Category Archives: Future of Unions

Janus and fair share fees: The organizations financing the attack on unions’ ability to represent workers

Source: Celine McNicholas, Zane Mokhiber, and Marni von Wilpert, Economic Policy Institute, February 21, 2018

From the press release:
In a new paper, EPI Labor Counsel Celine McNicholas and research assistant Zane Mokhiber report that the Supreme Court case Janus v AFSCME Council 31, along with previous cases challenging unions’ right to collect “fair share” fees from nonmembers, have been financed by a small group of foundations with ties to the largest and most powerful corporate lobbies. Analyzing Internal Revenue Service documents, the authors find that several of the foundations supporting anti-union litigants share the same donors—including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, and the Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking.

Working people who choose not to join their workplace’s union, but are still covered by a collective bargaining agreement, do not pay union dues. Instead, they pay “fair share” fees to cover the basic costs that the union incurs representing them. If the court finds in favor of the plaintiffs in Janus, unions representing public-sector workers could be prohibited from collecting these fees. The authors explain that if this happens, unions will be forced to operate with fewer and fewer resources. This will lead to reduced power—at the bargaining table and in the political process….

Don’t Fall for the Members-Only Unionism Trap

Source: Chris Brooks, Labor Notes, January 4, 2018

One of corporate America’s next big goals might surprise you: passing legislation to prevent unions from having to represent workers who don’t pay dues. This is just the latest of many business-friendly labor law reforms proliferating across the country. …..

….. Some union supporters have argued that the way to solve the free-rider problem is by allowing unions to simply kick out the “freeloaders.” ….

…. Now, employer-backed groups are making similar arguments. The State Policy Network (SPN)—a coalition of corporate-financed right-wing think tanks—is also advocating for laws that would eliminate the requirement that unions represent non-members in a unionized workplace.

What do right-wing advocates of this strategy hope to accomplish? For an answer, we can look at the case of unionized teachers in Tennessee. ….

Democrats Paid a Huge Price for Letting Unions Die

Source: Eric Levitz, New York, January 26, 2018

The GOP understands how important labor unions are to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, historically, has not. If you want a two-sentence explanation for why the Midwest is turning red (and thus, why Donald Trump is president), you could do worse than that.

With its financial contributions and grassroots organizing, the labor movement helped give Democrats full control of the federal government three times in the last four decades. And all three of those times — under Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama — Democrats failed to pass labor law reforms that would to bolster the union cause. In hindsight, it’s clear that the Democratic Party didn’t merely betray organized labor with these failures, but also, itself…..

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part I)

Source: Victoria L. Killion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10042, December 4, 2017

The Supreme Court long ago described the First Amendment’s protection against compelled speech as a “fixed star in our constitutional constellation.” This Term, the Court may decide whether it has steered too far from that shining precept in the area of public employee union dues (or agency fees) in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Specifically, the Court will consider whether to overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the Court announced the basic test for determining the validity of “agency shop” arrangements between a union and a government employer. Agency shop arrangements (sometimes called “fair share” provisions) require employees to pay a fee to the union designated to represent their bargaining unit even if the employees are not members of that union. The Abood Court held that these arrangements do not violate the First Amendment insofar as the union uses the fees for “collective bargaining activities” and not “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.” In its October 2015 Term, the full Court heard oral argument on whether to overrule Abood, but ultimately divided four-to-four on this question following the death of Justice Scalia. Now that Justice Gorsuch has joined the bench, it remains to be seen whether a majority of the Court will reaffirm Abood or chart a new course. Part I of this two-part Sidebar provides general background on Abood and the case law leading up to Janus. Part II then discusses the perspectives Justice Gorsuch may bring to Janus and the potential implications of the decision for public sector collective bargaining and compulsory fees more broadly.

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part II)
Source: Victoria L. Killion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10041, December 4, 2017

As discussed in Part I of this two-part Sidebar, on March 29, 2016, an eight-member Supreme Court divided equally over whether to overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and hold that public sector agency fees violate core First Amendment principles (the Court’s “fixed star”). Earlier this Term, the Court agreed to consider the question again in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Part II of this Sidebar begins with a brief summary of the parties’ arguments in Janus. It then highlights some key statements from the prior decisions of Justice Gorsuch, who is likely to be a critical voice in deciding whether to overturn Abood. The post concludes by exploring the potential implications of the Janus decision.

Could Employee Choice End Labor Unions’ Influence?

Source: Adam C. Abrahms, Employee Relations Law Journal, Vol. 43, No. 1, Summer 2017
(subscription required)

The author of this article discusses a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report, which found that private sector union membership has dropped to its lowest level in history, and its implications.

In 2016 private sector union membership dropped to its lowest level in history—a dismal 6.4 percent. Given the laws and systems in place related to union membership, this means that at least 94.6 percent of all American private sector workers currently choose not to be union members. The drop, recently reported in a routine annual report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), also was the largest year over year percentage drop in recent years, dropping 0.3 percent, from 6.7 percent in 2015.

While the percentage of union members as a portion of the total workforce saw a steep drop, possibly more disturbing to union bosses is the fact that the actual raw numbers of union members also dropped over 100,000 members from 7.554 million to 7.435 million dues paying members. This loss of dues revenue could hurt unions’ efforts to organize members as well as lobby and elect politicians….

