This Labor Day, let’s ensure that individual workers are empowered, too

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Ideas never die. If they become unpopular, people forget about them, but then they bounce back when a new generation rediscovers them. And whatever made the ideas unpopular the first time around happens again and the cycle repeats itself.

Collective bargaining in the U.S. is currently on the upswing of that cycle. After decades of unions often being regarded as something in musty history books and nostalgic Bruce Springsteen songs, there are signs that it has caught on with a lot of workers, especially young progressive ones. A recent Gallup poll found that unions had 71 percent approval, the highest since 1965. To young workers, organizing is a fresh, new idea. They haven’t yet learned of the tradeoffs—yet.

The most high-profile recent union victories have been at Starbucks, where more than 200 cafes have organized. A bid to organize Amazon has proven more fitful, but unions have managed some wins. Congressional staffers have begun to organize for the first time ever. Workers in the video game industry have organized too. College athletes are pushing to organize, and the National Labor Relations Board has argued they are in fact employees.

None of these sectors have traditionally been organized. Their workers only know unions from the idealized version presented by labor leaders and progressive pundits.

It is workers’ right to organize if they so choose, of course. Forming a union does give them leverage against their employers, and for many workers that may seal the deal; but that comes at the expense of workers’ autonomy. The organized worker has, in theory, agreed to make certain sacrifices in personal choice in order to empower the union in its dealings with management. Some individual workers may not have agreed to those sacrifices, though. They might have been outvoted. Sometimes they don’t even know that what the union is doing on their behalf. Even when workers back their union, ensuring that the union stays on mission is an ongoing challenge.

Read the full article at The Hill.