Category Archives: Labor Laws/Legislation

Why Collective Bargaining Is a Fundamental Human Right

Source: Robert Creamer, Huffington Post, July 9, 2014

The ability for ordinary working people to organize and collectively bargain over their wages and working conditions is a fundamental human right. It is a right just as critical to a democratic society as the right to free speech and the right to vote.

Over the last 30 years many in corporate America and the big Wall Street banks have conducted a sustained attack on that human right. Unionization dropped from 20.1 percent of the workforce in 1983 to 11. 3 percent in 2013 — and the results are there for everyone to see.

During that period productivity and Gross Domestic Product per capita both increased by roughly 80 percent in America. But the wages of ordinary Americans have remained stagnant. Virtually all of the fruits of that increased productivity have gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. …

…The right to freedom of association – and to collectively bargain wages and working conditions — is a foundational principle of every democratic society on earth. That right is rooted in the United States’ Bill of Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organization, and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It’s time for us to make the right to join a union and bargain collectively the keystone of the progressive agenda. …

Special Issue: Achieving Health Equity in the Workplace

Source: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol. 57 Issue 5, May 2014
(subscription required)

Articles include:
Introduction to a special issue: Eliminating health and safety inequities at work

Work organization, job insecurity, and occupational health disparities
Changes in employment conditions in the global economy over the past 30 years have led to increased job insecurity and other work organization hazards. These hazards may play a role in creating and sustaining occupational health disparities by socioeconomic position, gender, race, ethnicity, and immigration status. … There is consistent evidence that workers in lower socioeconomic or social class positions are exposed to greater job insecurity and other work organization hazards than workers in higher socioeconomic positions. Likewise, racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants are exposed to greater job insecurity. Limited research examining the effects of interventions targeting work organization hazards on disparities has been conducted; nonetheless, intervention strategies are available and evidence suggests they are effective. Job insecurity and work organization hazards play a role in creating and sustaining occupational health disparities. Employment and workplace policies and programs have the potential to reduce these hazards, and to reduce disparities. …

Characterizing the low wage immigrant workforce: A comparative analysis of the health disparities among selected occupations in Somerville, Massachusetts
This study estimates job-related risks among common low wage occupations (cleaning, construction, food service, cashier/baggers, and factory workers) held by predominantly Haitian, El Salvadorian, and Brazilian immigrants living or working in Somerville, Massachusetts…. Construction workers reported significantly higher health risks, and lower access to occupational health services than the other occupations. Compared to cashier/baggers, the reference population in this study, cleaners reported significantly lower access to health and safety and work training and no knowledge of workers’ compensation. Factory workers reported significantly lower work training compared to cashier/baggers. Food service workers reported the least access to doctors compared to the other occupations. We found significant variability in risks among different low wage immigrant occupations. The type of occupation independently contributed to varying levels of risks among these jobs. We believe our findings to be conservative and recommend additional inquiry aimed at assuring the representativeness of our findings….

Examining occupational health and safety disparities using national data: A cause for continuing concern
Occupational status, a core component of socioeconomic status, plays a critical role in the well-being of U.S. workers. Identifying work-related disparities can help target prevention efforts. … Employment in high-injury/illness occupations was independently associated with being male, Black, ≤high school degree, foreign-birth, and low-wages. Adjusted fatal occupational injury rate ratios for 2005–2009 were elevated for males, older workers, and several industries and occupations. Agriculture/forestry/fishing and mining industries and transportation and materials moving occupations had the highest rate ratios. Homicide rate ratios were elevated for Black, American Indian/Alaska Native/Asian/Pacific Islanders, and foreign-born workers. These findings highlight the importance of understanding patterns of disparities of workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. Results can improve intervention efforts by developing programs that better meet the needs of the increasingly diverse U.S. workforce. …

Promoting integrated approaches to reducing health inequities among low-income workers: Applying a social ecological framework
Nearly one of every three workers in the United States is low-income. Low-income populations have a lower life expectancy and greater rates of chronic diseases compared to those with higher incomes. Low- income workers face hazards in their workplaces as well as in their communities. Developing integrated public health programs that address these combined health hazards, especially the interaction of occupational and non-occupational risk factors, can promote greater health equity. Examples of successful approaches to developing integrated programs are presented in each of these settings. These examples illustrate several complementary venues for public health programs that consider the complex interplay between work-related and non work-related factors, that integrate health protection with health promotion and that are delivered at multiple levels to improve health for low-income workers. Whether at the workplace or in the community, employers, workers, labor and community advocates, in partnership with public health practitioners, can deliver comprehensive and integrated health protection and health promotion programs. Recommendations for improved research, training, and coordination among health departments, health practitioners, worksites and community organizations are proposed…..

