Unions served a effective means in which employees could fight for the basics of the workplace. Today the the collective does not exist as much anymore as the manufacturing jobs that once was a staple in the American economy has now shifted to the service oriented secor and more importantly there exist a rise in the Gig economy.
It is a know fact that unions are a means in which employees are able to organize in order to demand better pay, days off, vacation pay, and medical benefit, but these facts have been lost with the lack of labor history being taught in the classrooms. Where did the five day work week come from? Weekends off? The 40 hour work week, when in the past workers would work 12 to 14 hour days. The union was the tool laborers used in order to force employers to treat laborers in manner that we take for granted today. Society today consist of the free agent, who negotiates for oneself. With the introduction of technology and social media, the free agent has the ability to make themselves available to various job markets and negotiate, on their terms, what situation best suits them.
“..economic activity that involves the use of temporary or freelance workers to perform jobs typically in the service sector. One reason the gig economy has taken off: People tend to change jobs more frequently and many enjoy the flexibility of choosing when and where they work.” — Marcia Pledger
There exist a direct correlation to the pay inequity and the drop in the number of union members. In today’s Gig Economy, this is very alarming as the worker today is now considered a contractor, thus they a missing out on the many benefits the union has to offer:
“..paid sick leave, vacation days or parental rights. There is no workers’ compensation coverage to help provide medical care to workers injured, or death benefits for families of workers killed on the job. There is also no protection against work-related discrimination or wage and hour violations, or effective means for collective bargaining to contract for fairer compensation.” – Andje M. Media and Craig M Peters
With the lack of knowledge within the school system of the the development of the United States and how labor unions were instrumental that growth and at the same time enabling the laborers to have rights in workplace are quickly disappearing from the textbooks and are only taught in colleges and universities. Today individuals are taught the skills needed to be the worker, but not the rights they are entitled to in the workplace.
Unions are left task of both organizing and teaching their members. The organizing is difficult if the member has no prior or basic knowledge of the functions of the unions. Government, which at one time supported the unions in their growth in the 1930’s to stem the possibility of the United States becoming a socialist leaning country, now implement Republican ‘Right-to Work” legislation to break up unions. As Americans cry out for the living wage and look to politicians to pass laws raising the minimum wage, they are not aware they have the power by becoming union members, as the people did during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century; forcing companies to change their draconian policies towards the laborers. The shorter work week, weekends off, no more child labor, and of course a rise in their wages were some of the benefits.
In the past companies would find various way to break up unions, by creating dysfunction within the group by pitting employee against employee. Even today, the union members complains of competition with immigrants and non contractors in the workplace. The very idea of competition is what the Gig economy has become without the realization of those who participate in it. When look for employment, and employer has the ability to set the pay rate based on the number of inquiries. Essentially the gig employees are bidding against each other.
“The availability of cheap labor also hasn’t escaped the notice of companies in need of a quick fix. Ravenelle spoke to workers who were doing manual labor, like filling coffee bags for a high-end roaster, that they picked up on an app. In other words, businesses are also advertising tasks through the supposed peer-to-peer platforms, getting their temps through the new, cheaper system, rather than hiring workers directly.” – Ephrat Livni
Eventually the question benefits has to enter the equation of employment. The gig economy is one for the millennial, but even the millennial has to confront the real issues of a stable salary, savings, 401k, retirement pensions, or even social security. Real world cost, such as medical insurance are issues that are not addressed in the new gig economy or taught in the classroom as far as what the labor movement of the early 19th and late 20th Century was able to do for the laborer. These rights and the very concept will be lost over time, if individuals are not taught what the labor movement gained for individuals collectively and what the gig economy is, in actuality, promoting as far a functioning as a free agent in dealing with the company.