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tv   Washington Journal Steven Greenhouse  CSPAN  April 20, 2022 3:07am-3:53am EDT

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>> "washington
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journal'continues. host: our next guest reported on labor issues for "the new york times" and the author of " beaten-down and worked up." steven greenhouse, welcome to " washington journal." we brought you on because of events about the unionization efforts at that one place in staten island, talk about what happened and why is it important when it comes to the labor movement? guest: i started out as "the new york times" labor reporter in 1995 and has been writing down -- writing about labor issues. the victory of the union of staten island is by my mind the biggest and most important beat the odds david versus goliath win for a union in many decades, going way back before i began. why is it so big? because it is 8300 workers which
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is quite big, second amazon, if there is any company that people thought could not be unionized it was amazon because it is so ferociously antiunion, it is like it is the only company that puts antiunion posters and bathroom stalls so that while you are sitting on the can you have to read amazon's antiunion propaganda. and amazon is one of the leading corporations in image, substance, and importance. and jeff bezos is one of the nation's top business executives, so for a union to beat amazon at such a huge facility when amazon was dealing with a full-court press, that is a big deal and it sends signals to workers and executives across the nation. to executives it says you might
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feel like you are invulnerable, but even if mighty amazon can lose a unionization site, -- fight, you might lose one too. and it sends a big message to workers who thought that amazon is a test -- a tough nut to crack, but if enough can unite against amazon we have enough to unite in our workplace too. taking amazon and the string of victories in starbucks, this is the most exciting moment for labor unions and workers in decades. there is a lot going on and you hear about the first rei store was unionized in manhattan, the first rockclimbing facility in the country, indoor rockclimbing facility in the country was facility -- was unionized. the traveling tour of waitress is unionizing.
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dartmouth, and grinnell are unionizing. there is a lot of excitement right now among especially young workers that we can improve our lot and maybe raise our wages and better or working conditions by joining a union -- a union. host: for the amazon model what made it successful? guest: great question. one of the -- i use the word amazing aspects of the victory on staten island, new york city as that it was not done by an established powerful union like the teamsters, it was done by a union founded by a fired amazon worker and his best friend to continue to work in the amazon warehouse on staten island. you were these two little delete -- little david's taking on this goliath with one million employees across the united states. and they managed to get two
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dozen workers inside the warehouse to really join their union effort and try to organize and reach out to the 803,000 workers and they are brilliant. we reach out to hundreds of thousands of workers, they spoke to them at the bus stop as they are coming and going to the facility, they held barbecues, they held bonfires to speak to the workers in the winter, and they did a good job with putting amazon -- rebutting amazon's arguments. one of the main arguments that they use in fighting against the union is saying that the union is the third party, they are not us and they do not want the union intervening between the wonderful worker and wonderful management. and they are just here to grab your dues and live high on the hog and they do -- and the workers who participate and lead the effort to unionize amazon made clear we are not a third
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party, we are fellow workers like you. we know the problems that amazon workers face because we are workers. no the stresses and how brutal it is at work, and we are not a third party, we represent your interests. we are not trying to grab dues to drive cadillacs, we want to have a functioning union and we need dues to have a functioning union to get better pay for you and better working conditions. and these workers really, they work -- these organizers did a good job relaying and communicating with these workers, and another big thing is i have often written in my books that the playing field when workers and union seek to unionize is tilted in favor of corporations and against workers and unions. take the amazon effort to unionize and alabama, and
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bessemer. there amazon was able -- under american law amazon can prohibit union organizers from the teamsters or department store union from setting foot on company property. they cannot go inside, they cannot even put flyers on the windshields of company cars. meanwhile, union organizers are prohibited from company partnered -- property, the company can propagandize against the union 24 hours a day seven days a week with videos in the lunchroom in break rooms, requiring workers to attend antiunion meetings, managers could go up and speak to workers one-on-one and say here is a reason why you should not join the union, the union is greedy, bad, and corrupt. there is an imbalance to how much the employer can
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communicate with workers versus how much union organizers can communicate. the big difference at staten island is that the organizers were workers who worked inside the building and had the right to enter to go to work, so it was very easy in this kind of self organized, homegrown effort for workers to talk to other workers, and that i think in many ways was the secret. it was workers talking to coworkers and those workers unlike many outside union organizers could gain access and talk to workers in the lunchroom in break room they had far more access to the workers than when big unions send in staff organizers to try and speak. host: our guest is with us until 9:30 and if you want to ask about events involving unions, republicans, 202-748-8001. democrats, 202-748-8000.
