Category Archives: Future of Unions

Low-Wage Women Workers: A Profile

Source: Stephanie Luce and Eve Weinbaum, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Summer 2008

The labor movement’s future success depends on its ability to organize increasing numbers of workers of color and women workers who are concentrated in low-wage jobs. Scholars and activists have focused on questions of how to organize these workers, how to promote women’s activism and develop leadership, and how to diversify union staff and leaders to better represent the workers they are organizing. If organizing low-wage women workers is essential, then we need a better understanding of who these women workers are, and what they are doing. Who makes up this low-wage workforce? Where do they work? How do we define low wages? What has worked to raise wages and improve working conditions for these women–job training, career mobility, organizing? And what are unions doing to address the needs of this group of workers?

The Steelworkers Union Goes Global

Source: Ruth Needleman, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Summer 2008

How will global unionism be built? While its importance is undeniable, its formation is a story yet to unfold. The United Steelworkers Union, the largest manufacturing union in North America, has launched a series of initiatives from grassroots exchanges to an upcoming merger that will join over three million workers from unions in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. All of these efforts carry strategic implications for labor’s future. Hopefully, each new form of global organizational solidarity can open a window on how unions around the world may come together to confront the power of transnational corporations.

Labor’s Growing Pains: SEIU Battles the California Nurses–and Dissidents Within Its Own Ranks

Source: Esther Kaplan, Nation, June 16, 2008

The biggest union feud since the AFL-CIO split three years ago, some would say, began in Ohio. The way Dave Regan tells it, the Service Employees union (SEIU) first began its effort to organize Catholic hospitals there in the small city of Lorain, just west of Cleveland, in 1999. Regan is president of a union that spans Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, one of SEIU’s newly merged megalocals at the heart of the international union’s ambitious plans for turning around labor’s decline. The 500 or so nurses at the facility faced, he recalls, a “classic, textbook, very intense, very nasty election environment.” The hospital hired antiunion consultants and campaigned aggressively against unionization, pulling in nurses for mandatory staff meetings, as well as for intimidating one-on-ones with their supervisors. According to one organizer, nuns serving as hospital administrators even hinted to the nurses that voting union was a sin.

In Lorain, the nurses did vote in the union, by a slim, sixteen-vote margin–and then, also typically, faced a thirteen-month battle to win their first contract. Along the way, the nurses called two daylong strikes to block the hospital’s demand for an open shop; each time, management punished the strikers with four-day suspensions. Through contract fights in subsequent years, Regan says, “we struggled and fought and built an organization that our members there are very proud of”; one nurse, galvanized by the experience, went on to become a state senator.

The hospital in Lorain is part of a Catholic chain that is the largest hospital system in the state. In many places, in the wake of steel mill closures, these hospitals have become the biggest employer in town. “So we started to think about the system as a whole,” says Regan, “and we decided to create a campaign the object of which was to secure the right for Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) workers, across the system, to be able to vote on whether to join the union without going through the intense, negative conditions that existed in 1999.” What they sought was “employer neutrality,” the brass ring of today’s large-scale union organizing campaigns, which use corporate campaigns to pressure employers not to fight unionization drives.

What followed was a three-year corporate campaign. SEIU activists mailed out literature about fair unionization rules to elected officials, clergy and advocacy groups. … The culmination of this effort was an election slated to take place in mid-March at nine of the system’s twenty-one Ohio hospitals, with the possibility that up to 8,300 workers would unionize in the span of a week. The union’s public pressure had produced an agreement with CHP for a vote “free from coercion.” The employees were informed of the election two weeks in advance by means of a civilized letter, cosigned by CHP and SEIU, a jointly written fact sheet and a broadside from each party arguing, in language so dull as to scarcely be persuasive, for (SEIU) and against (CHP) the union. Each side set up a toll-free number for questions, and that was that. Neither side would say a word to the workers until after election day. SEIU had taken the concept of neutrality to a whole new level, applying it to the union as well. And the stakes were high. As CHP spokesman Orest Holubec says, if the election had gone smoothly, “it stands to reason that we’d continue the process in other regions.”

Enter the California Nurses, dozens of whom arrived in Ohio clad in scrubs and armed with anti-SEIU propaganda. What was to Regan an “enormous breakthrough” was, to the famously militant nurses union, a disturbing development in what they’ve come to see as SEIU’s corporate-friendly unionism, whose apotheosis was SEIU president Andy Stern’s joint press conference last year with Wal-Mart on healthcare reform. The fliers the nurses spent three days handing out in front of the Ohio hospitals asked, Democracy or Dictatorship? and called the upcoming vote a “back room deal” by the hospital to force nurses into a “‘sweetheart’ union.”