Effects of social, economic, and labor policies on occupational health disparities
This article introduces some key labor, economic, and social policies that historically and currently impact occupational health disparities in the United States. … Many populations such as tipped workers, public employees, immigrant workers, and misclassified workers are not protected by current laws and policies, including worker’s compensation or Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforcement of standards. Local and state initiatives, such as living wage laws and community benefit agreements, as well as multiagency law enforcement contribute to reducing occupational health disparities. There is a need to build coalitions and collaborations to command the resources necessary to identify, and then reduce and eliminate occupational disparities by establishing healthy, safe, and just work for all….

Discrimination, harassment, abuse, and bullying in the workplace: Contribution of workplace injustice to occupational health disparities
This paper synthesizes research on the contribution of workplace injustices to occupational health disparities. … Members of demographic minority groups are more likely to be victims of workplace injustice and suffer more adverse outcomes when exposed to workplace injustice compared to demographic majority groups. A growing body of research links workplace injustice to poor psychological and physical health, and a smaller body of evidence links workplace injustice to unhealthy behaviors. Although not as well studied, studies show that workplace injustice can influence workers’ health through effects on workers’ family life and job-related outcomes. Injustice is a key contributor to occupational health injustice and prospective studies with oversample of disadvantaged workers and refinement of methods for characterizing workplace injustices are needed….

Race-based job discrimination, disparities in job control, and their joint effects on health
To examine disparities between job control scores in Black and White subjects and attempt to discern whether self-rated low job control in Blacks may arise from structural segregation into different jobs, or represents individual responses to race-based discrimination in hiring or promotion. … Black subjects exhibited lower mean job control scores compared to Whites adjusted for age, sex, education, and income. This difference narrowed to 1.86 when adjusted for clustering by occupation, and was greatly reduced by conditioning on race-based discrimination. Path analyses showed greater reported discrimination in Blacks with increasing education, and a stronger effect of job control on health in Black subjects. Individual racially-based discrimination appears a stronger determinant than structural segregation in reduced job control in Black workers, and may contribute to health disparities consequent on work. …

Occupational health disparities: A state public health-based approach
This report used employment and public health surveillance data in Michigan to characterize work-related race/ethnic health disparities. … Blacks and Hispanics were over-represented in lower wage–higher manual–labor occupations and in highest risk occupations. Blacks were at greater risk of silicosis, work-related asthma, and work-related burns than whites, and Hispanics had higher rates of work-related acute fatal injuries and pesticide injury than non-Hispanics. Michigan employment data indicated that blacks and Hispanics were overly represented in lower paid and more hazardous jobs. Occupational health surveillance data confirmed disparate risks for some illnesses and injuries. This approach can be used in other states to bring awareness to policy makers and direct interventions….

SCOTUS’ Quiet Expansion of Harris

Source: Moshe Marvit, In These Times blog, July 8, 2014

On July 1, the day after the Supreme Court issued its controversial decisions in Harris v. Quinn and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it issued a round of “miscellaneous orders” to wrap up loose ends before the Court went into recess. In the first of a long list was a GVR (grant, vacate, remand) order voiding the 6th Circuit’s decision in another case that had been appealed to the Court, and sending it back to the lower court “for further consideration in light of Harris v. Quinn.” In Harris, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment did not permit a fair share or agency fee provision requiring objecting home healthcare workers to pay a fee to the union for collective bargaining and contract administration.

The case at issue is Schlaud v. Snyder, out of Michigan, and in many ways it looks like Harris. Just as in Harris, the plaintiffs—also represented by the right-wing National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW)—are a few homecare providers suing the union, the governor, and the state Department of Human Services for the return of union dues on First Amendment grounds….

