Category Archives: Future of Unions

Could Employee Choice End Labor Unions’ Influence?

Source: Adam C. Abrahms, Employee Relations Law Journal, Vol. 43, No. 1, Summer 2017
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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
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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
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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. ….

Reconciling Agency Fee Doctrine, the First Amendment, and the Modern Public Sector Union

Source: Courtlyn G. Roser-Jones, University of Wisconsin, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1423, Last revised: September 14, 2017

From the abstract:
Few institutions have done more to improve working conditions for the middle class than labor unions. Their efforts, of course, cost money. To fund union activities, thousands of collective bargaining agreements across the nation have long included provisions permitting employers to require employees to pay “fair share,” or “agency” fees. In public unions “when the employer is the government” this arrangement creates tension between two important values: the First Amendment’s protection against compelled expression, and the collective benefits of worker representation. When confronted with this tension nearly forty years ago in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court struck an uneasy compromise, allowing public sector unions to recoup expenses for collective bargaining, but not for political activity. For decades, the decision has been a lightning rod, with some scholars calling for its reversal and others insisting on its preservation. In the meantime, the realities of modern public sector collective bargaining have changed, and First Amendment jurisprudence has evolved. The Supreme Court has recently signaled an interest in revisiting the issue, and test cases are making their way through the circuit courts. The time has come to reconsider Abood’s fragile compromise. This Article offers a new way forward within the First Amendment, one that honors the importance of both union activity and free expression. It proposes a way to reconcile these twin interests while also updating the doctrine to account for state legislative efforts, modern union realities, and First Amendment jurisprudential developments. Specifically, the Article argues that agency fees should be brought into step with current political contribution and campaign finance jurisprudence. Under this approach, some agency fees “but only those that are “closely drawn” to avoid unnecessary expressive infringement” will remain lawful. This approach, a middle ground, may not satisfy those who ardently oppose agency fees of any kind, or those who want Abood’s rule fully upheld. Still, it emerges as the best way forward through a difficult terrain: It avoids the false dichotomy between union and political activities, respects state legislatures that craft innovative collective bargaining statutes, and grounds public sector agency fees with other coherent aspects of First Amendment jurisprudence.

Is it Time for a New Free Speech Fight? Thoughts on Whether the First Amendment is a Friend or Foe of Labor

Source: Catherine Fisk, University of California, Berkeley – UC Irvine School of Law, Research Paper No. 2017-27, May 30, 2017

From the abstract:
The First Amendment, at least in the Supreme Court, hasn’t been much of a friend to labor unions. Among the few First Amendment rights that the Supreme Court has expanded in the labor union context recently is the right of union represented employee to refuse to pay fees to the union that represents them. Notwithstanding reasons to believe the contemporary First Amendment is more likely to be foe than friend of labor, history suggests the contrary. This essay explains why, making three arguments. First, social movements exist only where and when there is a robust commitment to free speech, and workers have real power only when labor has the capacity to be a social movement. Second, labor gained power as a social movement by engaging in protest and it started down the path to losing power when, in a series of cases decided between 1941 and 1960, the Supreme Court largely eliminated constitutional rights to picket and boycott. In the early 1960s, just when the Court finished creating the labor protest exception to the free speech clause, it extended First Amendment protection to civil rights and antiwar protest. Just as civil rights protesters drew on the sit down strike pioneered by labor in the 1930s, the Supreme Court found a First Amendment right to engage in civil rights protest by drawing on the cases that labor unions had won in 1939 and 1940. Third, the literature on the role of lawyers for social movements between the 1930s and now suggests the importance of law to how lawyers advise their clients. The only hope for the future of the labor movement is in cultivating a spirit of protest. Without the right to engage in robust protest, labor lawyers are in a difficult place when they advise their clients, and can do little to create the legal space to enable workers and social justice activists to launch a new round of free speech fights of the sort that brought the labor movement into power in the 1930s.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

Source: Diana Liu, Berkeley Journal of Employment & Labor Law, Volume 38 Issue 2, 2017

During the 2016 term, the Supreme Court heard Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which presented two questions to the court. First, should public sector “agency shop” arrangements be invalidated under the First Amendment? Second, does requiring public employees to affirmatively object, rather than affirmatively consent, to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions violate the First Amendment? In a non-precedential per curiam opinion that offered no explanation on the merits of the argument, the evenly-split Court affirmed the decision of the Ninth Circuit. The subsequent rehearing petition was denied, leaving the Ninth Circuit decision to stand.

In affirming the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court left in place its previous decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In Abood, the Court upheld the constitutionality of compelling employees to pay agency fees to their collective bargaining representative. As a result, “agency shop” arrangements remain valid under the First Amendment. The Court also upheld the constitutional validity of requiring public employees to affirmatively object to funding non-collective bargaining related activities. With the divided Court’s per curiam opinion, Friedrichs has for now reaffirmed the controlling power of Abood, leaving undisturbed the future abilities of public employee unions to raise funds to support their collective bargaining activities. ….