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Local labor unions, employers assess state of labor in the U.S.

Local labor unions, employers assess state of labor in the U.S.
Posted at 10:00 PM, Sep 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-04 23:20:56-04

LAKEWOOD, Ohio — A new Gallup poll shows that 68% of Americans approve of labor unions.

That's the highest rate since 1965.

Saturday, representatives from unions all over Northeast Ohio gathered at Lakewood Park to celebrate the Labor Day holiday. North Shore Federation of Labor hosted the second of its Labor Day to Election Day rally series.

It was an opportunity for folks concerned about labor and workers to gather with like-minded people.

“Being part of a labor union is extremely important, because it’s what gives us a voice with our employer,” said Shari Obrenski, the president of the Cleveland Teachers Union.

Obrenski said it was also a chance to reflect on the challenges they’ve faced over the past year.

“As a teacher and someone who has been involved in education and working with children it's been critical for us to have a voice in keeping our classrooms safe and keeping our kids and their families safe,” said Obrenski.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the union membership rate in 2020 was 10.8%. That’s 0.5% more than 2019.

Among Ohioans, the BLS said union membership rose from 610,000 in 2019 to 637,000 last year.

But those gains come amid a nationwide worker shortage in key industries.

“We saw that now because of COVID it's hard to keep people at work, and people are saying, ‘I'm not going to work for $15 an hour, I’m not going to work for $12 an hour,’” said Marquez Brown, the regional director of AFSCME Ohio Council 8.

Brown believes the bargaining work being done by unions influenced some employers to raise wages in order to attract more workers.

“We're trying to lift wages, lift benefits for our members and now we're seeing that non-unionized members are also reaping those same things we've been fighting for for so long,” said Brown.

Some industries though are still struggling to connect with job seekers.

“It's a hit or miss. It's like we get one staffed and then we go to get the next one staffed and then we've got to go back,” said John Lane, partner of the Winking Lizard Tavern chain.

Management at the chain said its short 150 staff members.

It closed its Gateway District location indefinitely last week due to the lack of staff and slow customer traffic and offered workers jobs at other locations.

“It's really, really tough when your restaurant is slow. What do you do? You cut hours and when you cut hours, people can't make it work in 20 or 25 hours a week. They need that 40 hours. So we're better off the way we are right now,” said Lane.

Lane said they plan to reassess the situation at the Gateway District location after the first of the year.

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