….It’s hard to know the Supreme Court’s motivation in vacating and remanding Schlaud, but it may be a quiet expansion of the Harris decision. If the Supreme Court is sending a signal to the lower court that Harris requires that it reverse itself on the class certification issue, then it is indicating an agreement with one of NRTW’s problematic arguments: that the baseline for union agreement should be reversed so that it is assumed that workers object to the union unless they continually affirm their support. If the NRTW’s argument is taken to its logical extreme, workers who vote for the union and for the contract could still be considered union objectors.

The Supreme Court’s GVR order cannot necessarily be read as agreeing with NRTW’s argument, but it is likely to cause such confusion. Erwin Chemerinsky and Ned Miltenberg—who have both argued cases many times before the Supreme Court—have written that the Supreme Court issues such orders “rather reflexively, even when its underlying decisions on the merits of one case provides scant reason for revising a lower court’s ruling in a different case.” However, they argue that such orders often lead lower courts to reverse their decisions for fear that the Supreme Court will overrule them. If that is the ultimate result in Schlaud, then Harris will provide anti-union groups yet another tool to attack labor….

U-Visa Protections for Immigrant Workers: A Backgrounder

Source: Greg Baltz, OnLabor blog, July 8, 2014

In the last decade, labor protections for undocumented immigrant workers have come under attack. In its 2002 Hoffman Plastics decision, the Supreme Court found that undocumented workers fired in retaliation for engaging in mutual aid and protection and in violation of the National Labor Relations Act are not entitled to back pay. In the wake of Hoffman Plastics, immigrant workers’ rights activists have explored avenues outside of the National Labor Relations Act to expand protections for undocumented workers. One such route is to win undocumented workers protections by adjusting their immigration status through U-visas….

After ‘Harris v. Quinn’: The State of Our Unions

Source: Eileen Boris, Jennifer Klein, Joel Rogers, Joshua Freeman and Jane McAlevey, The Nation, July 2, 2014

After one of Supreme Court’s most anti-union rulings in recent years, is there still time for organized labor to save itself?…

….To help sort through these and other questions, we have gathered up a group of scholars and activists and asked them to expound. They include Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, Joel Rogers, Joshua Freeman and Jane McAlevey. Their pieces range from meditations on what Harris v. Quinn means for the vast corps of women (particularly women of color) who make up this new “partial public employee” category to the way the Court has warped the First Amendment into a scythe to slice apart some of our most basic social protections. And if the meditations are not always cheery, well, this isn’t a particularly cheery topic. Then again, it’s not hopeless either. As McAlevey argues, labor still has time to save itself.

Reducing Labor to Love” by Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein

How Harris v. Quinn and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Turned the First Amendment into a Weapon” by Joel Rogers

Is Harris v. Quinn a Threat to Labor Peace?” by Joshua Freeman

Labor’s Only Real Choice: Beating Harris v. Quinn and Right-to-Work Attacks from the Inside Out” by Jane McAlevey…

Why the Supreme Court’s Attack on Labor Hurts Women Most

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation blog, July 7, 2014

…..According to a CEPR analysis of the “union advantage” and gender inequality, union women are more likely to have decent family leave policies, retirement benefits and wages. Unionized female health aides generally earn wages that are 16 percent higher than that of their non-union counterparts. Meanwhile, though the union workforce is shrinking nationwide, women are becoming the majority and have especially high representation in public service jobs, thanks in large part to the immigration-driven growth in Asian American and Latina workers.

And that brings us back to why Illinois home attendants were a perfect target for the anti-union movement. Union-supported homecare demonstrates how women, “big government” and consumers can effectively work together, so naturally, the right is fighting to destroy this model before it catches on in more states.

Hobby Lobby revealed how companies can lord over working women’s reproductive freedom in a deeply inequitable insurance system. Harris struck from another angle—eroding union women’s labor power and threatening public health services in the process. Unions are a tool for resistance; although unionization alone won’t overcome greed or religious chauvinism in corporations, a strong collective bargaining system would give women a platform to hold bosses accountable and thwart reactionary attacks on health programs for workers and the poor…..
Harris v. Quinn Is About the Right of Home Care Workers to Improve Their Wages
Source: Ross Eisenbrey, Economic Policy Institute, Working Economics blog, May 20, 2014

