Category Archives: Labor Laws/Legislation

Wage Boards for American Workers: Industry-Level Collective Bargaining for All Workers

Source: David Madland, Center for American Progress, April 9, 2018

…. The United States needs a different kind of collective bargaining that responds to the changes in the economy over recent decades. In this modernized bargaining system, virtually all workers would be able to collectively bargain; bargaining would occur primarily at the industry level; and workers would have sufficient power to negotiate with employers. This new kind of bargaining can be created through a national policy of bargaining through wage boards, where employers, workers, and the public negotiate collectively. Wage boards would represent a significant change from the current bargaining process, but they have a proven track record in several U.S. states as well as in other countries.

Wage boards raise compensation for all types of workers, whether they are contracted temp workers or employees of a dominant firm; whether they are in a union or not; and regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Rather than allowing potentially arbitrary or discriminatory factors influence workers’ pay levels, wage board panels set minimum pay levels based on measurable indicators such as the work and required skills. Furthermore, because wage boards raise minimum standards for wages and benefits across an industry, they help reduce firms’ incentives to try to cut labor costs by discriminating, contracting out work, or fighting unions.

Wage boards would also help boost productivity by ensuring that similar work receives similar pay. This enables a more efficient allocation of resources and encourages more cooperative firm-level relations between workers and their managers.11 Wage boards would help high-road businesses compete on an even playing field, as low-road employers would face new minimum standards for pay and benefits. ….

….In order for bargaining above the firm level to function properly, workers must be able to take collective action without fearing retaliation from their employer. Not only does current law fail to protect actions necessary for firm-level bargaining, but it also provides fewer protections for the kinds of actions—such as boycotting and striking—needed to make industry-level bargaining work. This is why policymakers must broaden and enhance worker protections.

Additionally, wage boards create a free-rider problem because workers will benefit from higher standards even if they do not pay the costs of achieving them. As a result, wage board policy reforms will need to establish new ways of joining unions and other worker organizations that do the work necessary for industry-level bargaining…..

Public Unions Under First Amendment Fire

Source: Tabatha Abu El-Haj, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-W-01, February 28, 2018

From the abstract:
Unions today are under First Amendment fire, with the compelled speech doctrine as the weapon of choice. Conservative interests are waging a legal war against agreements that include “fair-share service fees,” under which public-sector unions are permitted to charge non-union members to pay their share of the costs of collective bargaining. Espousing libertarian theories of free speech doctrine, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and its allies maintain that fair-share service fees, at least in the context of public-sector unions, constitute a form of political speech, and that laws mandating their payment by non-union members violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against compelled speech. The Supreme Court is poised to accept this position, having granted certiorari in Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31, a case that threatens to overrule the Court’s longstanding acceptance of the constitutionality of fair-share service fees.

Notwithstanding the superficial appeal of the compelled speech argument, this Article argues that pro-union interests have plenty of cover within the First Amendment’s freedom of association doctrine. Viewing Janus and its ilk through an associational lens demonstrates the fallacies that lie behind doubts concerning the constitutionality of such agreements. Although it is doubtful that the Supreme Court will reaffirm the constitutionality of fair-share service fees this term, it is important to air such arguments in order to head off potentially even more significant First Amendment attacks on unionism that are currently underway and to articulate a theory of the First Amendment that remains consistent with the basic New Deal compromise that leaves matters regarding labor policy to our legislatures, where they belong.

Whose Money Is It Anyway: Have We Been Wrong About Agency Fees All Along?

Source: Aaron Tang, Harvard Law Review Forum, March 9, 2018

From the abstract:
In Agency Fees and the First Amendment, Professor Benjamin Sachs offers a pair of novel arguments for why the Court should pause before invalidating public sector union agency fee agreements throughout the country.

First, he argues that the money sent to unions to offset their bargaining costs is better viewed as the government employer’s money than as the employees’. Collective bargaining agreements force employees to turn the money over to the union on pain of losing their jobs, after all, and so the workers never have a “genuine choice” whether to make the payment at all. That, Sachs explains, should lead us to “treat agency fees as a direct payment from employer to union.”

