Category Archives: Labor History

The Memphis Strike: Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign

Source: Michael Honey, Poverty & Race, Vol. 16 no. 2, March-April 2007

On February 12—Lincoln’s Birthday—Gillis and others on the sewer and drainage crew had had enough. They and nearly 1,300 black men in the Memphis Department of Public Works, giving no notice to anyone, went on strike. Little did they imagine that their decision would challenge generations of white supremacy in Memphis and have staggering consequences for the nation.

“Fighting for Our Share of the American Pie”: The 1985 Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Strike

Source: Jennifer L. Worley, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 32 no. 1, March 2007
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This article analyzes the 1985 Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel strike and places it in the context of the declining American steel industry and deteriorating relationship between the steel companies and the United Steelworkers of America. Within the hostile 1980s economic and political climate, steelworkers at Wheeling-Pitt unleashed a repertoire of bargaining tactics that would help them achieve at least some of their demands while preventing the company’s liquidation. Besides exploring the reasons why steelworkers struck a bankrupt company and how they secured their demands, the article demonstrates how the strike offered new strategies for negotiating with capital at a time when unions’ options were severely limited.

The Past as Prologue? A Brief History of the Labor Movement in the United States

Source: Joseph Adler, Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006, Volume 35, no. 4

Of the approximately 20 million public employees in the United States, more than eight million are either members of or represented by labor unions—a penetration rate of just over 40 percent. What is remarkable about this phenomenal growth is that most of the expansion of union activity in government has occurred within the last 40 years, and almost mirrors the decline of union strength in the private sector.

The rise and fall of labor in the private sector is a backdrop to the growth of public sector collective bargaining. Explanations for the dramatic increase in government union activity can be explored from a number of different perspectives. Current public policy efforts to reform civil service and allow managers greater flexibility are seen by some researchers as having the potential to impact the ability of public sector unions to represent their members effectively.

Collective Bargaining and Deputy Sheriffs in Florida: An Unusual History

Source: Joan E. Pynes and Brian Corley, Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006, Volume 35, no. 4

There is an unusual history of collective bargaining and deputy sheriffs in the state of Florida. While police officers have been allowed to unionize and collectively bargain since 1968, it has only been since 2003 that deputy sheriffs have been given that right. (Please note that despite the similarities in job duties, deputy sheriffs were not considered to be public employees for the purposes of collective bargaining.)

PATCO, Permanent Replacement, and the Loss of Labor’s Strike Weapon

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 1

August 3, 2006, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of an event that many in organized labor would prefer to forget. On that date in 1981, more than 12,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) walked off their jobs with the Federal Aviation Administration. When 11,325 of them refused to heed a back-to-work order issued by President Ronald Reagan and end their illegal walkout within forty-eight hours, they were discharged and permanently replaced.

In the immediate aftermath of the PATCO strike, many commentators predicted it would mark a turning point in the history of U.S. labor relations. A quarter century later, the strike’s importance is even easier to grasp. Just as the infamous Homestead strike set the tone for labor-capital conflict at the end of the nineteenth century, the PATCO strike helped establish the pattern for labor relations in the late twentieth century. Since that ill-fated walkout, organized labor has been in a state of continuous decline.

Labor’s Critical Role in Workplace Health and Safety in California and Beyond—As Labor Shifts Priorities, Where Will Health and Safety Sit?

Source: Marianne P. Brown, NEW SOLUTIONS: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Volume 16 no. 3, 2006

Organized labor has been largely responsible for the health and safety protections many U.S. workers take for granted. This article provides a brief history of labor’s influence on California’s health and safety policies—sometimes with ripple effects beyond its borders. Six cases where various successful strategies were used are examined. These gains were achieved with strong support from international health and safety staff, and, on some issues, support from the state labor federation. But in most cases local union staff involvement was key. Now that labor mobilizes to build its shrinking membership—with only 1 out of 12 workers in the private sector organized—resources are being re-directed toward organizing. Understandably, health and safety advocates have expressed concern that worker protections may suffer. Time will tell, but there is evidence that health and safety demands are front and center in a number of current and upcoming organizing campaigns. Now more than ever, it is in health and safety professionals’ interest to tie their research and clinical work into these emerging campaigns.