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A New Interest in Unions

In a black and white photograph, two men wearing suits sit in front of bookshelves in a courthouse library.
Eddie Cantor and the studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn in 1934.Credit...Bettmann/Contributor

To celebrate his first Thanksgiving as president, Franklin Roosevelt traveled to his vacation home in Warm Springs, Ga., in 1933, and he invited a guest to join him: Eddie Cantor, a comedian who was then among Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The invitation wasn’t simply a politician’s attempt to associate himself with a celebrity. It also came with a political message. Cantor was one of the founders of a new Hollywood labor union, the Screen Actors Guild, along with James Cagney, Miriam Hopkins, Groucho Marx, Spencer Tracy and others. The previous month, the union’s members had elected Cantor as their president.

The Guild’s formation was part of a surge in union membership in the 1930s. During Roosevelt’s early flurry of legislation, he signed an economic recovery bill that included a provision giving workers a clearer right to join labor unions than they had previously had. Americans responded by signing up for unions by the thousands.

Cantor was a symbol of this right. Hollywood stars were obviously not typical workers, but they were famous. By inviting Cantor to join him for Thanksgiving, Roosevelt reminded Americans of the central role that labor unions played in a healthy capitalist economy. The president was subtly encouraging other workers to consider joining a union at their own workplace.

Ninety years later, Cantor’s union (now known as SAG–AFTRA) is in the news again, after going on strike last week. Its members still are not typical workers, and the strike’s outcome will have little direct effect on most Americans. By comparison, the recent attempts to form unions at Starbucks and Amazon probably matter much more to the future of the U.S. economy.

But Hollywood continues to have symbolic importance. Actors are familiar figures to many Americans. Over the past few days, people have seen these familiar figures — including George Clooney, Rosario Dawson, Mandy Moore, Margot Robbie and Jason Sudeikis — walking picket lines and arguing for fair wages.

“The eyes of the world and particularly the eyes of labor are upon us,” Fran Drescher, the current union president and former star of “The Nanny,” said in a fiery speech last week. “What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor.”

She added, “I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us!”

The actors’ strike, along with a simultaneous Hollywood writers’ strike, has become one more way in which labor unions are a subject of newfound interest and attention. More than 70 percent of Americans say they approve of labor unions, according to Gallup, up from 54 percent a decade ago. Unions have their highest approval rating since 1965.

80% approve











80% approve











Source: Gallup

By The New York Times

This interest in unions is economically rational for many workers. Collective bargaining gives employees leverage that they tend to lack when they negotiate on their own. Unionized workers typically make 10 percent to 20 percent more than similar nonunionized workers, as I’ve explained before. The extra pay often comes out of executive salaries or corporate profits, reducing income inequality in the process.

Still, a surge in unionization resembling that 1930s surge seems unlikely today. Forming new unions remains extremely difficult. Many companies go to extremes to keep out a union, including firing the workers who try to organize one, usually with little legal penalty.

The union boom in Roosevelt’s day depended on changes in federal law. Two years ago, the House of Representatives passed a bill to protect union organizing, and President Biden favored it, but it lacked the support in the Senate to pass. Until that changes, strikes like those in Hollywood are likely to remain rare events — and income inequality is likely to remain high.

Hollywood’s two traditional sources of income, movie theaters and television, are both broken, Brooks Barnes writes.

A key issue in the strike: The rise of streaming has allowed studios to write new rules about how actors are paid for old episodes — in a way that gives them less.

The union also worries that artificial intelligence could automate the work of background actors, The Verge reports.

Mergers have helped entertainment companies grow much larger in recent years, increasing their leverage over actors and writers, Jennifer Rubin explains in The Washington Post.

Go back in time: “Actors Threaten Strike in Movies,” The Times reported in 1933.

President Biden invited Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, to the U.S., easing tensions between the two leaders.

Biden is meeting with Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, at the White House today. That invitation had been seen as a slight to Netanyahu.

Democrats in Congress are fighting over their position on Israel. Some plan to boycott a speech by Herzog.

The temperature in Phoenix is expected to be above 110 degrees for the 19th consecutive day, breaking a record.

A heat wave is also gripping parts of Europe, including Italy and Spain.

Canadian wildfires are again sending smoke across the U.S. Check your air quality forecast.

A judge suspended Iowa’s abortion ban until courts decide whether it is constitutional.

A simple typo — .ml instead of .mil — has misdirected millions of U.S. military emails to Mali, a close ally of Russia, The Financial Times reports.

Relatives of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. condemned his comments spreading a conspiracy theory that Covid was “ethnically targeted” to spare Jews and Chinese people.

The Chinese foreign minister hasn’t been seen in public for three weeks, and the government won’t say where he is.

As China’s economy struggles, officials there have become more open to talks with international rivals.

New York has a new police commissioner, Edward Caban, the first Latino to hold the job.

Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor called for an outside authority to take control of the city’s troubled jails.

Sea drones — unmanned vessels carrying explosives — may have been used to attack Russia’s bridge to Crimea. Read more about these weapons.

The labor market has recovered from the pandemic by nearly every measure, and the Fed is working to keep it strong while also trying to cool inflation.

A California man who killed three teenagers by ramming into the car of a group who had played a prank on him was sentenced to life in prison.

The U.S. needs China to build a competitive electric vehicle industry, Robinson Meyer writes.

Here are columns by Paul Krugman on politicizing the weather and Michelle Goldberg on political correctness about Israel.

Mysterious metal object: It’s more than 6 feet tall and it turned up on a beach in Australia.

Disaster-proof: Architects are trying to design homes that can endure climate change.

Furby’s face lift: The animatronic toy had a makeover. It’s getting mixed reviews.

Ozempic: Weight-loss drugs can also make you lose muscle, a particular risk to people over 65.

Lives Lived: In his bluntly titled surprise best seller, the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt argued that a certain kind of dishonesty was worse than lying. He died at 94.

The next mega-trade? Joel Embiid is still committed to the Sixers, but it’s not hard to envision a future in which he plays for someone else.

Miami loves Messi: Soccer-crazy South Florida welcomed its new superstar with murals and milanesas.

Northwestern hazing scandal: Eight former Wildcats football players plan to pursue legal action. Lawyers expect more to join the case.

Taylor on top, again: Taylor Swift’s new album, a rerecording of 2010’s “Speak Now,” has reached No. 1. Swift now has the most No. 1 albums of any female artist: 12, which is one more than Barbra Streisand. The only artists with more are Jay-Z (14) and the Beatles (19).

Less partying, more vegetables: Stars like Beyoncé and Paul McCartney travel with chefs making healthy meals.

She gave the Met many gifts as a longtime trustee. But investigators said dozens of her artifacts were looted.

Toss crispy paneer in soy and chile.

Fetch your dog a gift.

Train for a marathon by focusing on the basics.

Clean your makeup sponges.

Swim on a guided tour.

Here are today’s Spelling Bee and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words. Yesterday’s pangram was acridity.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

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Posted on 18 Jul 2023 18:26 link