Second, Sachs argues that the money might instead be better understood as the union’s all along. But for the wage premium that unions bring about for their workers, the argument goes, the fees that unions receive would not exist — and so the money is properly viewed as the union’s property from the outset.

These arguments are among the best defenses of agency fees that I have seen. Ultimately, however, both arguments are susceptible to counterattack for reasons discussed in Parts I and II herein. In a final concluding part, I express my agreement with Sachs on another point: the twenty-two states that currently permit agency fee agreements in the public sector can undo the impact of an adverse outcome in Janus by authorizing government employers to reimburse unions directly for their bargaining costs. It is this legislative alternative that, in my view, warrants the greatest attention from labor proponents in the coming years.

Union Co-Ops and the Revival of Labor Law

Source: Ariana R. Levinson, Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, Forthcoming, 2018, Date Written: March 16, 2018

From the abstract:
Union worker-owned cooperatives (union co-ops) offer a means to combat growing income and wealth inequality, create jobs, and recirculate money in the communities in which they are located. This article contributes to the academic literature about cooperative economics, worker ownership, and labor relations in two distinct ways. First, it relies on original author-collected data from interviews of those involved in establishing Our Harvest, an urban farm in Cincinnati, to discuss the issues involved in establishing a union co-op. Our Harvest was the first union co-op created because of a 2009 partnership to foster union co-ops in the United States. Second, the article addresses the labor law issues involved in establishing a union co-op. The issues include whether worker-owners are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, whether a co-op is required to bargain about worker ownership with the union representing its employees, whether a union co-op can require its employees to join a union, and how union co-ops can use interest-based collective bargaining. The article suggests ways that unions can legally support and finance union co-ops, provides an appendix of legal services, and includes tables to simply complex legal issues. At its best, the article will contribute to the scaling up of union co-ops and a concurrent revival of labor law that enables a more equitable economy for all.

The Power of Place

Source: Michael M Oswalt, The Cambridge Handbook of U.S. Labor Law: Reviving American Labor for a 21st Century Economy (Richard Bales & Charlotte Garden, eds.) (CAMBRIDGE UNIV. PRESS, Forthcoming). March 22, 2018

From the abstract:
While asking voters to make electoral decisions in spaces owned and curated by an interested party would be perceived as outlandish in a political context, labor law encourages it. This chapter presses for reform by highlighting cutting-edge electoral field research, backed by established work on context, memory, and decision-making, suggesting that voting in what is effectively the employer’s campaign headquarters is profoundly preference distorting. That change is possible is highlighted by the reality that although so-called “on-site” voting has long been the National Labor Relations Board’s practice, nothing about it is legally compelled. In fact, the law requires only that polling places be picked on a case-by-case basis through a variety of factors like convenience and integrity. The problem, however, is that non-binding administrative guidance makes workplace voting effectively automatic. Though the guidelines have proved surprisingly durable, the case for rewriting them has never been stronger. Doing so is important not simply to reclaim representation elections from the margins of democratic practice, but to initiate a modern era of neutral-site, mail, and even internet-based voting.

How Unions Can Survive a Supreme Court Defeat

Source: Samuel Estreicher, Bloomberg View, March 2, 2018

The demise of “fair-share” rules could cripple organized labor. Here’s a viable alternative. …. To avoid a fatal erosion of their funding base, public-sector unions need a new strategy. Their best bet is to allow those employees who don’t want to pay their fair share to give their money to a charity of their choosing. ….

It Started in Wisconsin

Source: Ben Manski, Sarah Manski, Jacobin, March 1, 2018

The rise and fall of Wisconsin’s remarkable 2011 uprising holds lessons for a post-Janus world…..

…. Journalists reporting on the implications of the impending Janus decision often note that recent experiences in Wisconsin offer a preview. In this, they’re usually referring to the impacts of anti-union legislation signed into law in Wisconsin in 2011-2012. But we think Wisconsin offers another set of lessons as well: of how a twenty-first century mass uprising by hundreds of thousands — perhaps more than a million — working people came about in one US state, and of where that unprecedented uprising faltered. ….

