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Politics and Economy:
Off the Clock
More on This Story:
Working in America Overview: State of the Unions

Unions were briefly at the top of the American news last month due to the strike by the 10,500 dock workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union strike at 29 West Coast ports. As losses, and pressures, mounted President Bush became the first president in a quarter-century to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. The act allows a president to ask a federal court to stop a strike or lockout that imperils the nationís health and safety. Progress is being made in mediation talks. The "cooling off" period mandated by Taft-Hartley is in effect until December 27.

There's little doubt that union membership is falling. However, unions still remain a powerful force in American life, and in American politics. But, as the figures below illustrate, whether or not there is a union in your life depends very much on where you live and what you do for work. Salespeople, like those featured in "Off the Clock," have the lowest rate of unionization in the nation.

State of the Unions

Percentage of wage and salary workers who are union members, 2001:  13.5%
Percentage of wage and salary workers who were union members, 1983:  20.1%
Unionization rates for government workers, 2001:  37.4%
Unionization rate of private sector employees, 2001:  9%
Unionization rate among protective services workers (police, fire fighters):  43.1%
Unionization rate among transportation and public utilities workers:  23.5%
Unionization rate among construction workers:  18.4%
Unionization rate among professional workers (including teachers):  19.1%
Unionization rate among manufacturing workers:  14.6%
Unionization rate among sales workers:  3.5%

The main issue in the West Coast port strike was job security. It is an issue troubling many economists, and Americans. In October the jobless rate was 5.7%. It might not seem like much when compared to some European nations, but it is something Americans haven't been familiar with of late. The newest unemployment figures show that the benefits for 370,000 out-of-work people expired in September alone. It's actually worse than the unemployment situation during the recession 10 years ago.

Observers have noted that these job losses are not just affecting one sector — unlike the large losses in manufacturing during the 1970s. Instead, all sectors of the economy, blue- and white-collar workers, are feeling the pain. Now every state has a Web site dedicated to aiding its workers. You can find information on unemployment compensation, job listings, and advice for your locale on our Employment Resource Map.

Working and Not Working Worldwide

United States unemployment rate, October, 2002:  5.7%
Canadian unemployment rate, October, 2002:  7.6%
Australian unemployment rate, October, 2002:  6.2%
French unemployment rate, October, 2002:  8.8%
German unemployment rate, October, 2002:  8.3%
Italian unemployment rate, October, 2002:  9%
Japanese unemployment rate, October, 2002:  5.4%
Dutch unemployment rate, October, 2002:  2.7%
Spanish unemployment rate, October, 2002:  10.6%
United Kingdom unemployment rate, October, 2002:  5.1%

Sources: THE NEW YORK TIMES; National Labor Relations Board; Bureau of Labor Statistics; OECD Statistics; Japanese Labor Statistics

Wal-Mart Resources:

Good Works
Good Works is Wal-Mart's foundation for charitable giving. The foundation focuses its efforts on community education and scholarships; family health and welfare needs; economic and workforce development programs; environmental issues; volunteerism; and community-based non-profit organizations. The Good Works Web site allows users to view Wal-Mart's various charitable contributions under four broad categories: community, education, children, and the environment.

How Wal-Mart is Remaking our World
Activist and writer Jim Hightower describes Wal-Mart's huge corporate operations that span the globe. Hightower argues Wal-Mart's ability to continuously grow in profitability while providing low prices is due to their use of Chinese labor and alleged labor abuses. This allows Wal-Mart to undercut and eventually put out of business local independent stores.

The official corporate Web site, provides an extensive list of Wal-Mart products with the option to purchase online. Customers can also track the status of purchases online, find a store near them, and sign up for the Wal-Mart wire, which e-mails customers information on upcoming sales and values at Wal-Mart stores.

Wal-Mart Watch
Wal-Mart Watch documents Wal-Mart's alleged corporate abuses with news reports and articles, information sheets, and the "Wal of Shame," an archive of Wal-Mart's misdeeds categorized under five headings: worker mistreatment; discrimination; harassment; endangering consumers and employees; and poor treatment of employees. The Web site also includes some short documentaries.

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