Category Archives: Future of Unions

The Recent Evolution of Wisconsin Public Worker Unionism since Act 10

Source: David Nack, Michael Childers, Alexia Kulwiec, Armando Ibarra, Labor Studies Journal, OnlineFirst Published July 30, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This paper examines the experience of four major public sector unions in Wisconsin since the passage of Wisconsin Act 10 in 2011. The four unions are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-Wisconsin), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), an affiliate of the National Education Association. Wisconsin’s prior legal framework for public sector collective bargaining is explained and compared to the new highly restrictive framework established by Act 10. That new framework, established by state legislation, is analyzed, as are its impacts on the membership, revenues, structures, and practices of the four unions. In general, we find the impacts to have been very dramatic, with a loss of active union membership averaging approximately 70 percent overall, and concomitant dramatic losses in union revenues and power. These shocks have engendered the restructuring of two of the unions examined, the downsizing of the third, and the de facto exiting from the state’s public sector in another. There have also been significant changes in representation practices in one union, but less so in the others. We conclude by discussing best union practices based on this experience, as well as considering what the recent public sector union history in Wisconsin may portend for public worker union membership nationwide, since the issuing of the Janus Decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions

Source: AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions, Report to the AFL-CIO General Board, September 2019

….We present this report with fresh optimism that working people can and will build a future of work that works for all of us. But getting the job done requires more than engaging with innovation in the workplace. We must innovate ourselves, strengthen our unions, organize new ones and bring more workers into our ranks. The stakes are enormous. A system that fails to provide a decent standard of living for its people will not stand. So if technology and public policy continue to be used to further concentrate economic power in the hands of the wealthy few, our system of government and our way of life are in grave danger. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The labor movement can be inclusive enough and strong enough to raise living standards across the economy and ensure good jobs for everyone who wants to work.

This report is our plan to make that happen…..

A Modest Blueprint for Representing Working People and Labor Unions in Fraught Times

Source: Jonathan Harkavy, Patterson Harkavy LLP, Date Written: September 9, 2019

From the abstract:
This article suggests approaches to dealing with the current anti-union climate in the American workplace. Building on examples of what union-side lawyers did when faced with the challenge of representing labor unions in Southern textile mills, the article makes a number of specific suggestions to counter what observers have termed a relentless assault on labor involving unchecked corporate power accompanied by income inequality and a decline in the well-being of working Americans. The article recommends, among other things, imposition of employer fiduciary responsibility for workers, a more clarion collective voice in the Supreme Court for working people, and increased use of state laws and federal antitrust laws to combat inequities in the workplace.

Alt-Bargaining

Source: Michael M. Oswalt, Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 82 no. 3, 2019

….The article proceeds as follows. Part II canvasses evolutions in organizing since the 1970s to show how innovations that start at the unionization phase don’t stay there. Corporate, comprehensive, and social movement advances all became mainstay bargaining strategies. While the present breakthrough, alt-labor, defies easy characterization, Part II tries based on its three exceptional relationships to law. Part III addresses the next question: when and how might alt-labor’s legal insights begin to reverberate in later stages of organizing. After identifying the existing echoes, I argue that time is now.

Part IV explores mechanics. Embedded in alt-bargaining’s three new legal orientations is a sophisticated understanding of interest formation that allows the campaigns to press for broad, “common good”-type community benefits with minimal outside conflict, minimal internal dissension, and—most critically— draw big crowds. In doing so, leaders use practices steeped in community-based activism that incorporate months of transformational political and relational education. As Gabe Winant has described, unions’ modern challenge is to get the nurse, custodian, fast-food worker—and, increasingly, Uber driver—to “understand their fates as intertwined.” The realities of “race, economic position, and social status,” can make the task feel intractable. Alt-bargaining’s approach suggests it’s not impossible.

Finally, Part V offers a vision of alt-bargaining’s ambitions, plus a slate of legal and structural reforms—especially the introduction of community “pool voting”—that might support them. Part VI briefly concludes…..

