Category Archives: Future of Unions

After Janus: A new era of teachers union activism

Source: Bradley D. Marianno and Katharine Strunk, Education Next, Vol. 18 no. 4, Fall 2018

…. Speculation about what a Janus ruling in favor of the plaintiffs will mean for teachers unions has been rampant. Many, if not most, of the analysts who follow education policy and organized labor believe that the ruling will result in decreased power for teachers unions. The logic behind this assumption is simple: teachers unions will lose dues revenue because membership will decrease and former agency-fee payers will cease paying fees for union services. With fewer resources, teachers unions will have less ability to exert their influence in local, state, and federal elections and at the bargaining table. Fewer members, less money, less power. Right?

Not necessarily. Agency fees have been challenged at the state level over the past decade, and two states recently stopped allowing unions to collect them: Wisconsin and Michigan. The passage of those Right-to-Work laws may have caught state affiliates by surprise, unlike the widely anticipated Janus ruling. Even so, a close look at Wisconsin and Michigan may provide important clues about the future of teachers unions in a post-Janus world. ….

Could Originalism Save Public Sector Unions?

Source: Maddy Joseph, On Labor blog, June 7, 2018

Justice Gorsuch’s silence during the Janus oral argument generated considerable buzz. Wishful (yet tentative) commentators hoped the silence was a sign that the new Justice’s originalism would lead him to uphold Abood. To be sure, Justice Thomas, the Court’s other steadfast originalist, voted with the majority in Harris. And commentators have largely assumed that both Justices will vote with Janus here. But winning over either Justice Gorsuch or Justice Thomas could be Abood’s best hope for survival. ….

A profile of union workers in state and local government

Source: Julia Wolfe and John Schmitt, Economic Policy Institute, June 7, 2018

Key facts about the sector for followers of Janus v. AFSCME Council 31

The forthcoming Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 will likely have profound implications for the 17.3 million workers in state and local government across the country. The case involves a First Amendment challenge to state laws that allow public-sector unions to require state and local government workers who are not union members, but who are represented by a union, to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees for the benefits they receive from union representation. By stripping unions of their ability to collect fair share fees, a decision for the plaintiffs in Janus would hurt all state and local government workers by impeding their ability to organize and bargain collectively. This report provides a profile of the 6.8 million of these workers who are covered by union contracts, and it reviews some key long-term trends in unionization in state and local governments.

As this report shows:
• A majority (58 percent) of union workers (workers covered by a collective bargaining contract) in state and local government are women.
• African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up one-third of unionized state and local government workers.
• While teachers constitute the single largest subgroup of union workers in state and local government, union workers also include those serving the public as administrators, social workers, police officers, firefighters, and other professionals.
• On average, union workers in state and local government have substantially more formal education than workers in the private sector. Over 60 percent of state and local government union workers have a four-year college degree or more education, compared with one-third in the private sector.

Data on union membership trends shed light on why a Supreme Court decision affecting the unionized state and local government workforce has broad implications. State and local government workers constitute the largest subgroup (42.1 percent) of all union members in the country. Over a third (36.1 percent) of state and local government workers belong to a union, compared with just 6.5 percent of workers in the private sector nationally. This 36.1 percent share is down from the roughly 38- to 40-percent share sustained throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In the 2010s, state and local government worker union membership has been slowly declining as attacks on public-sector unions have ramped up.

Before It All Melts Away

Source: Chris Brooks, Labor Notes, May 30, 2018

Will this spring’s wave of teacher strikes lead to stronger unions? Not if their unions return to business as usual.

The motor force behind the strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina is teachers’ deep frustration. Educators are feeling the pinch from decades of funding cuts that their unions have been unable to stop…..

Debate: How Should Unions Deal With Free Riders?

Source: Labor Notes, May 4, 2018

…. In a right-to-work setting, workers have the option to be free riders, receiving the benefits of unionization without paying membership dues or fees. Yet the duty of fair representation requires the union to represent everyone in the bargaining unit, even non-members. This duty arises from a union being the exclusive representative of a group of workers—no other union or organization can speak for them.

Those are the rules in the private sector, anyway. In the public sector, certain states already allow some form of “members-only unions.” In Florida, for instance, public sector unions are not obliged to represent non-members in grievances. The same is true for teacher unions in Tennessee, where multiple organizations compete to represent teachers in the same workplace.

The anticipated Janus decision has sparked a debate. Should public sector unions try to get “members-only” laws passed? Where such laws are in place, should unions really stop representing non-members?

These questions aren’t hypothetical. In April, New York state passed a law, backed by the AFL-CIO, that public sector unions no longer have to provide representation to non-members in disciplinary hearings, grievances, or arbitrations.

Meanwhile national anti-union groups are promoting a similar idea for their own reasons. Below are links to several perspectives Labor Notes readers sent in. ….

Chris Brooks: Don’t Fall for the Members-Only Unionism Trap
Steve Downs: Don’t Rule Out Giving Up Exclusive Representation
Jonathan Kissam: Unions Are Class Organizations, and Should Act Like It
Marian Swerdlow: To Thrive after Janus, Deeper Changes Are Needed
Les Caulford: An Injury to the Contract Is an Injury to All
Bruce Nissen: How One Union’s Image Got an Upgrade

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…..