Friday, June 26, 2009

Would bill to aid unions also help rural areas?

Business interests say the hotly debated Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for labor unions to organize workplaces, would be bad for the American economy by making it less competitive. Most rural areas are less friendly to unions than metropolitan areas, and many have have often attracted factories by assuring employers with that fact -- and sometimes a promise to help the prospect keep it that way.

But in a commentary in the Bemidji Pioneer of north-central Minnesota, a 9,000-circulation daily, Richard Levins, a professor emeritus of applied economics at the University of Minnesota, argues that access to the benefits of unions, including wages that build a strong middle class, is key to making rural economies solid. He says rural localities have tempted businesses with words he calls careless: “Bring your factory to our town. People will work for less here, and we’ll throw in tax cuts for good measure.” He argues, "These efforts have done nothing to halt the economic decline of most of our rural communities."

Instead, Levins endorses the view of Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist Paul Krugman, who said “Falling wages are a symptom of a sick economy.” The medicine is labor unions, which work most aggressively to keep wages at levels that support economic stability, Levins contends. “What we should be competitive in is our standard of living. Attractive rural areas are built on quality of life, not cheap wages.” (Read more)

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