Category Archives: Future of Unions

State of the Unions Week

Source: Pacific Standard, April 2018

…. This week Pacific Standard will be taking a look at the current and future states of American labor. We’ll explore everything from the promise and limitations of “alt-labor” models of organizing, to the danger that autonomous vehicles pose to truck drivers (a traditional bastion of organized labor), to the future of songwriters in the Spotify era.

While the state of traditional organized labor may be weak by historical standards, the stories we’ll tell this week (as well as the stories that have played out recently in West Virginia and Oklahoma) suggest a more nuanced and complex narrative of worker organizing in the 21st century. Traditional unions may be down, but workers aren’t yet out. ….

Articles include:
CAN THE ALT-LABOR MOVEMENT IMPROVE CONDITIONS FOR AMERICAN WORKERS?
By Dwyer Gunn
An expert gives us an overview of the movement sweeping labor reform.

A LOOK AT THE EDUCATION LABOR MOVEMENTS EMERGING ACROSS THE COUNTRY
By Elena Gooray
A round-up of the strikes and protests organized by educators around the country who are frustrated with low pay and gutted school budgets.

WHY CAN’T CHARTER SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS’ UNIONS BE FRIENDS?
By Elena Gooray
The president of California’s largest teachers’ labor group weighs in on the recent unionization of charters across the state—a shift that runs counter to the history of tension between charters and labor groups.

WHAT CAUSED THE DECLINE OF UNIONS IN AMERICA?
By Dwyer Gunn
Globalization, politics, and the American psyche are all to blame.

‘WE’RE ON LIFE SUPPORT’: IS STREAMING MUSIC THE FINAL NOTE FOR PROFESSIONAL SONGWRITERS?
By Jack Denton
Operating without a union, songwriters are still paid through royalty structures created in the days of player pianos and Tin Pan Alley. And in the streaming era, that’s a losing formula.

THE STATE OF THE UNIONS
By Dwyer Gunn
Introducing a weeklong Pacific Standard series on America’s labor unions.

Why Young People Are Joining Unions Again

Source: Hannah Finnie, Talk Poverty blog, April 19, 2018

…. Young people are at a tipping point. They are frustrated by a system whose cracks were etched into place by preceding generations, but have only fully metastasized for theirs. They experience suffocating levels of student debt alongside declining wages and income equality while watching companies monopolize entire industries, and sometimes even nationwide elections. Representation—actual representation—feels more like theory than reality.

People are, finally, beginning to take notice of young people’s activism to fix that system. However, many are mistaking the new wave of media coverage dedicated to young people’s political activism for young people’s newfound political activism. It’s not that young people were ever politically dormant; it’s just that their activism has existed in places where older generations aren’t used to looking: on college campuses, like the Know Your IX movement and tuition equity campaigns for undocumented students, and inside activist movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #ByeAnita and #Occupy.

And now, increasingly, unions. ….

How Janus Could Spill into the Private Sector Without Radically Redefining the State Action Doctrine

Source: Boyd Garriott, On Labor blog, April 19, 2018

This term, the Supreme Court will decide Janus, where it will determine the future of agency shop agreements in public sector unions. Despite being a public-sector union case, Justice Ginsburg raised a question on many people’s minds at oral argument: “what happens in the private sector?” Her question may prove prescient, considering that five justices in Harris v. Quinn’s dicta questioned an older line of cases upholding private sector agency fee arrangements. Contrary to others who have spoken on this issue, I believe that a holding striking down public sector agency shop agreements in Janus could spill into the private sector without doing much violence to the state action doctrine….

Indiana Teachers ‘Go Green’ To Track Member Sign-Up

Source: Samantha Winslow, Labor Notes, April 13, 2018

What will happen to public sector unions after the Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case this spring? Indiana teachers are already there. Slammed by a “right to work” law in 1996 and a new barrage of attacks in 2011, the teachers experienced what many unions are afraid of—a big drop in membership.

But the Indiana State Teachers Association didn’t roll over and give up after that. The union developed a tracking system called “Go Green” to help local leaders get membership back up.

