On Thursday, a coalition of Durham worker’s groups will host a town-hall forum with elected officials and candidates called “North Carolina Needs Unions.”
Does North Carolina need unions? We certainly don’t have too many. Currently, North Carolina has the second-lowest union density in the country. That’s not surprising when you realize that public employees—including our colleagues at UNC—are not allowed collective bargaining. Or that North Carolina is a “right to work” state, meaning that unions cannot collect dues from everyone whose job they protect. It’s clear that North Carolina law limits the formation and power of unions in the state.
But is that really a problem? What would residents of our state gain from the growth of unionized labor? Most obviously, unions benefit the workers who join them. Unionized workers get higher pay, better working conditions, and more of a say in their own working lives. It’s no coincidence that the widening of the income gap over the past 50 years has been accompanied by decreasing membership in unions.
But as a member of the Duke Faculty Union, I’ve learned that unions are not just about economic benefits. They are communities that foster intellectual and political growth. And whether unionized or not, all of us have organized labor to thank for its unceasing battle for worker’s rights – for everything from Social Security benefits to sexual harassment laws. We can see the link between racial justice movements and labor organizing in the South not only in Martin Luther King’s famous support of the Memphis sanitation workers but in the history of Duke’s own service workers and housekeeper’s union, AFSCME Local 77.
So I say yes, North Carolina needs unions. Come to the Durham Workers Assembly’s Town Hall this Thursday and find out if our leaders and legislators think so too.
Cathy Shuman is a lecturing fellow in the Department of English.