Preface: The following is what used to be termed a “struggle paper,” i.e., a paper presented as an argument for a position. It is not presented as a final position, however. It is, instead, inspired by the content of the February Left Strategies web discussion on the labor movement. This paper does not try to present the ideal tactics or all elements of strategy. It does, however, attempt to identify–for purposes of discussion–issues and concepts for consideration in the development of a full-blown left labor strategy. Feedback is welcomed.
Source: Costas Panayotakis, WorkingUSA, Volume 17, Issue 1, March 2014
From the abstract:
This article interprets the concept of “solution-driven unionism” recently adopted by the American Federation of Teachers as a manifestation of the American labor movement’s crisis of ideas. A more adequate and politically effective reconceptualization of the role of unions would require us to recognize capitalism’s contradictions and to foreground economic democracy as an alternative to the capitalist organization of socioeconomic life.
The title of the NYU Annual Survey of American Law’s annual symposium on February 21 might well have ended with a question mark: “The Continuing Vitality of Unions.” In the event’s keynote, Professor Benjamin Sachs of Harvard Law School acknowledged the beleaguered condition of organized labor in the US, with ever-dwindling membership numbers and the passage of laws across the country hostile to unionization. Sachs stressed the importance of vital unions both economically and politically. “Unions are an essential contributor to economic equality,” he said. “Across time and across countries, the higher the level of union density, the more economically equal a society is likely to be.”…
Keynote: Benjamin Sachs
The Future of the NLRB
* Deborah Malamud (moderator) – AnBryce Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Wilma B. Liebman – Former Chairman and Member, National Labor Relations Board; Visiting Lecturer, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Cornell University Law School
* Kent Y. Hirozawa ‘82 – Member, National Labor Relations Board
* James J. Brudney – Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law
* Zachary D. Fasman – Partner, Proskauer Rose LLP
Unions in the Public Eye
* Cynthia Estlund (moderator) – Catherine A. Rein Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Randel K. Johnson – Senior Vice President, Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
* Thomas A. Kochan – George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management
* Steven Greenhouse ’82 – Labor and Workplace Correspondent, The New York Times
Unions in the Political Process
* Samuel Estreicher (moderator) – Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Trevor Burrus – Research Fellow, Cato Institute Center for Constitutional Studies
* Michael A. Podhorzer – Political Director, AFL-CIO
* Raymond J. LaJeunesse, Jr. – Vice President and Legal Director, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
* Laurence E. Gold – Of Counsel, Bredhoff & Kaiser, PLLC
From the abstract:
Recently, workers led by non-union labor advocacy groups, popularly labelled “ALT-Labor,” have been staging strikes and other job actions across the low wage economy. Some observers see this activity as the harbinger of a reinvigorated labor movement or, more generally, as audacious dissent by low wage workers with nothing to lose. Others view the activity cynically as an exercise in futility, a struggle against inexorable market forces that refuse to pay $15 per hour to a fast food or big box retail worker. This article takes a different tack, presuming (implicitly using history as its guide) that employers will respond to ALT-Labor in a historically typical manner — by seeking labor injunctions and civil damages in courts.
Labor injunctions are available under certain sections of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) when “labor organizations” violate those sections. This article specifically considers whether ALT-Labor groups, though not unions in the traditional sense, are nevertheless “labor organizations” under the LMRA capable of violating the secondary boycott provisions of the statute. If ALT-Labor groups have the requisite status to commit these violations, they may be subject to federal court injunction and civil damages under the LMRA.
The article concludes that ALT-Labor’s labor organization status is uncertain and will turn on a given group’s explicit statement of a “labor organization-like” purpose, and on whether it behaves like a statutory labor organization. Litigation premised on the labor organization status of an ALT-Labor group therefore poses risk for both sides, business and ALT-Labor.
The article accordingly proposes that unions and business strike a deal by agreeing to narrow the labor organization definition. Employers have wanted to narrow the definition for decades in order to establish workplace committees that have consistently been found presumptively unlawful. Unions, on the other hand, have historically resisted a narrowing of the definition because of the 1930s historical specter of the “company union”: “fake” unions set up by employers to confuse workers into thinking they have real representation when they do not. However, the article contends that the companies in which fake unions were once a concern are vanishing artifacts, and that unions should therefore compromise on the labor organization definition to protect a dynamic, emerging new type of workforce from labor law used as a sword.
A growing minimum wage movement indicates that despite low union membership statistics, labor’s future isn’t as dire as some in the business world might hope.
Fast food work has long been synonymous with bad working conditions and crummy pay—but beginning in the fall of 2012, it had also become synonymous with widespread labor unrest.
While union membership has slowly waned over the past several decades, some states are recording steeper declines than others.
…. [T]here are two roads that lead toward a genuine revival of the American trade union movement. And when I say “revival” I mean not just a larger set of unions with more members, but rather a labor bloc, social and demographic, that is on the offensive, setting the economic and social agenda on multiple fronts so that employers and politicians find that concessions to or solidarity with the unions seem the most practical and common-sense policy, if only because they will ensure their own prosperity and survival….
A new wave of female labor leaders are winning by thinking big. … These women are bringing new ideas and strategies to labor organizing, many of which are borrowed from the women’s movement—like making the connection between what workers face on the job and what they’re dealing with at home. They don’t only target corporate bosses, but bring together a variety of stakeholders within communities to fight for change in the workplace and beyond. And they’re bringing an influx of new members to the movement by reaching out to primarily female workforces that have often been excluded. Most importantly, for a movement accustomed to a steady erosion of power: they’re winning….
Labor unions in the United States have declined sharply from their high point in the mid – 20th century. In 1953, nearly a third of private sector workers were members of union s, but now it is less than seven percent. In politics, labor leaders still have a seat at the table, but enjoy much less clout. The one area where organized labor remains strong is in the public sector. More than a third of public employees are enrolled in unions and public sector unionists now outnumber those in the private sector.
How has America arrived at a point where “Big Labor” and blue collar unionists are largely a thing of the past, while white collar government employees are the new face of organized labor? Much of the answer lies in the bifurcated nature of modern U.S. labor laws….