US Labor Studies in the Twenty-First Century: Understanding Laborism Without Labor

Source: Jake Rosenfeld, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 45, July 2019
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From the abstract:
In recent years, labor studies has flourished even as labor unions in the United States have continued their long-term downward trajectory. One strain of this research has situated the labor movement, and its decline, at the center of economic inequality’s rise in the United States. Another has explored the labor movement’s interconnections with political dynamics in the contemporary United States, including how labor’s demise has reshaped the polity and policies. This body of scholarship also offers insights into recent stirrings of labor resurgence, ranging from the teachers’ strikes of 2017 to the Fight for 15 minimum wage initiatives. Yet the field’s reliance on official union membership rates as the standard measure of union strength, and on official strike statistics as the standard measure of union activism, prevents it from fully understanding the scope and durability of worker activism in the post-Wagner age.

Conservatives Pushed a Strategy to Weaken Home Health Care Unions. The Trump Administration Bit.

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, Nick Surgey, The Intercept, May 31, 2019

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced a new rule barring home health care workers from paying union dues through their Medicaid-funded wages. The new Department of Health and Human Services rule, which will impact more than 800,000 workers and was immediately met with a legal challenge, followed years of planning by anti-union activists to promote such measures in states across the country, and, more recently, on the federal level.

In anticipation of a crushing blow to public-sector unions by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer, conservative groups ramped up their efforts to bring the federal government’s attention to the issue of Medicaid-funded union dues, according to an audio recording obtained by The Intercept and Documented.

On an invitation-only call with donors last June, leaders with the State Policy Network — a corporate-backed umbrella group of right-wing think tanks across the country — raised the issue of directly deducting union dues from Medicaid-funded paychecks, what they call “dues-skimming.” Vinnie Vernuccio, a labor policy adviser to the State Policy Network told donors that its plan was to end this practice by getting “an administrative rule passed at Health and Human Services” and passing federal legislation with the assistance of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash…..

How to Rebuild the Labor Movement, State by State – What progressives can learn from conservative anti-union advocacy

Source: Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, American Prospect, Spring 2019

Last year’s strikes and direct action by workers, especially red-state public school teachers, have rightly been celebrated for injecting new energy into the American labor movement. Yet these mobilizations should not distract progressives from the magnitude of the challenges facing unions and their supporters in the Democratic Party. The next time Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House, they will need to put major reforms of federal labor law front and center. In the meantime, they ought to learn from conservative anti-union efforts about pursuing change through the states and developing a politically minded strategy for labor reform.

In particular, Democrats need to think about labor law reform not just as yet another area of public policy, but rather as conservatives do: as a set of reforms that can build durable political power that enables further policy wins on other issues. Before spelling out the specific lessons that the left can take from the right’s victories, it is helpful to step back to see just how differently Democrats and Republicans think about unions.

All-Out Republican Opposition versus Democratic Ambivalence

Over the past four decades, conservative political activists and donors, often bolstered by private-sector businesses, have fruitfully used public policy as a political weapon to weaken unions, especially public-sector unions. Crucially, these cross-state conservative coalitions, above all the conservative “troika” of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the State Policy Network, and Americans for Prosperity, have never seen their anti-labor efforts as simply an end in themselves. Instead, right-wing advocacy against unions recognizes the inherently political role that the labor movement plays—and thus that efforts to weaken unions will eventually redound to conservatives’ long-term political victories. …..

Building a New Generation of Women Labor Leaders

Source: Lane Windham, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 16 no. 2, May 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Anyone who glimpsed the diverse group of young women intently conferencing at Georgetown University might have mistaken them for diligent students. In fact, they were the inaugural apprenticeship class of the WILL Empower initiative that is designed to identify, nurture, and train a new generation of women labor leaders. The Apprenticeship Program is one of four interwoven programs spearheaded by WILL Empower (Women Innovating Labor Leadership), jointly founded in 2017 by Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and Rutgers University’s Center for Innovation in Worker Organization. By focusing on building women’s leadership for a broad range of worker-based economic justice organizations, WILL Empower is breaking fresh ground even as the nation’s political economy remains stubbornly stacked against working people.

Three big ideas undergird WILL Empower’s unique approach to building a successful twenty-first-century labor movement: (1) women must lead at a whole new level, especially women of color; (2) traditional labor unions and new forms of worker organizations constitute a single movement; (3) a multilayered partnership can model the sort of innovative approach that the movement needs……