Category Archives: Future of Unions

Is U.S. Public Sector Labor Relations in the Midst of a Transformation?

Source: Harry C. Katz, ILRReview, Vol. 66 No. 5, October 2013
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From the abstract:
In this article the author assesses whether a fundamental transformation is underway in public sector (state and local government) labor relations in the United States by revisiting the arguments made by the author and Kochan and McKersie (1986) regarding the transformation of labor relations in the private sector. The author argues that the economic pressures that led to a transformation of private sector labor relations starting in the 1980s have not played a comparable role in recent developments in the public sector because of the political nature of labor relations in that sector. Other insights are drawn from a comparison of recent developments with events that occurred during the mid-1970s, an earlier taxpayer revolt era. The author concludes that a fundamental transformation in public sector labor relations has not occurred, attributable to some degree to the limited decline in public employee union membership and the fact that a majority of the public has favorable attitudes toward public sector employees and union collective bargaining rights. Factors that might lead to such a transformation in the future are highlighted.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Neutrality Agreements

Source: Jenny Brown, Labor Notes, November 13, 2013

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether “neutrality agreements” are really just a bribe from the employer, and therefore illegal.
See also:
Scalia’s chance to smash unions: The huge under-the-radar case A Supreme Court case being argued Wednesday could take away a tactic that’s kept unions alive
Josh Eidelson, Salon, November 13, 2013

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on an under-the-radar case that could deal a major blow to already embattled U.S. unions. As Harvard labor law professor Benjamin Sachs told the New York Times, the case now facing Antonin Scalia and company could be “the most significant labor case in a generation.” The case, Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall, involves the constitutionality of “card check neutrality agreements” between unions and companies they’re trying to organize. ….. “Because essentially all successful union organizing campaigns today are conducted” under “alternative ground rules,” professor Sachs wrote Tuesday, “the case could effectively outlaw union organizing (at, at least, outlaw effective union organizing).”

Supreme Court Enters the Union Battles
Source: Noah Feldman, Bloomberg, November 12, 2013

Fights over forming unions are hardball — which is why the decision process is more heavily regulated than almost any other act of association in American life. One popular technique favored by unions is to promise management something in exchange for a promise to stay neutral and even allow organizers access to the workplace. Now a federal appeals court has essentially banned these neutrality agreements, and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments to decide whether a side deal between a union and management is a form of illegal bribery or just part of the game. …But even if neutrality agreements are not an option, unions won’t simply go away. Instead, they’ll employ the pressure tactics legally available to them, including picketing. In short, unions will try to impose costs on management in the hopes of coercing employers to back down. The two sides just won’t be able to negotiate a deal ex ante — before the unionization fight takes place. Some employers might therefore actually prefer to have the option of signing a neutrality agreement that would spare them the cost of union efforts and buy them something in return, such as Unite Here’s support of a gambling initiative. The case can’t really be resolved on legal language alone. Sure, a neutrality agreement has “value” to the union — that’s why it’s part of the negotiation. So the company probably wins on literal meaning divorced from context. And yes, the Taft-Hartley Act probably had in mind more ordinary forms of bribery, like Cadillac cars, when it prohibited “delivery” of “a thing of value.” So the union should win on original legislative intent. Each side therefore has a plausible statutory argument. …

Teachers on the Offensive: A Strategy for Transforming the Educational Reform Debate

Source: Amy B. Dean, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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Public school teachers are under attack. The assault being waged by the so-called education reform movement—embraced by both millionaire conservatives and neoliberal Democrats—is more than a skirmish affecting a single profession. Rather, it is a struggle with great consequences for the survival of the U.S. labor movement, the future of the middle class, and the fate of American democracy—a system that relies on quality public schools for its sustenance….

…The bigger issue for teachers is the need to showcase their vision. Whatever tactics they embrace at a given time, the goals must be clear. And, to take the offensive in the education debate, three goals are essential: first, repositioning teachers as champions of quality public education; second, reclaiming the right of teachers to define and maintain standards of excellence for their profession; and third, breaking with the traditional labor movement approach to politics, both locally and nationally.

The point in exploring a strategy built around these three objectives is not to second-guess those who have persevered amid austerity budgets and well-funded ideological campaigns against teachers’ unions. Rather, it is to hold up some of the best practices from around the country—cases in which unions have been able to reshape discussions of both classroom standards and public policy—and to suggest that they can be brought together as a comprehensive framework for guiding action. …

The Light and the Dark: Taking Stock of the Year in Labor

Source: Ari Paul, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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…It is all but certain that traditional labor is in store for more pain, whether it comes in the form of new antiunion legislation at the state level or simply a widening of the gap between what corporations and unions can spend to influence electoral politics.

But the lessons from the fast food strikers or the Chicago teachers is not so much how a union can campaign against an employer, but how it can promote broad political demands for this economic landscape, demands that may include universal basic income or real health care reform, as well as demands to restrain the financial sector, like reviving the Glass–Steagall Act, which would separate commercial and investment banking. It should not be that only marginal institutions like the Industrial Workers of the World are campaigning for a shortened workday, something that has not happened in more than a century.

Standing in the way of this is an unwillingness to change and the provincialism of specialized unions. At a meeting of labor journalists in New York this spring, in response to the question of why unions have been unable to fund new think tanks or media organizations to counter antiunion institutions, several people responded that labor leaders “don’t speak the same language”; they are constrained by serving their members directly and thus unable to settle on any kind of grander agenda. The building trades, retail, and public sectors are just too different from each other, the logic went, so they are unable to put aside differences and collaborate on long-term projects.

