My good friend Jim Grossfeld at the Center for American Progress recently released this groundbreaking study about the attitudes of professional workers towards unions. Bottom line - one of the major positives non-union professionals see in unions is their ability to help employees not only garner more economic benefits, but also negotiate with management to make sure employees have an environment where they can most effectively do their jobs and accomplish goals.
Knowing that, take a look at the latest employer abuse, this one in Nevada where a major health care company is locking out nurses because the SEIU nurses union is making demands that the health care company lower the nurse-to-patient ratio.
The Las Vegas Sun reports that according to Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley (D-Las Vegas) , "An August 2006 state study that ranked Nevada last among the 50 states in the number of registered nurses per 100,000 residents." Specifically, "the study found that Nevada had 514 registered nurses per 100,000 residents in 2000, about 34 percent below the national average of 780 nurses per 100,000."
According to KPLC-TV, "Nurses at the hospitals had agreed not to strike after elected officials in Nevada called for a 30-day cooling off period, but those nurses and other workers were locked out when they showed up for work on Monday." Put another way, the union made clear that unless the health care conglomerate start addressing the nurse-to-patient ratio and other wage disputes, it was going to strike, but it backed off those demands in order to make sure the hospitals didn't shut down. Their reward for trying to stay at the negotiating table? The hospital locked them out and brought in replacements - a giant middle-finger to the employees who were negotiating in good faith.
Unions, as I wrote in Hostile Takeover, are the institutions on the front lines fighting for employees and against abuses by big corporate conglomerates whose only goals are to maximize profits. As this conflict shows, unions are fighting both for workers' economic rights and for the environments that will let them do their jobs most effectively - a key attribute indentified in the CAP study that all professional workers see as a major reason unions should expand.
Unions are especially important in an era where Republicans are waging an open war on workers and union rights. Lockouts are a desperate and disgusting act, especially when unions are offering to stay at the negotiating table and are fighting to raise a state from one of the worst health care metrics in the country. See Taylor Marsh's site for more - this is a big fight not just in Nevada, but in the labor movement as a whole - and it is a battle the progressive movement must stand in solidarity with.
To be sure, there are preachers of "Rubinomics" in Washington and on Wall Street, such as people at the so-called Hamilton Project, who claim to be Democrats yet who have run to reporters attacking the very concept of unionization as something Americans should fear. And the Hamilton Project has attracted support from powerful politicians such as Barack Obama (D-IL). But as this lockout shows - Americans shouldn't fear more unionization, they should fear a country that does not have unions fighting to better our nation.
Cross-posted at Sirotablog and DailyKos