Protecting the Promise of Labor Day: Five Ways Workers are Under Attack
by Zaid Jilani
Over the next century, unions fought to win all sorts of benefits for Americans, ranging from widespread employer-sponsored health care to reduced workdays. But this Labor Day, many of these hard-fought benefits are under attack:
• Pensions: Thanks to federal reforms and labor activism, private sector pension plans proliferated in the twentieth century. In March of 1949, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that companies had to bargain with their unions over pensions. Walter Reuther – the famous United Auto Workers (UAW) leader who also addressed the 1963 March On Washington – demanded that Ford Motor Company offer retirement security in the form of pensions, and led his workers in a strike in order to win it. By September 1949, Ford agreed to a $100-a-month pension – a decision that had huge ramifications for pro-pension activism nationwide.
Today, pensions across the country are under attack. In 1979, 38 percent of workers in the private sector had access to a defined benefit plan. By 2010, only 15 percent had access to such a plan. Meanwhile in the public sector, both state and local governments continue to cut pensions even while handing out massive tax giveaways to corporations.