To put it bluntly, this is nothing more than the narcissism of small differences. The reluctance of older labor leaders, lulled into complacency by their hefty salaries and access to Democratic Party officials, to break from tradition will only make next year’s report card for labor more dismal than this year’s. Or, hopefully, the energy and imagination on display in Chicago and elsewhere spreads. …

Public Sector Unionism Under Assault: How to Combat the Scapegoating of Organized Labor

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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…The antiunion victories in Wisconsin and Michigan have lent momentum to efforts in other states where Republicans control the governorship and the statehouse. Not content with the range of antilabor legislation already on the books in their state, North Carolina’s Republican legislators recently moved toward adding a “right-to-work” provision to the state constitution. Kansas’ legislators, meanwhile, have been working to eliminate dues check-off for teachers unions. “Right to work” advocates continue to advance their cause in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and other states. Meanwhile, federal “sequestration” has further weakened public sector unions by causing layoffs and furloughs. Altogether, these initiatives suggest a dark future for public sector labor.

We have seemingly reached a watershed moment when two conclusions appear to be indisputable. First, a vibrant public sector labor movement will not be sustainable indefinitely with less than 7 percent of private sector workers organized. The fate of government workers’ unions increasingly hinges on whether labor can engineer a private sector union revival. Second, if public sector unions do not start defending themselves more effectively than they did in Wisconsin and Michigan, they will likely suffer more such defeats in the years ahead. …

House of Labor Needs Repairs, Not Just New Roommates

Source: Steve Early, Labor Notes, September 16, 2013

…Who wouldn’t like to believe that a more exciting convention format prefigures a turning point for labor? Unfortunately, greater inclusiveness, closer ties with non-labor allies, and the adoption of pleasingly progressive resolutions only begin to address the real organizing challenges facing labor, whether “alt” or traditional.

Missing from the festivities were strategies for defending and re-energizing labor’s existing members.

Given the extreme attacks both union and non-union workers are suffering, the convention’s heavy emphasis on conventional political strategies and growth through diluted forms of membership was not “transformative” enough to meet the challenges of the day….

The State of the Unions 2013: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State, and the United States

Source: Ruth Milkman, Stephanie Luce, Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies and the Center for Urban Research, CUNY, September 2013

The fourth in an annual series of reports on trends in organized labor, the 2013 report highlights its declining presence in the private sector in New York City and the growing gap between private and public sector unionization rates. Among the report’s most interesting findings is the distinctive profile of New York City’s union members, who are more likely to be Black, Latino, or female than is the case elsewhere in the nation. Although the popular stereotype of a union member is a white male wearing a hardhat, in the city only 18 percent of all union members are white men. Fully 60 percent of union members in New York City are Black or Latino, much higher than in the rest of New York State, where the figure is only 16 percent, and also in contrast to the nation as a whole, where it is 27 percent.

Thank You, Strike Again

Source: David Moberg, In These Times, July 25, 2013

How low-wage service workers are changing the face of labor….Last year, Crawford joined the “Fight for 15” campaign, a labor and community-supported project that aims to improve conditions for workers in Chicago’s central business districts. The campaign demands a $15 minimum wage and the right to form unions without interference from management…. These strikes have been the defining tactic of a new movement of low-wage service workers that has gained momentum in 2013. Small groups of workers have launched sudden strikes against big chains such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, as well as small employers such as car washes, laundries and taxi companies. In many cases, only a minority of employees were involved, sometimes from multiple workplaces. The strikes have typically been sudden and short, lasting just long enough to broadcast their message. A few campaigns have won union recognition; more have won small victories like a pay raise or a scheduling change. But taken together, the campaigns have surprised experts like Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, who says she could not have imagined such an upsurge even two years ago….

Unions, Money, and Mergers

Source: Carl Proper, Talking Union blog, July 2, 2013

Money matters to unions. Financial resources are hard to obtain, easy to waste, and essential to union survival. Historically, the effort to accrue or protect a financial foundation has also caused many internal union conflicts, mergers and failures. …This history recounts a struggle between two great and historically progressive unions over leadership, organizing jurisdiction (itself a form of property rights), and inherited financial resources. I focus here on financial issues, not because they were the core of the struggle, but because they are seldom discussed, and critical to labor’s history and future. I will also focus on the roles of labor leaders, who are the financial decision-makers, rather than on the rank and file. In later chapters, questions of leadership character, membership involvement and exploitation, and jurisdictional issues will get their due. One conclusion that I would reach, however, is that open discussion of money matters with union members produces better decisions than haste and secrecy…. I would urge unionists who believe the next revolution will be built without wealth to learn from our experience. The kinds of investments in real estate or banks made by the ILGWU or the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) initiated decades ago, may now be more essential than ever. They can help unions withstand the loss of dues income in our day, and enable activities of community allies with little or no income base.

Workplace representatives: strategic actors of union renewal?

Source: Gregor Murray, Christian Lévesque, Christian Dufour, Adelheid Hege, Industrial Relations Journal, Volume 44, Issue 4, July 2013
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From the abstract:
Workplace representatives (shop stewards) provide insight into union transformations. This article explores the renewed research interest in terms of the representativeness of unionism and of workplace representatives, the complexity of the sites of representation and employer strategies, the search for new references and the centrality of workplace representatives in union renewal strategies.