Thursday, May 19, 2022

Do we need labor unions anymore?

When I challenge the continued viability of labor unions and the lack of benefits they offer to or confer upon 21st century employees, this is the refrain I often hear.

Minimum wage ✔️
Overtime ✔️
OSHA ✔️  
Child labor protections ✔️
Anti-discrimination laws ✔️ 

None of those laws, I'm told, would exist without the historic efforts put forth by labor unions. 

You know what? That statement is 100 percent correct. Labor unions played a huge role in the passage of the FLSA, OSHA, ERISA, and Title VII, each of which granted a wealth of new rights and protections to employees.

They also help render labor unions irrelevant. 

Nearly three years ago I wrote an obituary for employment at-will, in which I argued the following:

Employment at-will is dead. Do you have the right to fire an employee for no reason? Absolutely. Yet, if that employee is African-American, Other-American, a woman (or a man), pregnant or recently pregnant, suffering from a medical condition (or related to someone with a medical condition, or you think has a medical condition but doesn't), on a medical leave or returning from a leave, injured, religious, older (i.e., age 40 or above), LGBTQ, serving in the military or a veteran, or a whistleblower or otherwise a complainer, the law protects their employment. Which means that if you fire them, you better have done so for a good reason.

If you look at those categories, most of your employees fall under one of more of them. In other words, while you are an "at-will employer," that doesn't really mean anything anymore. Employees just have too many protections.

Employees have all of the legal protection they need. They can go to the EEOC, DOL, OSHA, NLRB, or their friendly neighborhood plaintiffs' lawyer. Unions served a purpose back in the 1920s all the way, I think, through the 1970s. But the reality is that the alphabet soup of employment laws they helped enact has also helped make them irrelevant to today's employee.