THIS WEEK IN LABOR: Sept. 8

American workers most productive and most exploited

American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich countries, and they produce more per person over the year.

They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a United Nations report released Aug. 27, which said the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.”

The average U.S. worker produces $63,885 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries, the International Labor Organization said in its report. Ireland comes in second at $55,641, Belgium third at $55,235 and France fourth at $54,609.

The productivity figure is found by dividing the country’s gross domestic product by the number of people employed. The UN report is based on 2006 figures for many countries, or the most recent available.

Only part of the U.S. productivity growth, which has outpaced many other developed economies, can be explained by the longer hours Americans are putting in, the ILO said.

The U.S., according to the report, also beats all 27 nations in the European Union, Japan and Switzerland in the amount of wealth created per hour of work — a second key measure of productivity.



Unions endorse for president

John Edwards won the Labor Day endorsement of two major unions, the Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America.

“America was not built in Wall Street, America was built by steelworkers and mineworkers,” Edwards told the crowd at the Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh.

The USW is the largest industrial union in North America with 850,000 members in the metal, mining, rubber, paper, oil refining, chemical and service industries.

The UMWA, which includes coal miners, technicians, health care workers, truck drivers and school board employees, has 86,000 members.

Edwards also has the endorsement of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, giving him the most union endorsements so far in the field of presidential candidates.

Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by the United Transportation Union and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Christopher Dodd has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters.

All the unions that have endorsed so far belong to the AFL-CIO. The federation has decided not to issue its own endorsement now because it considers most of the Democratic candidates to be strong on issues important to workers and because its rules for endorsement require a two-thirds consensus of member unions. The federation does not have that consensus yet, so member unions are free to endorse for the primaries if they wish.

It is expected that the labor movement will eventually unite behind the nominee of the Democratic Party.



Labor’s watchdog needs watching

Workers at the national office of the National Labor Relations Board recently voted to be represented by one union rather than by the four separate unions that have previously represented them.

The NLRB, however, dominated by Bush-appointed Republicans, has refused to negotiate with the new union chosen by its workers.



UAW members authorize strike

At the Ford Motor Co. plant in Saline, Mich., last week, workers told reporters that they had voted by 99 percent to authorize their union to strike if a satisfactory agreement is not reached by Sept. 14 when auto union contracts with the Big Three expire.

Voting nationwide wrapped up Aug. 31 with more than 90 percent of the United Auto Workers membership approving a strike if one becomes necessary.

Many workers said they voted to authorize a strike even though they personally were not happy about the idea. They said they felt, however, that it would be wrong to make additional concessions to the companies.

The auto companies are trying to unload their long-term retiree health care obligations by paying the UAW a lump sum so the union can form a trust to pay the medical bills.



This Week in Labor is compiled by John Wojcik (jwojcik @pww.org).