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independents, 202-748-8002. perhaps you are union member who wants to give your perspective on what you saw going on. 202-748-8003, you can give us a call at that number and you can also post on our facebook and twitter feeds. for amazon and starbucks alike, getting unionization is one thing, how do they keep it sustainable without a large -- somebody backing them. guest: i should first say what happened at starbucks is quite remarkable. starbucks like amazon is fiercely antiunion, and the message that starbucks and amazon send is do not try to unionize, we are self atrocious antiunion you do not have a chance. but there is this initial effort to unionize a few starbucks in buffalo and in december the very first workers at a starbucks for the first time voted to unionize , so that was the first of 9000
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company owned and operated starbucks to unionize and that excited people. people, that really excited people. workers, the floodgates opened up. now we have seen workers at over 200 starbucks in over 30 states petitioning to hold union elections. so we have one starbucks store in december that unionized, 20 voted in favor of unionization, and 200 have voted for elections. so that as a whole lot of momentum. and a union backing, there is a momentum of workers that are so excited to see fellow starbucks workers unionizing and saying hey, we can do that too. it is one thing to win a majority of 25, 30 workers of a
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starbucks, to get 15 to 20 to vote for a union. it is harder to get the 1500 to 3000 amazon workers at a warehouse to vote for a union. you ask a good question, pedro. how do you continue the momentum? the momentum is there in starbucks. amazon, the question is how you bring that momentum, bring that energy, bring that organizing expertise model to other amazon warehouses? christian small, the fired amazon worker who got the ball rolling and started this unionization efforts, he said other amazon facilities across the united states have contacted him and said, we too would like to unionize. christian smalls, how does he and a small independent union
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without much money go to san francisco, chicago, seattle or boston, where workers might want to unionize, and how does he sit down to -- with them and explain to them how it works? i think you will need some money, some backing, some workers, perhaps provided by the union, so the model of success in staten island can be replicated in other cities. my guess is, there will be other successful efforts to unionize amazon, especially in some of the union friendly, bluer cities of the united states, like seattle, boston, philadelphia, and baltimore. the starbucks and amazons in my mind that created more excitement among young workers than anything that has come along in decades. how do you sustain it?
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host: this is steven greenhouse our guest. our first guest is stephen in connecticut, go ahead with your comment. caller: this is a well solicited announcement from you about unions. everything is about how great a union is and how great unions are. that was a well structured, planned out attack in new york. that was well coached by the democratic party, backed by unions, coaching these kids to go in and assassinate the amazon structure. amazon got really sloppy, it got really large. bezos was not paying attention. i am totally against unions. i live in a town where the property tax is -- $3000 for a home.
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you go to towns over, there are two union employees for everyone employee. as much as you are praising the union system, it ruined america, the unions. they were great in the 1940's, but they are not good today. i was in bangkok, thailand. their train system was running 100%. their subways, their trains. you go to new york city? a horrible system. you got people attacking people. the trains are consistently broken down. we as americans have to pay for this union system. all the rates and prices go up. you've got highways and four workers for everyone worker. host: ok, we will leave it there and let our guest respond. guest: thank you very much for listening and thank you for your question. it is incorrect to say that the democrats are coaching these workers. that's just not true. the workers that organized
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amazon, amazon is doing very, very, very well thank you. its stock price has soared and it still has lots of customers. these workers got some advice from outside organizers. it was not a democratic run group. actually -- you know, this democratic consulting firm, gsg , was consulting with amazon management. so in a way, democrats were helping amazon. both my grandsons -- i am from new york, both of my grandsons work in the garment industry in new york, they are both union members. they told my parents how government jobs used to be terrible jobs, and the unions helped turn those jobs into safe, decent jobs. the auto industry in the united states. people think of good, safe,
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high-paying jobs. before gm, they were lousy jobs, unsafe jobs. i wrote about how gm managers required their underlings, their subordinates to mow their lawns for them before the unions existed, because that's how much vast power the managers had over them. it's thanks to the unions organizing in general motors, ford, and u.s. steel that the middle class was created in the united states. unions are a major reason that america's standard of living in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's was the highest in the world. gm, ford, many companies were making gazillions of dollars after world war ii, but many workers' wages were not good at all. people were struggling to get by. these key union contractors in
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the 1950's and 1960's raise wages, gave people health and pension benefits, that was key to creating the middle-class and steve, you might have felt with your grandparents as well and push them into the middle class, a lot of people forget the basic history about how unions have helped. i have written lots of stories about the problems with unions. i have written about corruption, discrimination against women, blacks, hispanics, but i would argue that unions have come a very long way in reducing corruption. i would argue there is much less corruption in a union move and then there was in the trump administration. the federal government, some union members have done a very good job fighting for fair and just unions. i think the standard of living in the united states of america would be much worse for the average worker if unions did not exist. host: let's go to ted, he is in
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oregon, a union member. you are on with our guest this morning. caller: good morning. my name is ted. i am a retired union plumber. i was able to walk away from the trade the day i turned 57. my father, he was a member of the ibew, the international brotherhood of electrical workers. i was the kid riding the new schwinn bike and i was determined to get into the plumbers union, as my father told me -- son, i love you, but you are too much of a baller to be in electrician. you should be a plumber. so i stood in a line with 1000 other guys who were grown men trying to get into local 51 of the plumbers.
