Category Archives: Future of Unions

Can Occupy and Labor Coalesce?

Source: Peter Rugh, CounterPunch, January 17, 2013

…Backed against the wall in recent contract negotiations with the US Maritime Alliance (USMX), the ILA has threatened to strike. Picket lines could start popping up at ports from Maine to Texas on January 28. USMX has sought concessions from the union including reductions in hiring and healthcare payments, along with a slicing of the royalties workers receive on the cargo they handle. The strike threat comes as unions across the country are being urged to swallow concessions. Meanwhile, wages for both organized and non-organized labor have stagnated since Wall Street financiers crashed the economy in 2008, intensifying a four-decade earnings decline. The possible strike also arises at a moment of increased militancy among rank-and-file workers inspired by the Occupy movement, which shifted the national debate on to economic inequality. …
…With its emphasis on direct democracy, spontaneity and flexibility of tactics – and unbounded by union hierarchies or legal impediments such as the Taft-Hartley Act – Occupy has infused the labor movement with a fresh dose of radicalism…. Occupy has also leaned on labor at times. … But organized labor and Occupy haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. … In this sense, Muldoon said, Occupy wasn’t so much something new as it was a return to the basics. While expectations about the Occupy movement working successfully with organized labor may have been too high too early, OWS had a visible impact– and will continue to be a part of the fabric of the labor movement going forward, she said….

We’ll All Miss Unions When They’re Gone

Source: Michael Kazin, New Republic, Plank blog, December 15, 2012

Unionists have never enjoyed true security in America. During the early nineteenth century, they got hauled into court for “conspiring to restrain trade.” In the heyday of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, they got accused of fomenting violence and revolution. During the first decade of the Cold War, they had to purge their ranks of radical activists or be slammed as “soft on Communism.” Since the 1970s, they have been condemned as a greedy and privileged “special interest”—even as their numbers and political clout keep dropping.

Now they have to figure out how to turn back a fresh wave of conservative laws, such as the one enacted this week in Michigan, which aim to make existing unions too poor and powerless to affect conditions in all but a few workplaces. The very term “right to work” puts labor on the defensive in a culture which cherishes individual liberty. If unions are to come back, they will have to respond persuasively to the question: What exactly have they done for this country? …

Beyond Human Rights: Understanding and Addressing the Attack on Public Sector Unions

Source: Joseph A. McCartin Human Rights Review, Volume 13, Issue 3, September 2012
(subscription required)

…We can still invoke the principles of human rights in the settings where they do the most good. But we must also look beyond these principles to address needs that are more effectively identified and articulated by the languages of human solidarity and democratic self -government than the language of rights. Thus, the present attack on public sector unions, while posing a serious threat to the future of workers, unions, and collective bargaining, also represents an urgent invitation for us to recognize and move beyond rights discourse in search for a better way to articulate the vision of a democratic and egalitarian society.

Privatizing Government Services in the Era of ALEC and the Great Recession

Source: Ellen Dannin, University of Toledo Law Review, Vol. 43 no. 503, Spring 2012

From the abstract:
Events in 2010 and 2011 suggested that we were headed on a privatizaton trajectory.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) burst onto the scene, with privatization of public services as a major focus. On March 11, 2010, newly elected New Jersey Governor Chris Christie responded to the state’s financial crisis by issuing an executive order creating a privatization task force – popularly known as the “Zimmer Commission” – to address the state’s financial crisis. The executive order’s list of reasons for creating the Task Force included being “hindered by legal impediments, many of which were needlessly self-imposed by the prior administration”; agreeing to “an unreasonable “memorandum of agreement” (“MOA”) that purports to prevent the State from taking common sense management approaches to achieve personnel efficiencies in the near term”; “delaying previously negotiated wage increases until after the end of the prior administration has resulted in the State having reduced flexibility to manage its workforce and effectively increased the costs that will be associated with achieving near-term savings by ensuring rounds of litigation in order to preserve basic managerial prerogatives with respect to the size and composition of the State workforce”; and “needlessly” limiting the flexibility needed “to manage its wage and salary payments and the size of its workforce “…while simultaneously preventing meaningful managerial control of the State workforce.” And New Jersey was not alone.

This article examines attacks on public sector employees, the operation of ALEC, and the effects ALEC bills would have on teachers, unions, and education if enacted.

Making Labor Pay: Recent battles in Wisconsin and San Jose show why we need universal pensions

Source: Katherine Sciacchitano, Dollars & Sense, no. 302, September/October 2012

The political economy of the recovery is making the United States even more unequal than it was during the bubble years. Incomes fell across the board during the crisis: median family income is 6.3% below what it was in 2001. But the top 1% garnered 93% of income growth in the first year of recovery. Housing, still the main source of wealth for middle-income families, remains depressed while stocks are close to pre-crash highs. Moreover, the drive for more tax cuts for the wealthy continues. And policy initiatives to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would weaken the safety net even as it is most needed.