It’s working. The first year of the program, the union narrowed its deficit between existing members lost to retirement and new members gained. The second year, it broke even. The third year, statewide membership increased.

This is in a legal environment that’s worse than right to work. Budget cuts in 2011 were paired with sweeping restrictions that kneecapped unions. Teachers bargain over only wages and benefits, and only between September and November of each year. Past that, impasse is declare and a third-party factfinder decides the final agreement.

…. So how does it work? The heart of the “Go Green” program is getting teachers in every school involved in signing up members.

Schools below 50 percent union membership are flagged as red. Schools at 50 percent or higher are coded yellow, and those at 70 percent or higher are green. The color scheme helps officers and association reps (stewards) prioritize which schools, and even which parts of buildings, need the most help. ….

….LIVING WITHOUT DUES DEDUCTION

A popular line of anti-union attack by state legislators is to ban employers from deducting dues from members’ paychecks. Dues deduction is banned for Michigan teachers, for instance, and for the whole public sector in Wisconsin.

Indiana has no such law at this point—but the teachers union opted to stop payroll deduction anyway. When new members sign up, they give the union their bank or credit card information to process dues directly.

This preempts a fight with hostile legislators and keeps the union’s focus on talking to teachers. It also takes control of union funds out of the hands of employers…..

Wage Boards for American Workers: Industry-Level Collective Bargaining for All Workers

Source: David Madland, Center for American Progress, April 9, 2018

…. The United States needs a different kind of collective bargaining that responds to the changes in the economy over recent decades. In this modernized bargaining system, virtually all workers would be able to collectively bargain; bargaining would occur primarily at the industry level; and workers would have sufficient power to negotiate with employers. This new kind of bargaining can be created through a national policy of bargaining through wage boards, where employers, workers, and the public negotiate collectively. Wage boards would represent a significant change from the current bargaining process, but they have a proven track record in several U.S. states as well as in other countries.

Wage boards raise compensation for all types of workers, whether they are contracted temp workers or employees of a dominant firm; whether they are in a union or not; and regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Rather than allowing potentially arbitrary or discriminatory factors influence workers’ pay levels, wage board panels set minimum pay levels based on measurable indicators such as the work and required skills. Furthermore, because wage boards raise minimum standards for wages and benefits across an industry, they help reduce firms’ incentives to try to cut labor costs by discriminating, contracting out work, or fighting unions.

Wage boards would also help boost productivity by ensuring that similar work receives similar pay. This enables a more efficient allocation of resources and encourages more cooperative firm-level relations between workers and their managers.11 Wage boards would help high-road businesses compete on an even playing field, as low-road employers would face new minimum standards for pay and benefits. ….

….In order for bargaining above the firm level to function properly, workers must be able to take collective action without fearing retaliation from their employer. Not only does current law fail to protect actions necessary for firm-level bargaining, but it also provides fewer protections for the kinds of actions—such as boycotting and striking—needed to make industry-level bargaining work. This is why policymakers must broaden and enhance worker protections.

Additionally, wage boards create a free-rider problem because workers will benefit from higher standards even if they do not pay the costs of achieving them. As a result, wage board policy reforms will need to establish new ways of joining unions and other worker organizations that do the work necessary for industry-level bargaining…..

Labor Renaissance in the Heartland

Source: Lois Weiner, Jacobin, April 6, 2018

Red state teachers are reviving the labor movement’s core values: respect for democracy and the dignity of work.

Related:
The Teachers’ Strikes Have Exposed the GOP’s Achilles Heel
Source: Eric Levitz, New York Magazine, April 5, 2018

Last week, Republicans in Oklahoma voted to raise taxes on fossil fuel companies, so as to increase pay for public sector workers. That might sound like a perfectly ordinary thing for a state government to do. But in Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma, it’s anything but. This is a state that responded to a $1.3 billion budget shortfall in 2016 by cutting taxes on the rich, and renewing a $470 million tax break for oil and gas companies. It’s a state that has allowed fracking interests to turn it into the earthquake capital of the world; let a gas company literally dictate policy to its attorney general; and forbade itself from raising taxes on anyone unless three-fourths of its state legislature approves (and its state legislature is dominated by tea party conservatives). All this has made increasing taxes on the state’s top industry so unthinkable to Oklahoma Republicans, they have repeatedly found it preferable to plug budget gaps by raiding their state’s emergency funds, and forcing one-fifth of its school districts to adopt four-day weeks instead.