Labor Debates: Assessing the Fight for Fifteen Movement from Chicago

Source: Robert Bruno, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017
(subscription required)

In this issue of Labor Studies Journal (LSJ), we introduce a new occasional section to readers, Labor Debates. …. In our times, no union action has been more provocative than the Fight for $15 (FFF) movement. And as expected, followers of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)–supported national campaign have insightful and diverse thoughts about the endeavor. Many of those thoughts are commonly held, but there are meaningful differences. Is FFF the model of rank-and-file social activism and union renewal or a largely well-intentioned, but flawed strategy? The energy embedded in the divergent ideas expressed in the oppositional judgments is worthy of open debate. We are therefore proud to inaugurate our Debate series with a collection of essays written about FFF by leading voices within the labor studies community. ….

Articles include:
Assessing the Fight for Fifteen Movement from Chicago
Steven Ashby

My goal in this paper is to dissect what makes the Fight for Fifteen movement special and praiseworthy; give some examples from the Fight for Fifteen movement in Chicago based on interviews and four years of conversations at Fight for Fifteen actions; add some perspective as a labor historian; and reply to left critics of the campaign. I will discuss the scope and duration of the campaign; its viability; the tactics of one-day strikes and civil disobedience; the degree of worker involvement and the idea of a militant minority in historical context; the role of community participation in Fight for Fifteen actions; and messaging and a media campaign…..

Fight for $15: Good Wins, but Where did the Focus on Organizing Go?
Jonathan Rosenblum

….The FFE had two main thrusts: First, through major worker mobilizations and actions, change the national public debate about what was wrong with the economy, expose corporate greed, and fight for better working conditions. And second, launch large-scale private-sector organizing campaigns to “move the union density dial” and rebuild durable union power. ….The question for Fight for $15—yet unanswered—is how to harness the energy of the walkouts to stoke a sustained movement of hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers who collectively can inflict real economic pain on the corporate masters…..

Fight for $15: The Limits of Symbolic Power—Juravich Comments on Ashby
Tom Juravich

Steven Ashby is right to mark the achievements of the Fight for $15. As he reminds us, this national campaign brought wage increases to nearly twenty million American workers during a time when union density fell to below 7 percent. Equally important is the way in which the Fight for $15 forever redefined low-wage work in the United States. Much like the occupy movement altered the discourse on inequality, I would argue that Fight for $15 forever changed how Americans think about low-wage work…..

Ashby Response to Rosenblum and Juravich: Fight for Fifteen
Steven Ashby

Educating for Change: How Labor Education Centers and AFL-CIO Bodies Can Grow and Transform Together

Source: David Reynolds, Barbara Byrd, Jeff Grabelsky, Paul Iversen, Jason Kozlowski, Sarah Laslett, Katherine Sciacchitano, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017

From the abstract:
In order to survive and prosper today, both labor councils and labor education centers need to rethink their mission, goals, and strategies. In this report, we examine how partnerships between these two types of organizations have fostered creative transformation for both. We examine the innovative relationships between labor education programs and their respective labor councils and state federations in five states (Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Iowa, and West Virginia). These cases include those with long-standing strong relationships and those that have been recently rebuilt or rethought. In several cases, the labor education centers owe their very existence to the work of state labor leaders to who helped found them and, more recently, to maintain and expand their resources. In addition, we document the role played by the UCLA labor education program in revitalizing the Orange County AFL-CIO, as well as two key partnership programs of Cornell and the AFL-CIO in New York: the Union Leadership Institute and the New York City Capacity Building Initiative.

Accidental Revitalization? Looking at the Complex Realities of Union Renewal

Source: Jason Foster, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article outlines a union renewal case study with unexpected circumstances. It examines a local that underwent significant renewal in a context where renewal would normally not be expected. It did so by significantly altering its practices while retaining a stable leadership and highly centralized structure. This unexpected renewal is explained through the application of a referential unionisms framework. The article coins the term accidental revitalization to describe the case, arguing the intentionality for reform lies not in design, policy, or upheaval, but instead in an extension of logics constructed through narrative resources mobilization.

How to Jump-Start a Weak Union to Fight Open-Shop Attacks

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Labor Notes, January 2, 2018

Hostile forces are poised to encourage public sector workers to ditch their unions as soon as the Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case in 2018. To stave off a big exodus, many unions are asking workers to commit to keep paying dues. If you’re active in your union, leaders may even be asking you to “sell” membership to your co-workers.

But what if you’re caught in a union that hasn’t been doing a good enough job? What if your union doesn’t communicate much with members, or is mostly invisible, or only reaches out to you when there’s a crisis, or doesn’t fight hard for good contracts, or is too cozy with the boss?

Tragically, there are many union locals like this. If the leadership of your union isn’t open, inclusive, and fighting on behalf of your co-workers, this could present a kind of crisis for you. Perhaps when some representative comes around asking you to recommit to the union, you and your co-workers are saying, “Really? Why should we?” You might even be tempted to stop paying dues yourself, as a form of protest.

This is a tough moment, but one also filled with great possibility. If you know that workers are better off with a union, then of course you have to fight to keep the union no matter what. If you’re asked to sign a “Recommitment Card” it makes sense to do that; your frustrations are with the way the union is run, not with being a member, and the only way to change things is to keep organizing.

So let’s consider what you can do to improve the union you’re in, while helping to keep it alive during the “post-Janus” era. …..

This Florida Stealth Offensive Against Unions Could Preview GOP Onslaught in 2018

Source: Michael Arria, In These Times, December 22, 2017

Florida Republicans are pushing a bill designed to deal the state’s unions a death blow. House Bill 25, which was introduced by Longwood state Rep. Scott Plakon, would decertify any union in which 50 percent of the workers don’t pay dues, thus preventing them from being able to collectively bargain. Despite the fact that unions negotiate for the benefit of all their workers, no employee is forced to pay dues in Florida, because it’s a “Right to Work” state. ….