“In this environment, it was like setting off a bomb,” says Regan. “In a traditional campaign, where both sides are attacking each other, we prepare workers for months for what they’ll hear so they can put it in context. But in this case, we never prepared anyone.” And because of the neutrality deal, SEIU couldn’t say a word in response. Within days, the vote was called off, suspended indefinitely. Talk with anyone at SEIU who was involved, and the rage is palpable. Ohio will go down in labor history as the place where two of the nation’s most ambitious, visionary, fastest-growing unions declared war.

Labor’s New Regional Strategy: The Rebirth of Central Labor Councils

Source: Amy Dean and David B. Reynolds, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17 no. 1, Spring 2008

The 2005 AFL-CIO/Change to Win debate was notable not simply for what was discussed, but also what was not. It focused on how to build one crucial element of worker power: workplace organizing and the collective bargaining strength that comes with it. Absent, however, was discussion of a second necessary dimention: regional power built in the community. Yet, historically in the United States, and around the world, geographic power has been necessary to increase workplace power.

Neutrality Agreements: Innovative, Controversial, and Labor’s Hope for the Future

Source: Richard W. Hurd, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17 no. 1, Spring 2008

Over the past ten years there has been a notable shift in union organizing strategies. Once the exception, organizing conducted under the umbrella of negotiated neutrality agreements has become the preferred method in the drive to reverse decline and build union density.

The Union Authorization Card Majority Debate

Source: Henry H. Drummonds, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 58 no. 4, Winter, 2007

This article sketches developments in the card majority debate and several related issues reflected in developing case law concerning the use of “salts,” “neutrality” agreements, and accretion clauses in union attempts to expand representation rights. It also briefly mentions other significant recent decisions that make it more difficult for unions to win, and keep, representation rights. … A major public policy issue faces the Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state labor boards. How is the ideal of employee free choice best actualized? The law is changing. From the union side one sees legislative attempts to win card majority recognition/certification rights and to avoid elections in which employers are free to campaign against unionization at all costs. And from the perspective of the NLRB’s General Counsel and the NLRB’s current majority, concerns for employee free choice create persistent questioning of long-assumed principles of card check recognition. For the private sector unions, especially, this issue may decide their ultimate fate as the percentage of represented employees shrinks toward the vanishing point.

Union Membership Rises, but Quality of Jobs Has Changed

Source: Jeremy Smerd, Workforce Management, February 7, 2008

The proportion of union workers is up for the first time in decades, but jobs are more likely to be low-wage.

Union membership as a part of the overall workforce in the United States grew last year for the first time in a quarter-century, according to analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The news, published January 25, came a day after the Ford Motor Co. announced it would further reduce the number of hourly workers by 11,000 on top of the 44,000 jobs the auto-maker has shed since 2006.

It represents part of the seismic shift in the makeup of America’s unionized workforce. Today, a union worker is more likely to be a low-skilled, low-paid service worker than a skilled, well-paid manufacturing employee.

“The future of the unions is the $8-an-hour home health care worker,” says David Gregory, professor of law at St. John’s University. The unions may have regained membership with lower-wage service workers, but they cannot regain the dues lost along with higher-paid jobs, Gregory says.

British Union Plans Merger With American Steelworkers

Source: Mark Milner, The Guardian, February 11 2008

· Super-union will square up to multinational firms
· Unite and USW merger will cover 3m members

Two of the largest British and American unions are hoping to announce an agreement this summer to create a transatlantic super-union capable of defending workers’ rights in the globalised marketplace.

Unite, which has about two million members, and the United Steelworkers union (USW), which represents about a million members in the US, Canada and the Caribbean, see the creation of an international union presence as the key to meeting the challenges posed by the onward march of globalisation.

Exclusive Representation and the Wagner Act: The Structure of Federal Collective Bargaining Law

Source: Raymond Hogler Labor Law Journal, Vol. 58 no. 3, Fall 2007

Conditions for collective bargaining in the United States are poor and deteriorating. A large body of labor law scholarship documents the weakness of legal protections and processes designed to promote unionism in this country. Professor Morris’s theory about minority union bargaining is offered as a means of strengthening unions in a hostile environment. This article argues that the strategy is a risky one because it invites a resurgence of company unions, which threatened to overwhelm the modern American labor movement at its inception in the 1930s. A better option would be for labor to attack the root source of its contemporary decline. The three pillars of collective bargaining as envisioned by Wagner are independent unions, exclusive representation, and organizational security. The malignancy of right to work laws has destroyed one of those pillars. Morris’s vision of going back to the future would eliminate the other two.