Thus, it was more than a little remarkable when, last Thursday, Governor Fallin signed her name to a bill that more than doubled the state’s tax on fossil fuel production, limited itemized deductions for high-earning individuals, and gave a $6,000 raise to the state’s teachers…..

The Only Way to Survive Janus

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, March 30, 2018

The snows were still flying, but for unionists, spring came early this year. West Virginia’s teacher uprising burst onto the scene like rhododendrons opening: first one walkout, then another, and before you knew it a statewide strike was in full bloom.

The strikes were born at the grassroots, and that’s how they spread. Classroom teachers passed the word on Facebook, organized school votes, and rallied at the capital. Union leaders followed their members, but never took the reins.

No one seemed much concerned that public sector strikes are illegal in West Virginia. “What are they going to do, fire us all?” said Jay O’Neal, treasurer for the Kanawha County local.

It didn’t take long for the spirit to spread to underpaid teachers in three other states—thus far.

Their actions drove home a point that’s crucial for anyone who wants to see the labor movement survive. What’s required is members organizing themselves like those teachers did.

Public Unions Under First Amendment Fire

Source: Tabatha Abu El-Haj, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-W-01, February 28, 2018

From the abstract:
Unions today are under First Amendment fire, with the compelled speech doctrine as the weapon of choice. Conservative interests are waging a legal war against agreements that include “fair-share service fees,” under which public-sector unions are permitted to charge non-union members to pay their share of the costs of collective bargaining. Espousing libertarian theories of free speech doctrine, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and its allies maintain that fair-share service fees, at least in the context of public-sector unions, constitute a form of political speech, and that laws mandating their payment by non-union members violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against compelled speech. The Supreme Court is poised to accept this position, having granted certiorari in Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31, a case that threatens to overrule the Court’s longstanding acceptance of the constitutionality of fair-share service fees.

Notwithstanding the superficial appeal of the compelled speech argument, this Article argues that pro-union interests have plenty of cover within the First Amendment’s freedom of association doctrine. Viewing Janus and its ilk through an associational lens demonstrates the fallacies that lie behind doubts concerning the constitutionality of such agreements. Although it is doubtful that the Supreme Court will reaffirm the constitutionality of fair-share service fees this term, it is important to air such arguments in order to head off potentially even more significant First Amendment attacks on unionism that are currently underway and to articulate a theory of the First Amendment that remains consistent with the basic New Deal compromise that leaves matters regarding labor policy to our legislatures, where they belong.

Whose Money Is It Anyway: Have We Been Wrong About Agency Fees All Along?

Source: Aaron Tang, Harvard Law Review Forum, March 9, 2018

From the abstract:
In Agency Fees and the First Amendment, Professor Benjamin Sachs offers a pair of novel arguments for why the Court should pause before invalidating public sector union agency fee agreements throughout the country.

First, he argues that the money sent to unions to offset their bargaining costs is better viewed as the government employer’s money than as the employees’. Collective bargaining agreements force employees to turn the money over to the union on pain of losing their jobs, after all, and so the workers never have a “genuine choice” whether to make the payment at all. That, Sachs explains, should lead us to “treat agency fees as a direct payment from employer to union.”

Second, Sachs argues that the money might instead be better understood as the union’s all along. But for the wage premium that unions bring about for their workers, the argument goes, the fees that unions receive would not exist — and so the money is properly viewed as the union’s property from the outset.

These arguments are among the best defenses of agency fees that I have seen. Ultimately, however, both arguments are susceptible to counterattack for reasons discussed in Parts I and II herein. In a final concluding part, I express my agreement with Sachs on another point: the twenty-two states that currently permit agency fee agreements in the public sector can undo the impact of an adverse outcome in Janus by authorizing government employers to reimburse unions directly for their bargaining costs. It is this legislative alternative that, in my view, warrants the greatest attention from labor proponents in the coming years.