Category Archives: Future of Unions

Beyond The Employee Free Choice Act Debate: Unleashing The States In Labor-Management Relations Policy By Reforming Labor Law Preemption Doctrines Crafted By Judges A Half-Century Ago

Source: Henry H. Drummonds, Lewis & Clark Law School, 2009

This article proposes that Congress enact a major decentralization of labor relations law – the law that governs efforts by employees to deal with their employers collectively through unions and collective bargaining. Two events in 2007 and 2008 signaled the emergence of this labor law preemption issue. First, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Employee Free Choice Act triggering the deepest fundamental debate about labor relations policy since the 1947 Republican Congress reigned in the power of unions in the Taft-Hartley Act. Unlike the debate 60 years ago, the debate in 2009 is not about excessive union power but about whether labor relations law should become more favorable to employee organization in unions. While many possibilities exist for changes in labor relations policy, national consensus often eludes policy makers.

Second, in Chamber of Commerce v. Brown, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court continued the expansion of judicially created labor law preemption doctrine by striking down California’s law attempting to limit employer use of state monies in union organizing campaigns; such rulings deprive citizens of their right under the constitutional division of powers, absent a decision of the Congress to supplant state authority under the Supremacy Clause, to express their preferences about labor relations policy through their local and state governments. As Chief Justice Rehnquist pointed out more than 20 years ago: “From the acorns of [two early] decisions has grown the mighty oak of this Court’s labor preemption doctrine, which sweeps ever outward though totally uninformed by any express directive from Congress.”

Employee Free Choice Act: Fight of a Lifetime?

Source: Jane Slaughter, Labor Notes, March 2009

Nobody wants to say it on the record, but the buzz is we won’t get the Employee Free Choice Act in its current form. It’s possible to admire labor’s efforts for two million petition signatures for EFCA and still ask, if this is the fight of a lifetime, why aren’t we acting like it? Could the energy unions channeled for Obama last fall be reawakened for creative actions in 2009?

Organizing Prosperity: Union Effects on Job Quality, Community Betterment, and Industry Standards

Source: Matt Vidal and David Kusnet, Economic Policy Institute, EPI Book, February 2009

Strong unions can help improve working conditions within occupations and industries, going far beyond simply improving wages. Unions can help employers provide training, reduce turnover, and generally improve the work environment in ways that benefit employers and workers by helping ensure that competitive pressures do not bring out the worst tendencies in employers. Indeed, unions can help set and protect basic employment standards for entire industries.

The benefits that arise from labor-management agreements — and the costs for workers and communities of undermining longstanding, successful agreements — are the stories of Organizing Prosperity, an examination of the role that unionism has played in lifting up workers, communities, and even businesses themselves in a dozen American occupations and industries.

At a time when the nation is grappling with economic problems ranging from structural unemployment to skills shortages, stagnant wages, declining health care coverage, dwindling pension plans, and the competitiveness of U.S. companies in the global economy, one lesson emerges from Organizing Prosperity: unions can be part of the solution.

Can Unions Win Without the Employee Free Choice Act?

Source: Labor Notes, March 2009

The Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate the requirement for a two-step process in union drives–first sign up a majority of workers, then hold an election. But is it the election itself that’s the problem, or the very uneven playing field on which it’s held, where the employer has all the advantages?

The Employee Free Choice Act: No Choice for Employer or Employee

Source: Douglas P. Seaton and Emily L. Ruhsam, Employee Relations Law Journal, Vol. 34 no. 4, Spring 2009

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) was one of the most highly publicized issues during the 2008 presidential election. Despite its name, the EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot election and force arbitrator-created union contracts on employers after 120 days of failed bargaining. Employers are well advised to keep a pulse on EFCA as it is one of the most radical changes ever proposed to the National Labor relations Act and passage would have significant effects on unionization levels in the private sector.

Can Labor Revive the American Dream?

Source: Esther Kaplan, Nation, Vol. 288 no. 3, January 26, 2009

The financial markets are in tatters, consumer spending is anemic and the recession continues to deepen, but corporate America is keeping its eyes on the prize: crushing organized labor. The Center for Union Facts, a business front group, has taken out full-page ads in newspapers linking SEIU president Andy Stern to the Rod Blagojevich scandal. The Chamber of Commerce is capitalizing on the debate over the Big Three bailout to claim that “unions drove the auto companies off the cliff,” while minority leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators insist on steep wage cuts. A December 10 Republican strategy memo revealed their central obsession: “Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor,” the memo read. “This is a precursor to card check”–a clear reference to the Employee Free Choice Act.