Will the Court Consider the Facts in Janus?

Source: Andrew Strom, On Labor blog, February 28, 2018 

Mark Janus’s lawyers are desperate to have the Court decide Janus v. AFSCME without considering any facts.  Janus is an Illinois state employee, who is represented by AFSCME Council 31.  Like all other employees in his bargaining unit, he is required to pay fair share fees to the union to cover the costs of providing representation.  Janus wants to Court to rule that these fees are unconstitutional without even considering how AFSCME spends these fees.  Janus also thinks that somehow the Court can decide that his refusal to fund union speech on workplace issues is protected by the First Amendment without overturning a series of cases holding that the grievances of public employees are not a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.  In addition, Janus thinks that merely by saying so, the Court can decide that states have a compelling interest in requiring lawyers to pay bar dues to mandatory bar associations, but no similar compelling interest in requiring public employees to pay fair share fees.  Janus’s lawyers realize that the more the Court considers actual facts, the harder it is for them to win their case, so their approach has been to insist that the case can be decided without any factual record.  But, the oral argument made clear that if the Court is not prepared to simply reaffirm its forty-year old precedent in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the only responsible move is to remand the case to develop a factual record…..

Related:
Coverage After the Janus Oral Argument
Source: Maddy Joseph, On Labor blog, February 28, 2018

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on Monday in Janus.  Analyses report that, as expected, there were pointed questions for AFSCME and Illinois by Justices Alito and Kennedy; the four liberal justices took every opportunity to highlight the potential effects of overruling Abood on collective bargaining and the ability of governments to manage their workforces.  Justice Gorsuch was silent.  There is a summary on SCOTUSblog, plus another analysis there.  NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times also have solid summaries.  At the Atlantic, Garrett Epps highlights how little hard evidence there is in Janus–with no trial, there is not a developed record; and neither Janus nor the U.S. filled in those facts at argument.

The Times had a nihilistic editorial: assuming that the Court would overrule Abood, the editorial put Janus in political context.  It began with Merrick Garland and ended, “Whatever the justices decide in Mr. Janus’s case, the drama that preceded it is another reminder of the importance of every Supreme Court appointment.”…..

The Radical Roots of Janus

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, American Prospect, February 27, 2018

The attorney whose arguments were heard in the Supreme Court yesterday—a decade after his death—actually wanted all unions outlawed. …. As the Supreme Court heard the pivotal union case, Janus v. AFSCME, on Monday, an unacknowledged presence haunted its chambers: that of Sylvester Petro, who conceived the argument on which the case turns. Although he died in 2007, this ideologically driven, anti-union law professor originated the legal strategy behind this case. His radical vision illuminates Janus’s profound implications. 

Petro was the first to contend that public-sector collective bargaining was simply a form of politics, and that therefore, any effort to require government workers to pay “agency fees” to a union in return for its representational work amounted to compelled political speech that infringed on their First Amendment rights—the argument that Illinois public employee Mark Janus embraced in this case. Petro tried unsuccessfully to get the court to endorse that argument in the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the precedent Janus seeks to overturn.

Yet despite Petro’s seminal role in shaping their argument, Janus and his supporters seem intent on erasing any memory of Petro. His name is not mentioned among the voluminous citations of some two-dozen briefs supporting Janus. 

Petro’s invisibility is intentional. Those who seek to advance his vision today know that any reference to his radically anti-union views would expose their equally radical aims. ….

Argument analysis: Gorsuch stays mum on union fees

Source: Amy Howe, SCOTUSblog, February 26, 2018

The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Janus v. American Federation of State, Municipal, and County Employees, a challenge by an Illinois child-support specialist to the fees that he is required to pay to the union that represents him, even though he does not belong to any union. Although this is the first trip to the Supreme Court for Mark Janus, the employee, it was the third time in four years that the justices have taken the bench to consider the issue presented by Janus’ case. After roughly an hour of sometimes testy debate in the courtroom, the outcome almost certainly hinges on the vote of the court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch – who did not tip his hand, opting instead to remain silent…..