Category Archives: Future of Unions

In Walmart and Fast Food, Unions Scaling Up a Strike-First Strategy

Source: Jenny Brown, Labor Notes, January 23, 2013

Small but highly publicized strikes by Walmart retail and warehouse workers last fall set the labor movement abuzz and gained new respect for organizing methods once regarded skeptically. … [R]etail workers who staff the stores, warehouse workers who move Walmart’s goods, and even guest workers who peel crawfish for a supplier are ignoring the path laid out by U.S. labor law, in which workers sign a petition asking to vote on a union. Instead, they’re exercising their rights to redress grievances together, whether a majority can be rallied to support the effort or not. One-day strikes in dozens of stores last October and November protested illegal retaliation against those who had spoken up at their workplaces and joined the Organization United for Respect at Walmart. Several had been fired and many experienced threats and cuts in hours for their participation. “We have a way to respond to illegal actions,” Schlademan said: “the power of the strike.” …

State-Level Policies Threaten to Further Weaken Unions

Source: David Madland and Nick Bunker, Center for American Progress, January 23, 2013

…State-level policy has recently become increasingly important to the fate of unions. States such as Indiana and Michigan passed “right-to-work” laws in 2012 that undermine the strength of unions by requiring them to provide services for which they are not compensated, while Wisconsin passed a law in 2011 that repealed collective bargaining rights for most of the state’s public-sector workers. These policy choices, as well as similar ones made in the past, can significantly impact unionization rates, and they help explain the wide variation in unionization among states. Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today, along with data from an online database managed by economists Barry T. Hirsch and David A. Macpherson, we can see how trends in unionization have differed across states in recent years….

The Real Reason for the Decline of American Unions

Source: Kris Warner, Bloomberg View, Echoes: Dispatches From Economic History blog, January 23, 2013

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual summary of unionization in the U.S. It reports that in 2012, the union-membership rate of wage and salary workers was 11.3 percent, compared with 11.8 percent in 2011. The trend has been downward for some time: Fifty years ago, the figure was almost 30 percent.

It’s conventional wisdom that the post-industrial workforce doesn’t want to be unionized. But survey data show that workers’ desire to join unions has been growing since the 1980s, and a majority of nonunion workers would now vote for union representation if given the opportunity. So if workers want unions, why is unionization falling?

Commentators have also blamed the decline on everything from globalization to technological advances to the hollowing-out of American manufacturing. But those factors are only part of the story.

Canada’s experience offers another answer. Canada has gone through many of the same economic and social changes as the U.S. since the middle of the 20th century, yet it hasn’t seen the same precipitous decline in unionization. The unionization rate in the U.S. and Canada followed fairly similar paths from 1920 to the mid-1960s, at which point they began to diverge drastically.

Differences in labor law and public policy are at the root of this disparity. …

Labor Party Time?

Source: Labor Party Time? blog, 2013

Labor Party Time? is a forum to discuss and debate the need for an independent political party for working people and the prospects for a renewed labor party effort given the state of the labor movement in the United States. The experiences of the Labor Party, founded in June 1996 as a new political party of, by and for working people, serve as the basis for the discussion.

Labor Party Time? Not Yet.
Labor Party Time? Not Yet by Labor Party National Organizer Mark Dudzic and Secretary-Treasurer Katherine Isaac chronicles the successes and failures of the Labor Party movement and analyzes the impact of the effort, the reasons for its decline, and its lessons for today. Join the discussion by posting comments to the Labor Party Time? analysis or to the responses by Labor Party activists Jed Dodd, Donna Dewitt, Chris Townsend, Bill Onasch, and Les Leopold.

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.