Category Archives: Future of Unions

How Bad Could it Get (Legally)?

Source: Benjamin Sachs, OnLabor blog, May 26, 2017

It’s a good moment to think creatively and expansively about how to revitalize the U.S. labor movement. This important work is underway, with contributions from academics, labor lawyers, union organizers, and others. Substantive debates about the future of labor law and labor organizing now populate the pages of publications ranging from the Yale Law Journal to Boston Review. Much of this writing evidences an appropriate degree of optimism – the pieces assume a future in which, for example, progressive law reform might be possible, or in which workers can regain power through increased use of strikes even in the absence of law reform, or in which fundamental aspects of U.S. political economy (and political ideology) might be transformed. This kind of optimism is necessary to visionary thinking, and it’s badly needed today.

But, I thought it might also be worth writing from the opposite perspective and asking how bad it might really/plausibly get over the next handful of years. Most of us know much of this already, so you might wonder what the point of such a morose exercise would be. The idea is not to wallow. To the contrary, the idea is that putting in one place the major pieces of what could go wrong (legally) over the next few years could help as we continue to imagine and build a better future for the labor movement. As Van Jones put it recently, “hope for the best but expect and prepare for the worst.”

Some caveats. One, and most important, what follows are not predictions, and I do not mean to suggest that these things are likely. Instead, these are thoughts about the kinds of negative developments that seem within the realm of the possible (even though, with respect to every one, I think the better arguments are on the other side). Two, given the limits of my expertise, I focus exclusively on how bad labor law could get, leaving to others the question of how bad things could get on other fronts. Three, I may be wrong in two directions: omitting other possible problems and including things that aren’t plausible. For that reason, we invite follow-on posts that offer either kind of corrective. Four, and finally, it might be worth saying that this exercise goes against my own nature, which, for better or worse, skews optimistic (as I’ve been critiqued for being).

All that said, here’s what seems within the realm of the plausible: ….

The Entire Public Sector Is About to Be Put on Trial

Source: Naomi Walker, In These Times, Views, May 25, 2017

The Right’s assault on public-sector workers is an assault on the public sector itself.

Within the next year, the Supreme Court is likely to rule on the latest existential threat to workers and their unions: Janus v. AFSCME. Like last year’s Friedrichs v. CTA—a bullet dodged with Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death—the Janus case is a blatant attack on working people by right-wing, moneyed special interests who want to take away workers’ freedom to come together and negotiate for a better life.
For years, the Right has been hammering through state-level “right-to-work” laws in an effort to kill public sector unionism; it would see victory in the Janus case as the coup de grace. ….

Republicans Will Turn the NLRB into a Force for Union Busting. We Can Turn It Back.

Source: Shaun Richman, In These Times blog, May 17, 2017

….On the potential chopping block are the board’s expedited election rules, the organizing rights of graduate employees and workers at charter schools, the rights of subcontracted employees to join their coworkers in a union, the ability of unions to organize smaller units within a larger enterprise and the culpability of a parent company for a subsidiary’s illegal behavior.

As inevitable as this right turn is for our nation’s workers’ rights board, so, too, should be our planned counterattack…..

How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Conversations Are the Building Blocks for Milwaukee Teachers

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

For public-employee unions in Wisconsin, an open shop isn’t even the worst of it. The anti-union Act 10, which Governor Scott Walker forced through in 2011, mandated annual recertification votes and all but eliminated collective bargaining.

Some unions gave up on staying certified at all—but not the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. So far its 4,600 members include 69 percent of the district’s teachers and a narrow majority of educational assistants.

An organizing team of two staffers and six members on release time is working hard to raise those numbers, focusing on six schools per semester. Organizers tailor a plan based on the particular history and challenges at each school, but the universal building blocks are one-on-one conversations to find out members’ concerns, identify leaders, and ask people to join the union.

You have to learn to tolerate the discomfort of directly asking people to join, says Vice President Amy Mizialko. Especially in a district where school vouchers and private charter schools have already siphoned off a major share of the public schools’ budget, she tells co-workers that their students are counting on them: “The only way we can effect change for students and educators is being collectively organized.”….

