A tried and true way to fix inequality in America: unions (opinion)
While union leaders say these posters insult workers’ intelligence, there is no denying that Delta has had considerable success beating back unionization. (In a statement, Delta said, “Delta has shared many communications, which on the whole make clear that deciding whether or not to unionize should not be taken lightly.”)
Delta is the least unionized major US carrier, and thanks to its aggressive anti-union campaigns, organizing drives by the flight attendants’ union were defeated in 2002, 2008 and 2010. Delta’s flight attendants narrowly rejected unionizing in 2010, with 9,216 voting for and 9,544 against.
Corporate executives, of course, applaud such defeats for labor, asserting that unions impede management’s flexibility and hurt profits. But while any given union defeat may be good for a corporation’s shareholders and managers, the many union defeats, taken together, have taken a substantial toll on workers and society.
The percentage of private-sector workers who are in unions has dropped from 35% in the 1950s to just 6.4% today — from more than one in three to just one in 16. Numerous factors have fueled this decline, including factory closings, outsourcing and automation, but corporate America’s decades-long effort to hobble unions is arguably the biggest factor.
Unions catapulted countless number of workers with just a high school degree into the middle class. In their book “Winner-Take-All Politics,” Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson bemoan the decline of unions, writing, “While there are many ‘progressive’ groups in the American universe of organized interests, labor is the only major one focused on the broad economic concerns of those with modest incomes.”
One study found that the decline in union power and density since 1973 explains a third of the increase in wage inequality among American men, and a fifth of the increased inequality among women. Economists at the International Monetary Fund found that the decline in unionization explains about half of the rise in incomes for the richest 10% percent in advanced industrial nations since the 1980s and about half the increase in those nations’ main measure of income inequality.
Unions help to reduce inequality by pushing for higher pay for typical workers, greater restraints on executive pay and increased taxes on the rich. Another study found that a 10% increase in the percentage of unionized workers in a US community is associated with a 3% to 4.5% increase in the income of all the area’s children — partly because unions push for better schools and a higher minimum wage.
As union ranks have declined, so has labor’s power in politics. In the 2015-16 election cycle, business outspent labor 16 to one — $3.4 billion to $213 million — according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That center also found that all the nation’s labor unions taken together spend about $45 million a year for lobbying in Washington, while corporate America spends $3 billion — 66 times as much.
Corporate America’s huge advantage in campaign contributions and lobbying explains why many worker-friendly measures that have overwhelming public support stand little chance of being enacted. Americans support raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage; 75% want to see it at $12.50 by 2020. They also want laws guaranteeing paid sick days by 85% to 14%, and employer-paid parental and family leave by 80% to 17%. Corporate lobbyists have long given these a thumbs down, and these proposals have been stalled in Congress for years.
Strengthening unions would be an important way to help reverse these unfortunate trends. Corporate executives and Wall Street will no doubt cheer if Delta’s ramp workers and flight attendants again vote down unionization, but many economists warn that any further weakening of labor unions will skew our nation toward even greater income inequality and even greater domination of our politics and policy-making by corporations and wealthy campaign donors.
The plane maker said in a statement it has flown the aircraft with the updated software on 207 flights for more than 360 hours.
The software heads next to the US Federal Aviation Administration and its counterparts in other countries that want to review it. An FAA spokesman said Thursday afternoon the Boeing materials, including the software, have not yet been submitted.
“We’re committed to providing the FAA and global regulators all the information they need, and to getting it right. We’re making clear and steady progress and are confident that the 737 Max with updated MCAS software will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in the statement.
The submission comes ahead of an international gathering of aviation regulators in Dallas next week to discuss the reviews of the Max.
The 737 Max 8 and 9 were grounded worldwide after an Ethiopian Airlines crash two months ago that investigators have described as appearing similar to a Lion Air crash last year. Between the two crashes, 346 people died.
In both accidents, the automated Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, pushed the planes’ noses down while the pilots struggled to regain control.
The company has said its fix will feed MCAS with data from two, rather than just one, sensor, making the plane less susceptible to a crash because of bad data. It will also make the system less potent, which is expected to prevent the steep dives seen in the two crashes, and provide additional training materials.
“Boeing has developed enhanced training and education materials that are now being reviewed with the FAA, global regulators, and airline customers to support return-to-service and longer-term operations,” the company statement said. “This includes a series of regional customer conferences being conducted around the world.”
Multiple investigations, including the initial crash investigation, are ongoing. Criminal prosecutors, congressional staffers, and the Transportation Department inspector general are reviewing the initial certification of the 737 and the FAA’s processes.
The FAA’s aircraft certification chief, Earl Lawrence, told Congress on Wednesday the agency has been reviewing a preliminary version of the software provided by Boeing.
“I would call it the beta version,” Lawrence said. “The reason why they submitted it to us is so we can stick it in the simulator so we could test it, so we can also look at their system safety analysis and see whether it will appropriately address it.”
A Technical Advisory Board organized by the FAA will participate in the review. That panel includes experts from the Air Force, NASA, Transportation Department and FAA.
Aviation regulators in other countries will complete their own reviews of the software separate from the international Joint Authorities Technical Review, or JATR, the FAA has organized.
That raises the possibility some countries’ regulators could approve the software while others do not deem it safe to fly — and complicate Boeing’s goal of safely returning the plane to the skies.
CNN’s Drew Griffin and Curt Devine contributed to this report.