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From Union Strong To Freelancing: Fighting For A Living Wage

McNab and a colleague with a mascot.
Courtesy of Margaret McNab

Teachers nationwide continue to stage protests. Organizations like Fight for $15 are gaining power and steam. General Motors recently ended the longest autoworkers strike in recent history. Employees lost nearly $1 billion in wages while the company lost nearly $2 billion in production.

With workers across the nation and in numerous industries fighting for a living wage and affordable health insurance, what is the role of the union today? Angaza Laughinghouse is a long-time local organizer who founded Black Workers for Justice. He joins host Frank Stasio to share his stories of being on the front lines of the labor movement and discusses the realities of organizing in a “right-to-work” state. David Zondermanis an expert in American labor history and a professor at North Carolina State University. He joins Stasio to contextualize the rising support for unions in the U.S.

Margaret McNab is the mind behind The Freelance League of North Carolina. A long-time freelancer, McNab joins the discussion to talk about the rise of the gig economy, which includes a wide range workers: from entrepreneurial Millenials to established executives looking to control their next chapter. She outlines what it takes to become a successful freelancer and how her organization helps navigate the landmines.


Zonderman on why there is renewed interest in unions: 

Workers 35 and younger who have grown up with the post-crash, post-2008 economy — a lot of them are caught up and are now working two or three part-time, crummy jobs for low wages, no benefits. A lot of them are in various forms of the gig economy in very precarious jobs and cobbling things together. They vaguely may or may not know what a union is, but they hear if there is one, and it’s possible to get a contract, they may actually get a better wage. 

Laughinghouse on the union’s interest in serving members personally and professionally: 

Many have seen some unions — we call them social movement unions — have taken on other issues that impact everyday working-class people such as affordable housing, universal health care, Medicare for all. 

Zonderman on AFL-CIO and other unions’ approach to immigrant workers: 

Becoming more sympathetic, getting on the side of justice for more immigrant workers, the argument was: I’s not only the morally right thing to do, it’s actually good for unions. Because you want to bring them in … Suddenly they had to realize: I’m hurting myself and my union by opposing almost every immigrant worker. 

Laughinghouse on the difference in unions in America and in other nations: 

I think one of the reasons the more conservative unions are scared of immigrants is because many of them come from very radical trade union traditions … When we went to Brazil, we noticed they had revolutionary unions … Many of them were revolutionaries. They were fighting for power. They weren’t just fighting for better jobs and better wages. 


McNab on the growing number of experienced workers leaving traditional work for the gig economy: 

They’ve got health issues, or they’ve got other things that make the inflexibility of the traditional workforce a place where they can’t create opportunities for themselves. They have aged out of the market, and it’s harder to get a job or even consideration for those roles.  

McNab on the legislative response to the growing gig economy: 

I think the landscape is that it’s still the wild, Wild West. But some states are more advanced. I think about New York City. Mayor de Blasio’s office and some of the work they’ve done to support independent workers and some of the legislation they’ve passed like the Freelance Isn’t Free act. It’s a policy that says employers have to pay within 30 days.


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Josie Taris left her home in Fayetteville in 2014 to study journalism at Northwestern University. There, she took a class called Journalism of Empathy and found her passion in audio storytelling. She hopes every story she produces challenges the audience's preconceptions of the world. After spending the summer of 2018 working in communications for a Chicago nonprofit, she decided to come home to work for the station she grew up listening to. When she's not working, Josie is likely rooting for the Chicago Cubs or petting every dog she passes on the street.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.