidential elections before 2020.

Overall support of Republicans by union households is almost back up to where it was under Ronald Reagan, who won two landslide elections, says Jarrett Skorup, the senior director of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonprofit institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government.

He also noted that although union organizing has experienced an uptick this year, the trend has been a steady decline. The number of unfair-labor-practice and new representation cases filed has dropped since 2015 — from 2,822 to 1,638 in 2021, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board.

Blue-collar union workers were once among the strongest pillars of the Democratic Party, but that began to change in the early 1970s, Thomas Frank, the author of “Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?” told me. As youths were energized by protests over racial justice and the Vietnam War, political strategists began to see working-class white people as impediments to progress. In 1971, Frederick Dutton, a Kennedy adviser, published a book called “Changing Sources of Power,” which recommended that Democratic leaders concentrate on attracting young college-educated voters instead of their traditional white working-class supporters.

“That sort of percolated down to the broader culture and became the conventional wisdom of that era,” Mr. Frank explained. “Being on the left wasn’t about the working class anymore; it was about college kids.”

The trend continued for decades, as Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama supported free trade agreements that sent factory jobs overseas. Even though the idea for the North American Free Trade Agreement began under George H.W. Bush, a Republican, union leaders blame Bill Clinton for getting it over the finish line. Mr. Clinton also oversaw the normalization of trade relations with China, which led to the loss of more factory jobs.

By the time Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, the Clinton name was anathema to many workers in Rust Belt states that had seen factories move to Mexico and China. Instead of voting for another Clinton, many union workers cast ballots for Mr. Trump, who held the distinction of being the first president in decades to rail against free trade.

Mr. Trump’s election also completed a great reversal in the political identity of the parties. It used to be that the more educated you were, the more likely you were to be a Republican. Today the opposite is true.

The trouble is that people without degrees outnumber the college-educated. There are only so many blue-collar workers a party can afford to lose before being tossed from power. That might be why President Biden has continued many of Mr. Trump’s economically populist policies, retaining a 25 percent tariff on a range of Chinese imports, from baseball caps to bicycles.

He has also gone further than Mr. Trump in many ways when it comes to taking steps to rebuild America’s manufacturing base. His administration championed both the infrastructure bill and the CHIPS and Science Act, which provides subsidies and tax credits for manufacturing advanced computer chips in places like Ohio and Arizona. At every turn, Mr. Biden has championed unions, recognizing the role they played in creating the middle class.

And yet there’s no guarantee that workers will care. Some workers have been disillusioned by unions because of scandals, like the greed and corruption (including stories of siphoned union dues) that have embroiled the U.A.W. in Detroit. Most American workers aren’t in a union, and most nonunion workers don’t want to be, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Nevertheless, many young people see hope in the flurry of new organizing efforts, especially in industries not previously unionized.

Union drives could help hospitality workers gain the job security and pay that autoworkers achieved decades ago, once again transforming the prospects of the American middle class.

But even with a champion in the White House, unionizing is still a grind. Lex Blom, a 29-year-old who spearheaded the effort at the Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company, told me that it took months to get a hearing at the National Labor Relations Board. By that time, the coffee shop owners opted to close the store forever rather than bargain with a union.

“All of our workers’ hearts were broken,” she told me. She credited two Democratic members of Congress from Michigan, Rashida Tlaib and Andy Levin, for helping her unionizing effort, not the White House.

At a time when many employers are having a hard time keeping the doors open because of elusive workers and inflation, it’s unclear whether Mr. Biden’s strong advocacy for unions will generate more support than opposition.

“It’s still a tough sell,” Marick Masters, a Wayne State University professor who studies labor relations, told me.

It’s too much to expect Mr. Biden to reverse a decades-long trend of blue-collar workers leaving the Democratic Party. But at least it’s a start.

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