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they were going to take 25 apprentices. when i look at that in those days, that was a tighter class than any ivy league college. so i thought, how am i going to do this? i went down, i joined the air force as a plumber, and the next six years, i traveled the world as a plumber. eventually, i did get in. i went to school for another five years and became a germy -- a journeyman with all the documents that go with it. so i was a working journeyman with the name, the documents in my name, and they can't, a contractor can't do the work unless you've got guys like me with all the documents. for the next 25 years, i was able to do that every day.
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the day i turned 57, i was able to walk away and you know, i feel sorry for anyone that thinks they are going to live on social security. you are not going to do it. even now. host: thanks, we got your point. mr. greathouse? -- mr. greenhous e? guest: you make a point that a lot of americans don't adequately appreciate. the way to get ahead, the way to make a good living is to go to college. but not everyone can go to college. not everyone can afford college. i often say that every high school class has a bottom 50%, and not all of them are equipped to go to college. but there are great jobs like being a plumber, being an electrical worker, taking a union apprenticeship in plumbing or carpentry to be an electrical worker.
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unions and their apprenticeships play a very important role in creating good living for people who do not go to college. i was often upset when president obama said oh, parents, the way for your kids to get ahead, the way for your kids to make a solid living is to go to college. the implication was well, if you don't go to college, you are a loser and we are not going to help you. i think joe biden gets it. he realizes the importance of going to college and if you can't afford a four year college, try to go to community college. his pushing very hard to increase the amount of oppression ships -- apprenticeships for those who don't go to college. working for a union, doing manual labor, its work that is extremely helpful to society. it's work that deserves a lot of respect and you can make a darn good living doing it.
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and i am jealous, as i am sure many of our viewers are, that you were able to retire at 57. host: from twitter, it's a fiction that unions made the middle-class in the postwar boom. we were not devastated by the war. wages and standards of living would rise regardless. guest: thank you, tony, but i am sorry to say you are half right. you are absolutely right that after world war ii, we were the king of the hill. japan's economy, europe's economy was devastated and that made life easy for american companies and gm, ford, were going gangbusters. but in the years after the war, they were not sharing their wealth and many workers in the late 1940's, there was no middle-class or american middle class. many companies were keeping the
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profits for themselves. and speak to historians. read the books. they will explain that general motors strikes in 1946, 1947, 1948, and the fortune magazine wrote that the key general motors union contractors in 1942 -- they called it the treaty of detroit, because it went so far in enriching workers and improving the pay and creating the middle-class. when general motors, which has been the archetypal american company the way amazon and apple are today, when general motors, ford, and u.s. steel where the leading companies of the united states and reached these big, landmark labor contracts with much better wages, these other companies were being unionized too and said whoops, if we want to keep our workers, we
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must pay better wages too. and i disagree strongly with you, that unions did not play an important role in creating the middle-class after the war. yes, it was important that the american companies were doing well so they had the profits to raise wages to lift workers to middle-class levels. it was partly the boom after world war ii, the economic boom, and it was also very much unions that made sure companies shared their profits and prosperity with millions of american workers so i middle-class would be created and for the first time, many workers could afford to buy houses and afford to buy cars. host: our next caller on the independent line, hello. caller: good morning. i actually meant to call c-span, but i got the pedro show. i will make it work, i will make it work. mr. greenhouse, i seen myself -- i am a marxist like you, but
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most of all i am an american. guest: i am not a marxist. caller: i want to know, how do i start the workers revolt that marx said needed to be done? my last question is, do you know why elon musk is headed to mars, to outer space? it's because, a guillotine needs -- host: ok. we will go to bob, a union member in ohio. guest: i am not a marxist. that is not true. host: let's go to bob, a union member in akron, ohio. caller: hi, how are you doing today? i am a first time caller. i have been listening and i feel like the history is being lost here. words like living wage, 40 hour work week, eight hour workdays, lunch breaks, overtime pay, the coal miners started all this in
