Labor unions have been on the decline for decades after reaching their high-water mark in 1955, when they represented nearly 35% of the workforce.

Some (like my father-in-law) say that because they bargain for fewer and fewer people, they should just go away. Or that “they had a purpose at one time, but not anymore."

But others say the decline of unions is one of the primary reasons that income inequality in the U.S. is so extreme.

For example, economist Robert Reich shows in his movie “Inequality for All" how the ascent of labor unions decreased the income gap and grew the middle class. You can see the correlation pretty clearly here:


Almost like a mirror image, eh? Hmmm... Graphic from the Economic Policy Institute, used with permission.

Here are a few things to think about.

Agitators gonna agitate: the early days of the UAW. GIF via "Do Labor Unions Still Matter?"

1. Labor unions began as a way for working people to get fair wages, working conditions, benefits, and more.

One of the original demands of labor unions was for the eight-hour workday. This was at a time when many people were working 10- to 16-hour days, every day of the week. It was eventually won, shop by union shop. And during the golden years (post-World War II through about the mid-1960s), it was the norm: Only one parent needed to work to support a family, and the working parent was home for dinner and the weekends.

That's fallen apart as unions have lost power. Now, some folks work three or more part-time jobs just to keep a roof over their head, and mandatory overtime — frequently with no days off for weeks at time — is common. It's time to turn that back around.

Let the dollahs roll!

2. Union jobs pay an average of at least $6,000 more per year than non-union.

That's almost $500 per month, or about two car payments. Whoa.

GIF via "Arrested Development."

3. Union jobs almost always have better benefits (health insurance, retirement savings, time off) than non-union jobs.

Hmmm ... is HAL about to open the pod bay doors? GIF via Prosthetic Knowledge's Tumblr.

4. The kinds of work we do have changed dramatically in the time since unions began.

This is one argument against labor unions — that factories and such are disappearing from our landscape, so those old unions should follow suit. However, many unions are expanding their membership to hospital workers, service industry folks, fashion models, restaurant workers, writers, adjunct professors, nursing assistants, and other professions. Some of these workplaces are clearly vulnerable to abuses, and they're ripe to be unionized. In all cases, working people deserve a fair share.

GIF by Reino Baptista/Wikimedia Commons.

5. A rising tide floats all boats higher.

What do I mean? In most sectors, union representation raises the wages and working condition standards for everybody. Without the union jobs setting the bar higher, economic compensation industry-wide goes down, not up.

That's likely why in some of the largely non-union South, auto companies that are not unionized still pay and treat people pretty well. That would not be the case if some of the other automakers in that part of the country were not unionized, with superior contracts.

Finally, unions offer people a little bit of power on the job — frequently something that, in a still-anemic economy, we're losing more and more of.

It doesn't have to be just about wages and benefits — many jobs come with those. But it's also about not being afraid to say something when management is behaving in ways that are negatively affecting lots of people, or when a supervisor has it in for an employee and is targeting them unfairly, or when work rules are changed arbitrarily and it makes everybody's job a nightmare.

The video below, by the channel TestTube News, will point you to some places to look further if you want to research a bit more, including some of the other side in this conversation.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

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