A spate of attacks on state and local public-sector pensions now threatens to make inequality even more entrenched and painful, and to undermine both short- and long-term economic growth.

The power of labor is dead center in this agenda. Despite a long-term decline in workers covered by union contracts, unions have over 16 million members: they are still the social force most capable of combating the assault on workers’ incomes and militating for greater equality. Crippling their political power therefore remains both a tactical and a strategic objective on the right. With only 6.9% of workers in the private sector covered by union contracts, versus 37% in the public sector, public-sector unions are bearing the brunt of the attacks. And public pensions are the battering ram.

We Can't Win This on Our Own: Unions, Firms, and Mobilization of External Allies in Labor Disputes

Source: Marc Dixon, Andrew W. Martin, American Sociological Review, Published online before print October 18, 2012
(subscriotion required)

From the abstract:
To cope with steep losses in membership and eroding legal protections, some unions have begun to look outward for help. Scholars likewise point to broad-based coalitions as a potential route to labor’s revitalization. Yet surprisingly little is known about union coalition work, from when and why it occurs to what union allies typically bring to the table. We take up these issues with a unique dataset on strike events from the 1990s and 2000s, contributing to labor and social movement research. First, we show that despite considerable academic interest in union outreach to other social movements, this phenomenon remains fairly rare. Second, our findings demonstrate how the immediate threat to unions posed by employer intransigence matters not just for the mobilization of external allies, as the social movement literature would expect, but also for the assistance brought to bear by those allies, which has received relatively little attention from scholars. Third, although we find important distinctions in unions’ propensity for outreach, results suggest a more nuanced picture of union activity than previously conceived. In various ways during strike events, both social movement unions (typically highlighted in the literature) and declining industrial unions are turning to coalition partners.

How Do You Build a Union for the 21st Century? (Step 1: Learn From History)

Source: Sara Horowitz, Atlantic, September 3 2012

The next generation of organized labor should be about something more than recovering middle-class wages. It should be about recovering a middle-class way of life….

….Instead of focusing solely on bargaining with employers, Hillman pioneered another strategy: social unionism. In that model, his union pooled members’ dues to create businesses that would benefit the members, at a price they could afford. The union would collect dues and build social-purpose businesses like housing, banks, medical centers, and insurance companies. Each entity would rent space from union-owned office buildings. Then the union used the rent money to pay the mortgage, building real assets and collateral. The union could then borrow additional capital to start more pro-worker ventures. It was a virtuous cycle. But Hillman’s vision wasn’t just about economic power – though economics was at its heart. It was about what economic power delivered: a middle-class way of life…..

The State of the Unions 2012: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State and the United States

Source: Ruth Milkman, Laura Braslow, Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies and the Center for Urban Research, CUNY, September 2012

These are difficult times for organized labor in the United States. In addition to the challenges of an anemic economic recovery and persistently high unemployment, unions are confronting continuing attacks on public-sector collective bargaining rights and aggressive demands for concessions from both public- and private-sector employers. Against this background, the long-term decline of unionism has continued unabated. Although relative to the nation as a whole, organized labor remains strong in New York City and State, significant erosion has occurred there in recent years, as Figure 1a shows. Nearly one-fourth (22.3 percent) of all wage and salary workers residing in New York City were union members in 2011-12, compared to 22.9 percent a year earlier, and 24.6 percent two years earlier. This proportion was slightly higher in New York State (23.7 percent), which ranks first in union density among the nation’s fifty states, and whose unionization rate is more than double the U.S. average of 11.7 percent. In absolute terms, New York State had more union members — almost 1.9 million — than any state except California, which has a far larger population. In 2011-12, there were about 735,000 union members in the five boroughs of New York City, representing almost two out of every five union members in the state. At the national and state level, and to an even greater extent in New York City, losses in union membership have been disproportionately concentrated in the private sector over the past decade, as Figure 1b shows. The Great Recession that began in late 2007 accelerated the long-term decline in private- sector unionization in the City (see page 5). In the public sector, by contrast, union density has been relatively stable, and has actually increased slightly in New York City recently (see Figure 1c), although ongoing budget cuts and, in other parts of the country, direct attacks on collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers may change that in the future.

Towards a New Union: CAW/CEP Proposal Committee Final Report

Source: Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW), August 2012

From the press release:
The blueprint for the creation of what would be Canada’s largest industrial union was released today at a press conference in Toronto. Representatives of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) launched the final report from the joint committee on the creation of a new union…

…The joint committee report highlights the founding principles of the potential new union, as well as a number of new aspects. The new union will:
– represent over 300,000 members from across Canada, with a strong presence in
– prioritize organizing new members by allocating $50 million over five years to recruiting new members and developing new local unions;
– challenge the traditional definition of membership by opening the door to temporary agency, contract and other precarious workers, as well as unemployed workers and students;
– unite workers in more private sector industries than any Canadian union to this day;
– mark the single largest coming together of two private sector unions in Canadian history.
See also:
New Union Project website
discussion paper