Look, we need labor unions. You and I do better in every way when unions are strong. Take a look at this chart. When union membership goes down, your income shrinks. Why? Because unions push back.

Union membership and middle class income

Unions force managers to train more, to pay more and to think more about your role in your company. Without unions, managers pay themselves and their higher ups whatever is left in the till after bills get paid. And, those managers who pay themselves more actually run less profitable companies. So, not only do we need the weight of unions to counterbalance management, we actually need unions to keep managers humble and grounded.

You and I and all other consumers make up 70% of the American economy — we’re the job creators. When you and I make less money, we spend less. When we spend less, businesses have less revenues, so they don’t hire as much or spend as much. And, round and round and down it goes. That’s how the actual economy works. And, that’s why we need unions.

Somehow, unions have allowed the plutocrats and plutocrat defenders to smear unions as greedy, lazy parasites, divorced from reality. Union membership in the US was at a 97-year low of 11.3% in 2013.

Having a healthy union membership base is fundamental to protecting workers’ rights and to stimulating economic growth. Without adequate representation and bargaining rights, workers lose their ability to negotiate fair and livable wages for the labor they provide. The implementation of so-called “right to work” laws in several states across the country have greatly contributed to the decline in union membership, as these laws essentially strip away any collective bargaining leverage unions possessed.

You and I need unions to make a comeback. Here are the top three things that labor can do to boost their relevance.

1. Focus on quality, not job security or pay

Union leaders can only revive their fortunes, and ours, by showing that they care about quality, first and foremost, of the product or service they are producing. Without allegiance to quality, businesses collapse and with them the jobs. Union leaders need to show they understand that the health of their members depends on the excellence of the businesses where their members work.

Most people have been led to believe that the teachers unions care more about protecting bad teachers than teaching kids. Many people have been led to believe that Detroit collapsed because unions demanded the keys to the store. Most people believe that unions keep companies from creating jobs.

As part of a focus on quality, could you please take a second and third look at the procedures you demand for disciplining or firing bad workers? You may not know this, but even your staunchest allies whisper that it takes 3 or 4 administrative proceedings to get rid of a crappy worker. Why? What a waste of time. What a way to show that you care more about the shakedown than the product. The hoops and hurdles casts a pall on the integrity of your membership as a whole. Create new ways to empower management to promote the good and get rid of the bad.

This also means rethinking tenure. Protecting bad workers just because of the amount of time they’ve been working is inefficient and it hurts the reputation of union workers as a whole. Providing employers with a way to retain good, conscientious workers, while being able to weed out the slackers will be good for everyone in the long run.

2. Grow Their Membership

With an emboldened focus on quality and a clear argument that strong unions make a strong nation, Unions should have an easier time attracting new members. According to a Pew Research poll in June 2013, “about half (51%) of Americans said they had favorable opinions of labor unions, versus 42% who said they had unfavorable opinions about them.” These numbers show a sharp increase in favorable opinion since 2011 when national opinion was split 41% for and 46% against. Unfortunately, this increase in support for unions has not translated into increased membership. Union organizers must take advantage of this surge of support to bolster membership.

For the full report, click here and here.

3. Start co-ops

Another thing that unions could do to improve work conditions for Americans would be to start union co-ops. Union co-ops would make members co-owners of the company they work for, empowered to elect a management team of their choosing. After that, collective bargaining would take care of implementing wage standards, benefits packages and handling any complaints that workers may have. The co-op model provides workers with greater input into how their workplace is governed, and leaves them with a much louder voice in determining the outcome of the decisions that are made. For more information on what this might look like, check out this article about emerging co-ops in the Rust Belt from Yes Magazine.

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