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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

April 23, 2010 at 10:13 AM

Picking through the trash for clues on the short-lived garbage strike

Outsiders never really know what goes on inside labor negotiations, but one thing is clear. The Teamsters are a much more sophisticated union than their old reputation would have many people believe. In ending its walkout against Waste Management, the union played a weak hand with skill.

Protections for union workers have eroded so much over the past several decades that Teamsters members could have lost jobs to replacement workers. Also, a strike that left garbage uncollected would have made citizens more angry with striking workers than with the management of a highly profitable company.

As the comments this post will no doubt generate will show, many working-class Americans no longer identify their economic interests with that of unions. Organized labor has long been shrinking in the private sector. As Americans became affluent from the 1950s through the 1970s, they identified more with the wealthy — an irony considering many of their gains came thanks to the blood and work of unions in the first half of the 20th century. Corporations and right-wing media trash-talk have done a good job of demonizing labor, helped sometimes by labor over-reaching (Both FDR and Harry Truman disliked unions).

As organized labor has diminished, American wages have stagnated and income inequality has reached historic highs. Pensions and good benefits have dwindled. But many of the Americans most hurt also hate unions, and envy the locals that bargain decent middle-class wages for their members. CEOs and the corporate oligarchy get a free pass. This situation seems to grow as the middle class sees its living standards come under ever-increasing pressure. Strange.

The Back Story: Creative class thinker Richard Florida has an interesting piece in the Atlantic about smart cities. He finds little correlation between the number of hours worked and earnings. Indeed, some of the hardest-working metros, such as Phoenix, earn the least.

The connection is between smart, technology and creative work and high earnings. Here Silicon Valley ranks highest, but Seattle comes performs well by all measures. “Working smarter, and not working harder, is what brings wealth and well-being to metros,” he writes. “Longer work hours do not translate into more wealth or higher earnings. Higher earnings turn on higher levels of human capital and higher levels of creative class jobs. Smart metros are also doing much much better in surviving and prospering in the Great Reset.”

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Barter for health care?

Does that mean Senator Sue

Will take chicken pay?

Comments | More in Income/living standards, Labor unions

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