Unions and the New Administration

Unions and the New Administration

Bill Clinton is the first Democratic president in modern times to be elected without strong union identification. At no time during the cam- paign did he even hint at interest in labor-law reform (beyond a perfunctory visit to Caterpillar picket lines and the expression of support for legislation outlawing permanent striker replacements). Yet the Clinton administration may sponsor far-reaching reform of the nation’s labor laws, attempting to establish what Labor Secretary Robert Reich has referred to as a “level playing field” between unions and management.

Today, fewer than 12 percent of America’s private sector workers are represented by unions, a steady decline from nearly 40 percent in the mid-1950s. Indeed, unions today repre- sent a smaller share of the American work force than they did before the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935. This development threatens the Clinton administration’s economic plans, which aim to create “high-wage, high-skill” jobs and force industry to abandon its obsession with short-run profit indicators. Unionism’s decline encourages American business to pursue low-wage strategies. Those seeking an explanation of the administration’s apparently sympathetic stance toward union organizing should look more to the competitive advantages of collective bargaining than to purported political debts owed organized labor by President Clinton.

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