The Courts vs. Teacher Unionism

Source: Justin Law, LaborOnline, May 23, 2014

Teachers unions have faced some of the most challenging legal strictures in U.S. history. Before public collective bargaining employment laws, teachers effectively were told they had no right to organize by a judicial system that used a variety of constructions of the law to invalidate the citizen’s right to free speech and assembly in the workplace. One illustration of this legal labor history–one relevant to teachers power—is that of the Chicago Teachers’ Federation (CTF) legal battle to overturn the infamous “Loeb rule,” which presented nearly insurmountable obstacles to the organization of teachers by the labor movement. Under the administration of Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson, and under the leadership of School Board member and later President, Jacob M. Loeb, the Chicago Board of Education passed a rule in September of 1915 declaring that any teacher who was a member of a trade union or other unauthorized society would not be hired by the Board to work in the schools of Chicago….

Designing Thoughtful Minimum Wage Policy at the State and Local Levels

Source: Arindrajit Dube, Brookings Institution, Hamilton Project, June 2014

From the introduction:
Rising wage inequality and stagnant real wages have contributed to inequality in family incomes during the past three decades. While the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have helped mitigate the impact on low-income families (Bitler and Hoynes 2010), federal minimum wage policy has not contributed to the solution. The federal minimum wage has failed to keep pace with both the cost of living and the median wage in the labor market. As a consequence, working full-time at the minimum wage does not allow many families to escape poverty, or to attain economic self-sufficiency.

State and local governments can set minimum wages in excess of the statutory federal minimum wage. Indeed, state and local governments have played an important role in establishing minimum wages across the country; as a result, thirty-seven states had state minimum wages exceeding the federal level in 2007 prior to the most recent federal increase. Cities, too, have begun setting higher minimum wages, as evidenced by city-level wage minimums in Albuquerque, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Fe, Seattle, and Washington, DC; other cities are actively exploring possibilities of raising minimum wages.

In this policy memo, I propose a framework for effective state and local minimum wage policy. First, I propose using half the local-area median wage as an important gauge for setting an appropriate level of the minimum wage. Second, I propose that state and local governments take into account the local cost of living as a relevant consideration in setting a minimum wage, and I provide estimates of how state minimum wages would vary if they reflected cost-of-living differences. I also recommend the use of regional consumer price indexes (CPIs) to index the local minimum wage. Finally, I propose that cities and counties coordinate regional wage setting to mitigate possible negative effects of local mandates. ….

Underwriting Good Jobs: How to Place Over 20 Million Americans on a Pathway to the Middle Class Using Federal Purchasing Power

Source: Robert Hiltonsmith, Lew Daly, Dēmos, June 2014

From the
This report presents new research on the scope of federally-supported employment in the private economy and shows how, using our over $1.3 trillion dollars in federal purchasing, the President of the United States can place over twenty million Americans on a pathway to the middle class….

…Building on state and local precedents, a Good Jobs Policy for federal purchasing should include the following standards:
– Respecting employees’ right to bargain collectively with their employers, without being forced to take strike action to win better wages and conditions.
– Offering living wages, decent benefits including health care and paid leave for sickness and caregiving, as well as fair work schedules that are predictable and stable.
– Demonstrating an exemplary standard of compliance with workplace protection laws, including laws governing wages and hours, health and safety, and other applicable business regulations.
– Limiting executive compensation to fifty times the median salary paid to the company’s workers; in addition, the current cap on federal contract funds applicable for executive salaries should be substantially reduced….

Dispossession is Nine-tenths of the Law: Right-to-work and the Making of the American Precariat

Source: Joseph Varga, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 39 no. 1, March 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Anti-union right-to-work (RTW) laws are key tools in the reproduction of insecure or precarious workers. This article uses a comparison of the passage of RTW laws in Indiana in 1957 and 2012 to examine the process that sociologist Guy Standing and others have termed precariatization, the formation of a new type of insecure labor force. Through a comparison of the passage of the laws and the resistance of organized labor in both cases, the article charts the processes by which American workers in general, and Indiana workers in particular, have been dispossessed of rights in the workplace. This process of dispossession, along with the climate of neoliberal austerity, contributed to the inability of organized labor in Indiana to stop the implementation of an RTW law in 2012. By placing each set of events in the wider historical and national context, this article provides a framework for understanding the short- and long-term effects of dispossession in this key industrial state.