Unions today are not the powerhouses of yesteryear. According to a study by Sociologist Jake Rosenfeld, unionization among private-sector full-time employees fell by 40% between 1984 and 2002. Indeed, as cited in Unions, Norms, and the Rise in American Wage Inequality, “From 1973 to 2007, private sector union membership in the United States declined from 34 to 8 percent for men and from 16 to 6 percent among women. Inequality in hourly wages increased by over 40 percent in this period.”

The reason is stark. Beginning in 1938, the Supreme Court ruled that while workers could not be fired for striking, laborers could be “permanently replaced.” [National Labor Relations Board v. Mackay Radio and Telegraph 304 U.S. 333] For decades, the threat was understood. In reality, however, until more recently, employers respected the rights of those in established unions.

Almost abruptly, in 1981 attitudes and actions changed. President Ronald Reagan, without hesitation, fired striking Air-traffic controllers. “Workers” were summarily dismissed from their jobs for taking a stance, asking for improved working conditions.” The swift disciplinary response set a tone. Decades of conservative Court and National Labor Relations Board decisions empowered other elected officials and employers. Each of these quickly adopted policies that allowed for aggressive attacks on union workers.

Weakened by a climate of intolerance union memberships declined

The effect of a less unionized labor force led to an increase in inequity across the American landscape. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our local neighborhoods and in turn, in our schools. The wealthy and high-wage earners live in affluent enclaves. Their children attend higher quality schools. The middle-class, whose wages have decreased with the decline of unions, do the best that they can to provide a quality for their progeny. The poor, well, they are left behind.

As witnessed in the growing wage stratification, communities and education are now stratified. There are layers, and the unifying aspect of this discussion is labor and labor relations.