American Labor Movement At A Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies

Source: Albert Shanker Institute, the Sidney Hillman Foundation and the American Prospect, January 15, 2014

The American labor movement is at a critical juncture. After three decades of declining union density in the private sector and years of all-out political assaults on public sector unions, America’s unions now face what can only be described as existential threats. Strategies and tactics that may have worked in a different era are no longer adequate to today’s challenges. The need for different approaches to the fundamentals of union work in areas such as organizing, collective bargaining and political action is clear. The purpose of this conference is to examine new thinking and new initiatives, viewing them critically in the light of ongoing union imperatives of cultivating member activism and involvement, fostering democratic self-governance and building the collective power of working people.

INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME
• Leo Casey, executive director, Albert Shanker Institute
• Alexandra Lescaze, executive director, Sidney Hillman Foundation
• The Honorable Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor
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KEYNOTE: AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT AT A CROSSROADS
• Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers & Albert Shanker Institute
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NEW FORMS OF LABOR ORGANIZING/ORGANIZATION I
• Tefere Gebre, executive vice president, AFL-CIO
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• Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large, American Prospect; columnist, The Washington Post; board member, The Albert Shanker Institute; judge, Sidney Hillman Foundation
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• Karen Nussbaum, executive director, Working America
• David Rolf, president, Workers Lab, SEIU 775
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Moderator: Alexandra Lescaze, executive director, Sidney Hillman Foundation

NEW FORMS OF LABOR ORGANIZING/ORGANIZATION II
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• Paul Booth, assistant to the president, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
• Elizabeth Bunn, Organizing Director, AFL-CIO
• Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director, Freelancers Union
• Jessica Smith, chief-of-staff, American Federation of Teachers
• Cristina Tzintzun, executive director, Texas Workers Defense Project
Moderator: Phil Kugler, special assistant to the president for organization, American Federation of Teachers

BUILDING COMMUNITY-LABOR ALLIANCES
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Conversation with:
• Marcell Grair, National Organizer, United Students Against Sweatshops
• Sarita Gupta, executive director, Jobs With Justice
• Gerry Hudson, executive Vvce president, Service Employess International Union; board member, Sidney Hillman Foundation
• Joseph McCartin, director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University
• Sejal Parikh, director, Fast Food Workers Campaign, Working Washington
Moderator: Leo Casey, executive director, Albert Shanker Institute

RETHINKING COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AND UNION REPRESENTATION
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• Catherine Fisk, chancellor’s professor of law; co-director, Center in Law, Society and Culture, University of California at Irvine Law School
• Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president, American Federation of Teachers; board member, Albert Shanker Institute
• Dan Schlademan, director, OUR Walmart, United Food and Commerical Workers International Union
• Prasi Gupta, deputy executive director, National Guestworker Alliance
Moderator: Cheryl Teare, director, Union Leadership Institute, American Federation of Teachers

WORKERS’ RIGHTS AND COLLECTIVE POWER
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• Mark Brenner, director, Labor Notes
• Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow, Century Foundation; board member, Albert Shanker Institute
• Rich Yeselson, labor strategist
Moderator: Rachel Cohen, American Prospect

Related:
The U.S. Labor Movement: At a ‘Crossroads,’ or the Gallows?
Source: Jake Blumgart, In These Times, Working In These Times blog, January 21, 2015

Conferences of this type lend themselves to pontifications on the evergreen question “what is to be done?”—an exercise that often leads to presentations full of banalities. For the most part, such presentations were mercifully missing at the conference. A panel on community-labor alliances proved apt at naming everything the shrinking labor movement should be supporting, but provided precious little insight into how it can be expected to pay to ramp up such campaigns. … In terms of actual ideas, minority unionism seemed to hold the greatest hope—even if many attendees would probably have preferred that it didn’t. … The very fact that minority unionism is a hot topic of discussion at a D.C. labor conference is a sign of how badly organized labor’s hopes have been dashed. The architects of New Deal labor law pushed for majority representation and exclusive bargaining because a union that speaks for the entire workplace is likely to have more influence and can generate enough resources to fund both organizing and political campaigns. But the spread of right-to-work laws, the likely end of agency fees, and the members-only Local 42 that the UAW recently formed in Chattanooga seems to have forced establishment leaders and intellectuals to grapple with the idea. …. The NLRB has not hinted that they will be altering labor standards to accommodate minority unions. But the Chattanooga UAW local could force the issue. There are also several states where public workers now have to labor in conditions that could allow for such a model. In 2011, Tennessee banned exclusive representation for teachers and now requires members-only bargaining. Fisk calls it “a terrific natural experiment.” ….