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The Journal Gazette

  • Christ

  • Voorhies

Monday, September 04, 2017 1:00 am

Editorial

'Strong together'

Unions coming back in recovering economy

If you go

What: Labor Day picnic, featuring free food and drinks, bingo, live music and children's activities, including the splash pad

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday

Where: Headwaters Park East

Admission: Free and open to the public, no union affiliation required

Labor facts

According to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, 61 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest level since 2003, when it was 65 percent. It is a gain of five percentage points from last year and 13 points higher than the all-time low of 48 in 2009. It reached 75 percent three times in the 1950s. In the same survey, 10 percent said they were union members, and 16 percent live in a union household. The random sample, telephone poll of 1,017 adults was conducted from Aug. 2?to 6. The margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points. 160 million people age 16 and older were in the U.S. labor force as of May. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics The 10 occupations employing the most people in May were:
Retail sales...................................... 4.5 million
Cashiers........................................... 3.5 million
Food preparation and service (including fast food).......................3.4 million
Office clerks.................................... 3.0 million Registered nurses........................... 2.9 million Customer service representatives..2.7 million Laborers and freight, stock and material movers...................... 2.6 million
Waiters and waitresses...................2.6 million Secretaries and administrative assistants (except legal, medical and executive)?....................................2.3 million
General and operations managers .....2.2 million
Source: BLS

On Labor Day one might expect to find northeast Indiana's organized labor community dispirited – a right-to-work law has been in effect for five years. Fort Wayne City Council stripped all but its police and fire employees of collective bargaining rights in 2014. Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly continue to target worker protections.

But the mood at Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters Local 124 Thursday was anything but dark. Union officials are celebrating increasing membership numbers and growing public support for workers.

“We are the only right-to-work state in the United States whose union membership is growing,” said Shawn Christ, president of the new Hoosier Heartland Area Labor Federation, representing AFL-CIO affiliates in27 counties.

Indiana had about 307,000 union members last year. Today, membership has grown to about 318,000. Some of the growth he attributes to increases in construction and development as the economy slowly recovers. But the political environment is a factor, as well.

“In the '80s and '90s, I think a lot of people thought of union people as thugs making way too much money,” Christ said. “But I'm just their next-door neighbor. I'm the guy who comes over and fixes a flat tire for you. I think people realize that now and they realize they are getting a bad shake from their companies. Some of the companies do the right things, but many companies don't.”

Workers are increasingly seeing the value of bargaining as a unit, he said, and the high-profile layoffs resulting from companies moving operations to Mexico, including the UTEC relocation that cost about 700 jobs in Huntington, have caught the public's attention, he said.

“That's 700 families that are devastated,” said Brett Voorhies, president of the state's AFL-CIO chapter.

“That's a community that's devastated. My plant in Indianapolis, Rexnord, that I came out of in the early '90s, next month is gone. Done. Shut down. Moving to Monterrey, Mexico.”

He gave credit to President Donald Trump for intervening in the Carrier Corp. layoffs in Indianapolis and noted that a meeting with newly elected Gov. Eric Holcomb was an encouraging discussion, but said the union must work harder to hold elected officials accountable. 

“Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we've got to stay strong together,” Voorhies said. “That's what this weekend is about – that's what Labor Day is about. ... It's about making sure we all have a fair shake at life in general.”