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Due to bad economic conditions over the last few years, many unions have accepted cuts in pay and benefits. Historically, when the economy is bad, many employees, union and non-union alike, have had a “don’t rock the boat” mentality that having any type of job is better than being the highest paid worker in the unemployment line. Some developments are beginning to suggest that the situation may be changing.

A current example is the union movement’s arch-enemy, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is not only the largest employer in the U.S., but is entirely union-free. Moreover, it has gained market shares from other companies that are traditionally unionized. The unions have taken notice and are doing everything possible to “stir things up.”

The number of union-related work stoppages involving more than 1,000 workers, which reached an all-time low of just 5 in 2009, rose to 13 as of October, 2012. Pilots at American Airlines are destroying the airline’s flight schedules, nurses are striking in California, unions have forced the maker of the Twinkie and Hostess brands, out of business, and workers at Wal-Mart are constantly being encouraged by unions to stir up trouble. Indeed, a popular union publication is called “A Trouble Maker’s Guide.”

There is a union-support group called OUR Wal-Mart asking Wal-Mart employees to walk out of its stores across the country during the busiest days of the holiday season. Charges and counter-charges are pending at the Labor Board, with the unions contending that Wal-Mart has retaliated against workers who have or might participate in the work stoppages. Wal-Mart is taking the unusual action of filing a charge itself with the NLRB, seeking an injunction to stop the protests, and claiming that the unions are in essence seeking recognition from Wal-Mart without establishing a majority or without filing for an election with the NLRB. Some of the protests use themes of outrage at wealth, somewhat similar to the “99%” movement.

Hostess Brands, the maker of Twinkies and Wonderbread, is going out of business and liquidating due mainly to a strike by its bakers’ union. All of its 18,500 workers will lose their jobs, some immediately and others over the next few months. The other major union at Hostess Bands, the Teamsters, had accepted the contractual concessions, and some union members say that the bakery workers made a “terrible choice based solely on terrible information from their leadership.”

Some union elements may feel they have tacit support resulting from President Obama’s re-election, as the union movement takes a lot of credit in getting the President re-elected.

Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider & Stine

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