How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Oil Refinery Workers Get People in Motion

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

he key is collective action, says Steelworkers Local 675 Secretary-Treasurer Dave Campbell. His union represents 4,000 workers in California and Nevada, many of them at oil refineries where workers get a window of opportunity to drop their membership each time the contract comes up for renegotiation. In each refinery of 300-600 workers, the union maintains around 90 percent membership.

That’s because members have the habit of acting for themselves as a union on the shop floor. Union leaders encourage members to bolster a grievance with workplace action. For instance, a supervisor had forbidden people to wear baseball caps, sunglasses, or Hawaiian shirts in the control room. Workers collected signatures on a petition and presented it to the other supervisor, who crumpled it up and threw it away.

“We organized all four crews to show up for work with Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, and ball caps,” Campbell says, “and the union bought the roast pig for a Hawaiian luau lunch. When the superintendent saw all the workers united, he of course asked what the hell was going on—and the supervisor who had caused all this was reassigned.”

Besides being fun and effective, these activities give workers the chance to learn by doing. “In essence they see what the union really is,” Campbell says. “The union is them, and it’s their concerted, collective activity on the shop floor which gives the union power.”….

How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Boston Postal Workers Use Grievances to Build the Union

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

Federal-employee unions are all open shop. Yet the Postal Workers (APWU) Boston Metro Area Local, representing 2,100 workers, hovers around 94 percent membership.

“I think the key is get to them as often as you can, early in their career,” says General President Scott Hoffman. At each new-hire orientation, a representative walks new hires through the benefits the union has won. A week later there’s another chance, at the training session for window clerks. “We ask who still hasn’t joined or had anybody talk to them,” Hoffman says. “Try to get as many bites at the apple as you can in the beginning.” ….

Dispatches from the Front Lines of Right to Work
The open shop is the rule for private sector workers in 28 “right-to-work” states, for public sector workers in 25 states, and for federal workers all over this country. That means workers covered by a union contract get to enjoy the benefits of representation without being members or paying dues.
But even in states and sectors where membership is legally optional, some unions have high percentages of workers signed up as members. How do they do it? This month we asked union leaders representing:
Oil refinery workers in Nevada
Postal workers in Boston
Teachers in Milwaukee
For a short exercise to help your union start preparing to survive an open shop click here. ….

Why Unions in the United States will Die: American Labor Organizations in the Age of Trump

Source: Raymond L. Hogler, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Volume 29 Issue 2, June 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This essay analyzes the effects of Donald Trump’s election as President on organized labor in the United States and, more specifically, on the demographic of workers responsible for his electoral college victory. The argument is that culture rather than economics explains Trump’s success in capturing key industrial states. His support depended on white middle-aged male voters without college degrees, the same cohort that makes up the backbone of unions in the United States. The likelihood is that Trump’s policies will further immiserate the American working class rather than reinvigorate it. In three key areas, Trump’s presidency will result in lower union membership density and higher inequality of wealth. The cultural orientation of Trump’s supporters outweighed politics, policy, and competence in selecting a national leader.

In the Age of Trump, Can Labor Unite?

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, In These Times, May 2017

Donald Trump performed far better among union voters than previous Republican candidates, but since taking office has enacted disastrous anti-worker policies. Now, some unions are organizing their members around an explicitly progressive analysis, hoping to unlock the power of workers to help lead the resistance.

We Need To Restore the Frayed Alliance Between Unions and Progressives

Source: Cynthia Phinney, Peter Kellman and Julius Getman, In These Times, March 30, 2017

Progressives are finally energized. Millions of young people became politically active through the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders and several million more joined the women-led solidarity marches of the inaugural weekend. Many of the recently activated are seeking to channel their enthusiasm into effective political resistance. These are heartening developments. But it is far too early to declare victory over those who seek to make America great by returning it to a less tolerant, less progressive past.

A dismayingly large share of the white working class, including union members that once supported liberal candidates and causes, remains supportive of President Donald Trump and his agenda. Only when liberals recognize the importance of labor, and when a progressive labor movement returns to its historic roots, will the battle against right-wing demagogues and zealots be won.

What we are calling for is an active alliance between progressives and organized labor. For progressives and intellectuals, organized labor has much to offer: a rich history, seasoned leaders and, most significantly, an immediate connection to workers. For organized labor, the potential of such an alliance is equally significant. It can renew the commitment to social and political change, reminding workers and their leaders that unions are far more than just vehicles for economic gain. ….