Category Archives: Future of Unions

Red Oklahoma

Source: Eric Blanc, Jacobin, April 13, 2018

A century ago, Oklahoma had the strongest socialist movement in the US. Today, there are signs it’s being reborn.

Related:
Learning lessons from the Oklahoma walkouts
Source: Elizabeth Lalasz and Sean Larson, Socialist Worker, April 25, 2018

The April rebellion of the teachers in the “right-to-work” state of Oklahoma has turned politics and life upside down in a once-reliably conservative state. ….

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.

Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel? How Can Organized Labor Survive and Thrive in Dark Times

Source: New Labor Forum, March 2018
(subscription required)

Going on Offense during Challenging Times
By Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione
How collective bargaining becomes a revolutionary act.

Trump’s Triumph, Labor Resistance?
By Peter Olney
A year to remember.

The Problem of Workplace Democracy
By Barry Eidlin and Micah Uetricht
Will organized labor once again fight the battle for workplace democracy?

Justice on the Job for Nail Salon Workers
By Narbada Chhetri and Pabitra Dash with Kressent Pottenger
Organizing on the far side of the economy is gaining ground once thought impossible.

U.S. Union Membership Data in Perspective

Source: Glenn Perusek, New Labor Forum, March 2018

Every January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes union membership figures for the United States. For many decades now, these annual reports have provided a numerical profile of organized labor’s decline. Yet the recent BLS report for 2017 shows a different picture, indicating a rise in unionization, including among young workers. The report is being interpreted by many as a reflection of significant new organizing. While increased membership figures and density are important, because they are rough measures of workers’ power in an industry or the economy as a whole, I would suggest that we refrain from viewing the uptick in union membership for 2017 as a sign of increased success in union organizing. A closer look at the numbers tells a different story…..

How Unions Can Survive a Supreme Court Defeat

Source: Samuel Estreicher, Bloomberg View, March 2, 2018

The demise of “fair-share” rules could cripple organized labor. Here’s a viable alternative. …. To avoid a fatal erosion of their funding base, public-sector unions need a new strategy. Their best bet is to allow those employees who don’t want to pay their fair share to give their money to a charity of their choosing. ….