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west virginia when people died on the picket lines there. they brought in the pinkertons and things like that. there were a lot of people that brought the movement to the forefront. a lot of the things that people enjoy today are from those people working hard and those companies did not profit from those union workers. they were all doing business, they were all doing well, gm, ford -- everything like that. i'm just saying, the united rubble workers, people who make tires -- autoworkers, people who make tires, they are union people, but also created a lot of wealth for companies. host: thanks, bob. guest: you are absolutely right. too many americans forget that americans used to work 70, 80
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hours a week. 12-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 50-year-olds used to work in coal mines and factories. we have seen the bumper sticker -- unions, the folks who brought you the weekend. that is true. a lot of people, for reasons i don't understand, denigrate unions. there are problems with unions, but people forget that it is unions that played such a major role lifting typical american workers. we have gone from workers working seven days a week to having a two day weekend. we have gone from workers working 60, 70 hours a week to a 40 hour week with overtime. we have basically ended child labor. many workplaces, coal mines, auto plants were far, far more dangerous before unions came along. i agree. unions have played a big role. i think a lot of americans today take for granted what they have
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now. it's kind of a birthright. but they forget it was decades of struggle by the coal workers union and the steelworkers union and the garment workers union that lifted working standards to what they are today. it is so easy to say unions stink, they are bad, but without unions, our nation would be much worse off. americans would have much worse working conditions and would not be earning nearly as much. host: you have probably seen the statistics going back to 1980, 20 3% of the u.s. population as far as members of the union. that dropped to a little over 10% in 2021. 14 million people currently in a union. currently were renting union 2021 -- were in a union in 2021, the public sector and the private sector. what do you account for the drop in people in the unions?
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guest: that's a good question. there are many reasons. we have gone from 35% of workers in the unions in the 1980's, then it dropped to one in five, now it dropped to one in 10. in the private sector, just one in 16 workers is in a union. the crazy thing, they are certainly done by professionals at m.i.t. and columbia, one in two workers say they would like to join a union if they could, but there are so few that actually join. why? it might not be a good job explaining why -- so many americans -- it's globalization. so many american companies shut factories and moved production to china, vietnam, or bangladesh, and manufacturing was for a long time the base,
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the core of unions. when the factories closed, many union members lost their jobs, and that reduced union power overall. i argue that corporations in the united states fight to keep out unions more than any other wealthy industrial nation. i used to be the european economic correspondent for the new york times. i was in paris for five years, i wrote about corporations and interviewed top executives in germany, france, spain, britain, switzerland -- they didn't love labor unions, but they viewed unions as legitimate institutions. they viewed them as social partners you have to work with, work along with unions to create rater productivity, greater profits, and greater prosperity. i find that so many corporations
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in the united states, exemplified by amazon, starbucks, and walmart, are super, duper antiunion. they don't see unions as legitimate, they see it as a way to crush extra pay, to get rid of. that's a major way unions are defined. in the 1950's and 1960's, the american companies saw unions much more as partners. but come 1980, the rise of milton friedman, the chicago school of economics, there was a lot more hostility towards unions and corporations fighting more towards unions. a third reason for the decline in unions is that the nature of our economy. managers ran the show in the 1950's and 1960's. the corporate headquarters was
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next to the factory, people knew each other and got along each other, living in the same town as the blue-collar workers and the ceo, they wanted to make sure the workers were treated very well. they were generous in pay, shareholders did not try to get rid of him. but in the 1980's, 1990's, early 2000's, wall street, what many people call financial tablism, they put much, much more pressure on corporate executives to maximize profits and share prices. as a result of that, corporations got much tougher in pulling down wages and fighting unions. you have this combination of globalization, increased efforts to fight unions, and when factory workers in ohio, michigan, wisconsin, minnesota or iowa were demanding a raise,
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the company might say hey, we face competition from china, where the workers only get paid 50% of what you get paid. you, the union, shut up. you cannot give you what you are asking for because that would make us uncompetitive. that also undercut the appeal of unions. that's another reason why, great foreign competition putting down repression on -- downward pressure on wages. but we are not seeing unions and manufacturing so much. we are seeing big efforts to unionize in retail, newspapers, journalism. there is a huge amount of workers at nonprofits, graduate students, professors -- certain sectors of the economy, and now at the starbucks, where unionization spreading like wildfire.
