Labor shortages bring change with pay, benefits, and more interest in unions

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Tuesday, September 6, 2022
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Much of the tenants of the American workplace, including the 40-hour work week, built the foundation on the Labor Day holiday being celebrated on Monday. But while opinions have evolved in unions, not many Americans are in them, and there are already challenges to get them off the ground.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- This Labor Day, labor shortages and the pandemic are bringing better benefits for workers, and enticing more to look into unions.

Labor Day is about more than the end of summer, it's a celebration of a movement that brought change workers to enjoy today.

Students at a pre-apprenticeship program in the Houston Gulf Coast Building & Construction Trade Council get a hands-on experience about what it's like working in the trades.

"They bring in 14 trades," Mylun Ingram recalled. "The trades talk to you. You get to talk to their reps and it's a great experience."

Once completed, you get placed in a trade apprenticeship. A job where you get to learn, and earn money while doing it.

A career that enticed Ingram because it's also part of a union.

"I want to encourage people that are getting out of high school, that are in their 20s, that are thinking about a career," Ingram explained. "Trades are a good career. Then you get to be part of a union. I think it's a good option for people."

Unions are a significant part of work conditions we enjoy today. Protests from years ago brought about benefits still impacting workers.

"A fair wage," Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation's Hany Khalil said. "Affordable healthcare. Secure retirement. Paid time off."

More Americans approve of unions, but it hasn't translated into a big growth in membership yet.

Unions are still around today representing nearly all industries.

"What a union means is you come together and it gives you the ability to have the power to negotiate for yourselves and advocate yourselves," Khalil explained.

However, not many Americans belong to unions. A recent Gallup poll shows just 6% of Americans are in a union.

But there may be a shift. Seventy years ago, 75% of Americans approved of unions.

In 2009, it dipped below 50%. On Monday, it's the highest in nearly 60 years at 71%.

In interview only on ABC13, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said the pandemic might explain why more Americans approve of unions.

"They're looking for better wages," Walsh said. "They're looking for better work conditions. They're looking for better hours and organized labor represents all of that."

Union leaders said new laws need to be passed to make forming unions easier. But Walsh said it might just take educating younger workers, who may not know much about them.

"When I was in San Antonio, and I was talking to some young people and they were wanting to organize a union," Walsh recalled. "How do they do it? How do we do it? You give them some direction on how to do it. It's not my job to organize for unions, but I gave them some ideas and suggestions on it."

The pandemic and labor shortages are also benefiting non-unionized workers.

The pandemic and current labor conditions aren't just benefiting unions, but workers overall are enjoying better benefits. Walsh said employers are doing more than before to entice workers.

"I think companies are figuring out, just like the business model on how to sell their product to the customer, they're also figuring out how to they make sure their employees are as happy as their customers," Walsh explained.

To make employees happy, Walsh said they're doing a number of things.

"I think companies, in order to recruit employees now a lot of them, are looking to provide better benefits, family leaves, providing opportunities, flexible work hours," Walsh said.

It's not just benefits. To find fill gaps, Walsh said in careers where you once needed college degrees, many are looking at high school graduates.

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