Supreme Court Decision: Are Unions Now Less Relevant than Ever?

Written by Candace Hardin on June 28, 2018

Today, the Supreme Court dealt a heavy blow to the Unions in the 5 to 4 decision that workers who chose not to join a union may not be held liable to pay for collective bargaining.

It is a violation of the non-union workers’ First Amendment rights to force them to finance union activity.

The real question is: Are unions still relevant?

When they were first formed, it was necessary to have a buffer between the worker and the employer as the worker had no protections against long hours, low pay, poor workplace safety or how they were treated. Often wages were low and hours were very long. Unions were the only recourse to protect workers from being mistreated.

The Industrial Revolution increased the demand for labor. However, this mostly resulted in great wealth for some and grinding poverty for others.

Women and children were among those working in the factories under dangerous conditions. None were as bad as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York.

In 1909, the shirtwaist workers in the city went on strike to improve pay and conditions in the factories. The other factories eventually acquiesced to worker demands, with the exception of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

A fire started on the eighth floor on the afternoon of March 25, 1911. It was a small fire that quickly spread due to the flammable materials in the area. The employees tried to put it out with fire hoses that were on each floor, but found there was no water connected to them.

One hundred and seventy-six people died in the fire.

This lead New York City to begin the task of passing safety regulations for factories, applying stiff penalties for non-compliance. Other cities soon followed the example.

Former President Teddy Roosevelt intervened in the Union Mine Workers strike in 1910. He appointed a commission of mediators to negotiate for a break in the strike. The striking workers returned to work with an eventual ten percent pay raise.

What are the origins of the Unions in the United States?

The concept of a workers’ union dates back to the Pilgrims landing in the New World. Many New World colonists were craftsmen looking to profit from their labor. Primitive unions or guilds of skilled laborers made appearances from time to time in various cities up and down the Atlantic seaboard of colonial America.

Seeking, “pursuit of happiness” through shorter hours and higher pay, organized printers were the first to go on strike in 1794. Several other groups of skilled labor followed their lead in the next few years thereafter.

The National Labor Union or Federation formed in 1866. They eventually persuaded Congress to pass an eight-hour workday for Federal workers. The law did not hold up well as it was a casualty of the sweeping economic depression of 1873. Then, like now, the employee just wanted to be employed. The employee puts up with a little bit more as a tradeoff to unemployment.

What is the difference between a union and non-union manufacturing platform?

For an employer who is not in favor of the union, it could be because union regulations that cost extra.

Hostess Bakery is a good example.

The Wonder Bread could not be delivered in the same truck as the snack cakes. It could not be loaded into the trucks by the same employees as the snack cake loaders.

This requires a parallel workforce and truck fleet to do the same work. It is a double expense to deliver by two separate deliveries to the same locations for distribution and sale.

Waste is contrary to a healthy bottom line. Non-Union businesses can make do with one workforce to perform the same tasks. The object of a business is to generate profit to either shareholders or owners.

A Union worker might argue that the non-union company would only try to work them twice as much for the same money. This is an issue as well, but where is the common sense factor? Forcing a double workforce cannot be logical, and abuse of the work force is not tolerable either.

The Federal Government through the years has legislated many safety and human rights laws in order to protect the worker from unsafe conditions to zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

Many would argue that this makes the union obsolete in this day and time.

Decisions such as the one on June 27, 2018 by SCOTUS on unions bring them a step closer to extinction.

Image: (CC BY 2.0); Excerpted from:

Candace Hardin
Candace Hardin resides in Atlanta, Georgia. She is fluent in Spanish and a student of Latin and history. She is a columnist on and has a blog, Originally from North Carolina, her writing and beliefs have been heavily influenced by the Appalachian culture and tradition.