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Opinion | Worker-centered policies make Alabama better for everyone

The best way to ensure this type of work atmosphere is for workers to belong to unions.

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Every Alabama worker deserves a stable, safe environment where they can earn enough money to take care of their needs. On this Labor Day weekend and every day, the numbers are clear on the path to provide this environment. The best way to ensure this type of work atmosphere is for workers to belong to unions.

Organized workers earn higher wages and receive better retirement pay and benefits than non-union workers. They also have greater access to paid sick leave. Unions fought for many of the workplace benefits many of us enjoy now, such as a five-day, eight-hour standard workweek, overtime pay and workplace safety standards.

The standardized pay rates in union contracts are powerful drivers of equality in workplace compensation. Wage scale transparency and collective bargaining significantly reduce racial and sex discrimination in wages for the same roles.

Fights for decent labor practices continue today in Alabama, with many organizing campaigns in various stages of development. A pattern of attacks on working Alabamians has fueled an increasing public realization that working-class solidarity and collective action are vital for protection against exploitative employment practices.

This realization is coming amid a rebound in union organization rates. And it is coming on the heels of corporate-backed policy campaigns to increase profits at the expense of the people who make those profits possible. For example, Alabama moved quickly last year to immunize employers for negligent practices that could expose their workers to COVID-19. And when Birmingham sought to increase its minimum wage, legislators swiftly voted to prevent localities from implementing additional worker protections or higher minimum wages.

Growing support for unionization

Such systemic disregard for worker well-being helps explain why a strong majority of Americans approve of labor unions. It also helps explain growing support for unionization across Alabama. One recent example was the almost unanimous vote to unionize among workers at a Starbucks in Birmingham.

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Union efforts in Alabama are proceeding even in the face of fierce employer opposition. The National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon interfered with a union election while opposing the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s organizing efforts at a Bessemer facility. And in response to an ongoing United Mine Workers strike in Tuscaloosa County, Warrior Met Coal used the state’s legal system to prevent workers from picketing outside their mines or offices. The company also requested and received state troopers to escort out-of-state scab workers through picket lines.

The history of the labor movement shows that when workers come together to demand businesses address their concerns, the quality of life improves for everyone in the community. Working Alabamians are making their voices heard and making clear that anti-worker policies don’t serve our communities.

Systemic subservience to corporate interests has held back the people of Alabama for too long. It’s time for our elected officials to leave that mindset behind and enact policies that support working people.

Dev Wakeley is Arise's worker policy advocate. He originally joined Arise as a policy analyst in 2018 before moving to his current role in 2022. Dev is a Gardendale native who has a B.A. in philosophy from Franklin & Marshall College and a J.D. from the University of Alabama.

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