This simple amendment to federal labor law, which would, among other things, allow workers to unionize when a majority sign cards rather than requiring a bruising election, has galvanized the business community in a way even the $700 billion bailout couldn’t. “I get the sense that this is more important to them than even taxes or regulation,” says the AFL-CIO’s director of government affairs, Bill Samuels. “This is about power. And the business community is not going to give up power willingly.” Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said as much to a meeting with analysts in October. “We like driving the car,” he told them, “and we’re not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us.”

At first glance, Employee Free Choice looks like little more than a technical fix. In addition to allowing unionizing through majority sign-up, it stiffens penalties for intimidating or firing union supporters and imposes arbitration when a company refuses to bargain a first contract. But as the leading corporate lobbies recognize, the bill could have far-reaching effects. By reviving unions, it could push up wages, realigning the broken economy so that company profits are spread beyond CEOs. It could help rein in corporate power and, perhaps most threatening to a business community that has enjoyed decades of deregulation, sustain a progressive majority in Washington in the years to come. If progressives aren’t doing the math, conservatives are. “Unions don’t spend money to elect Republicans,” Senator John Ensign told a group of executives this past fall. “They spend money to elect Democrats. From our perspective, this would have devastating consequences.”

Unions Without Borders: Recent Developments in the Theory, Practice and Law of Transnational Unionism

Source: Alan Hyde and Mona Ressaissi, Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal, Forthcoming

From the abstract:

Unions facing global capital, or representing migrant workers, or both, should adopt a strategy of: (1) insisting, to the extent possible, on representation of workers by national labour movements covering the location where work is performed; (2) linking those national labour movements in enduring transnational union organizations that coordinate reciprocity; and (3) vigourously seeking alliances with worker support organizations outside the union movement. These conclusions follow a review of recent experiences, which confirm a game-theoretic account in which transnational institutions arise to solve coordination problems among national institutions. (1) The insistence on the local responds to union defeats in European Union law, in which Swedish unions, insisting that Latvian workers building a school in Sweden be paid Swedish wages, were held to have interfered with the free movement of capital. North American unions representing migrant farm workers must avoid the analogous claim that such workers were hired in Mexico or Jamaica, then posted to Canada or the U.S. (2) While existing formal transnational union organizations and framework agreements have achieved little, they offer the promise of future reciprocity. By contrast, ad hoc campaigns seeking union support have achieved less, while engendering cultural misunderstanding harmful to future support. (3) Although systematic comparison is not possible, many anecdotes suggest that alternative worker support organizations in the developed world, are more effective allies for unions in the developing world, than are developed-world unions.

The Little Unions That Couldn’t

Source: T. A. Frank, Washington Monthly, Vol. 41 no. 1, January/February 2009

Card check is worth fighting for–except for the “card check” part.

In Washington, the rhetoric over EFCA has centered on one specific element of the legislation called “card check.” Under the proposed new law, if a majority of employees fill out cards authorizing a union to represent them, the union is automatically certified. Currently, employers can demand a secret-ballot election among employees to reaffirm the results. EFCA would eliminate this option. Republicans have called this a threat to liberty and democratic values. Democrats counter that it’s essential to protecting workers against employer coercion. But this squabble is a distraction. In reality, card check is the least important part of a very important bill. The following story should help explain why.

Rising Productivity, Deepening Inequality

Source: Horst Brand, Dissent, Vol. 55 no. 4, Fall 2008

Last January, the New York Times reported that assembly line workers at Detroit automobile factories, who have been earning around $28 per hour, would be “bought out” and gradually replaced by workers earning as little as half of that. … “In one industry alone, airlines, wage and pension concessions given back to employers since 2001… totaled over $15 billion,” Writes Labor Notes. Yet, output per hour in air transportation rose at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent between 1987 and 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); it rose 3.8 percent in motor vehicles manufacturing. These to examples illustrate what is happening to the bargaining power of trade unions – a steady weakening, a loss that began with the defeat of the air traffic controllers strike in 1981 by Ronald Regan’s administration, a loss, therefore, that is political in nature. And it is in this sense that we must view the widening gap between the advances of productivity and the stagnation of working people’s incomes.

Beyond The Mutual Backscratch: A New Model For Labor-Community Coalitions

Source: Amy Dean and Wade Rathke, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17 no. 3, Fall 2008
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Labor historian David Montgomery once compared the George Meany Era of the AFL-CIO to a great snapping turtle, “hiding within its shell to shield the working-class from contamination” and “snapping out” at those forces who venture too close. But, when he became the AFL-CIO president in 1995, John Sweeney announced that supporting “local coalition-building efforts with community, religious, civil rights and other organizations” would become part of labor’s organizing strategy. Today, collaboration with community groups is the official policy of the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, and many individual unions.

Now, however, some trade unionists are questioning this commitment, asking whether the benefits are worth the costs. What does labor get in return for the money and effort it puts into cultivating community allies?