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some experts are asking whether this current news at amazon and starbucks will finally enable much more workers to unionize and whether that will finally reverse the decline in the percentage of american workers who are in unions. guest: a few moments without -- host: a few moments with our guest, this is frank in west virginia. good morning. caller: go right ahead with your fresh -- good morning. host: go right ahead with your question or comment. caller: [inaudible] union contacts. coal mines at 11 years old. my uncle was there at 12. they got him underground. but i want to tell you something -- the unions made this country. now it is all lost. we threw it all away because, to tell you the truth, back then
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you had respect to buy a house, you could buy a vehicle as a working man. technology wasn't there back then. now, for some reason, i've got is best us in my lungs, -- asbestos in my lungs. it's a shame what's happened here. people should have to send their kids at 11, 12 years old to a coal mine, then they would understand better how people had to live. they had company towns. the company owned the town, they have the company store, all that. steve, it was good talking to you. c-span should be calling schools. it should be mandatory. god bless you, bye.
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host: thank you. guest: thank you, frank. i appreciate your call, and you mentioned how unions have played such a huge role in ending child labor movements. your father was in the coal mines at the age of 11, and that's a very eloquent picture showing these boys in coal mines at 10, 12 years old, and unions have played such a big role in ending some of the worst exploitation in our economy. following up on your points, so much news coverage nowadays is about jeff bezos, and they deserve a lot of praise and attention, but they have downsides too. others who fight the daily fight to make things better, civil rights leaders and union leaders, they are offering --
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one of my favorite quotes about labor comes from dr. martin luther king junior. the labor movement, out of its struggles, it gave birth to economic employment, new ways levels that meant not mere survival, but a colorful life. the capitalists of industry did not believe this transformation. they resisted it until they were overcome. a lot of workers were not keen to raise their wages for the middle class. it took a lot of pushing to get these corporations to pay adequate wages,, to lift workers into the middle class. i am sure that was true in the coal industry as well, as frank will attest. host: let's hear from our last
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caller, mike in indiana, republican line. good morning. caller: yes, i listen to the gentleman talking about the union and everything. i live in indiana, 15 miles from the ellen way border. you would not believe all the union jobs across the border. illinois is a failed state. most union states are in the red. most right to work states are in the black. that's a fact. everybody knows it. new york, california, illinois -- they are failed states. i don't know what happened to the union. it might have been good at one time, but it sure has not helped us lately. host: thank you. mike? guest: i do not know the numbers, but i am sure there are some red states, a state that was running hugely in the red,
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over 30 million people of california, there are millions of people who have moved to california that would take issue with you when you say it is a failed state. i live in new york state and i know that i and many of our neighbors and friends would say, what do you mean, new york is a failed state? why are so many businesses moving to create jobs in california, los angeles, san francisco, in silicon valley, it new york city, they have very big cities, and many cities have problems. i could make the case that some people from a certain political party have not provided adequate resources to a city to ensure there is enough money to fund the subways or the police or the schools, so indiana is a successful state, illinois in
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many ways is a successful state. it is running a deficit for many reasons. california is a phenomenally successful state. that's why so many people want to go there. new york is a successful state, and it's too easy to say a state has failed and it is too easy to blame things on unions. we have had this horrible recession in 2008, 2009, which is in no way brought on by unions. it's created by the banking industry, the mortgage industry, and not enough federal regulation. we have this issue now because of covid-19, and it's way too simplistic to say we have a problem, blame it on unions. yes it's true, sometimes higher union wages may help you -- in
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the city. but teachers and firefighters who risk their lives every day on the job, sanitation workers who do such important work. subway conductors who do their job, working underground, they deserve to make a decent living. that might mean paying them a decent pay and a lot of people think, oh, they don't deserve decent pay. they are government workers, they are supported by a union and people hate elon musk and jeff bezos for being worth $200 billion, 200 $50 billion, but unions are just trying to make sure that firefighters and cops and social workers and teachers make 50, $60,000, $70,000 a year so they can have and support a
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family. so many people criticize unions and don't appreciate all that unions have done over history and are still doing. i'm not saying there are no problems with unions, but unions have really cleaned up their act in many ways with regard to corruption, discrimination, trying much more now to help workers, lift them up as well. host: our guest is with the century foundation, he is their senior fellow. you heard about
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