Category Archives: Labor Unions

Unions and Inequality over the Twentieth Century: New Evidence from Survey Data

Source: Henry S Farber, Daniel Herbst, Ilyana Kuziemko, Suresh Naidu, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 136, Issue 3, August 2021
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
U.S. income inequality has varied inversely with union density over the past 100 years. But moving beyond this aggregate relationship has proven difficult, in part because of limited microdata on union membership prior to 1973. We develop a new source of microdata on union membership dating back to 1936, survey data primarily from Gallup (N ≈ 980,000), to examine the long-run relationship between unions and inequality. We document dramatic changes in the demographics of union members: when density was at its mid-century peak, union households were much less educated and more nonwhite than other households, whereas pre-World War II and today they are more similar to nonunion households on these dimensions. However, despite large changes in composition and density since 1936, the household union premium holds relatively steady between 10 and 20 log points. We use our data to examine the effect of unions on income inequality. Using distributional decompositions, time series regressions, state-year regressions, as well as a new instrumental-variable strategy based on the 1935 legalization of unions and the World War II–era War Labor Board, we find consistent evidence that unions reduce inequality, explaining a significant share of the dramatic fall in inequality between the mid-1930s and late 1940s.

COVID-Related Labor Arbitration Awards in the United States and Canada: A Survey and Comparative Analysis

Source: Richard A. Bales, Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2021

From the abstract:
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-21 has changed working conditions for millions of Americans and Canadians quickly and dramatically. Employers responded by requiring employees to quarantine, implementing workplace COVID policies, disciplining employees who violated those policies, changing work schedules, cancelling leaves or vacations, and furloughing or laying off employees. Unions have challenged many of these actions, raising a variety of novel issues that are now being resolved through labor arbitration. This article surveys those labor arbitration awards and then comparatively analyzes the awards from Canada and the United States.

Democrats Don’t Grasp That Unions Can Transform the Electorate

Source: Hamilton Nolan, In These Times, June 8, 2021

Unions are machines for producing people who wouldn’t be satisfied with Joe Manchin’s obstinance.

Our political discussions often focus on how our side can seize an advantage in the context of a sharply divided electorate. Political parties try to motivate their voters and depress voters on the other side — elections are contested for tiny slices of ​“moderates” or ​“undecided voters,” groups that grow ever smaller as polarization increases. But what if there was a tool that could actually transform the way that people think, as voters and as citizens in a functioning democracy? There is such a tool: unions. America in general, and the Democratic Party in particular, needs to start taking the transformative power of unions more seriously.

Worker Power and Voice in the Pandemic Response

Source: Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs, Clean Slate for Worker Power, July 2021

From the summary:
Our country is wracked by two urgent crises – the COVID-19 pandemic and the plague of systemic racism.

COVID-19 presents grave challenges to all of us, but it poses particular – and, in many cases, life-threatening – challenges to working people. Moreover, the costs of the pandemic are being borne disproportionately by low-wage workers, a population made up primarily of women and workers of color. As they work to keep the economy moving despite the pandemic, these workers are being asked to put their lives on the line in ways that are both unacceptable and unnecessary.

Indeed, as the economy reopens, more and more workers will be put in harm’s way. Unless, that is, something fundamental changes about the way we approach worker voice and power.

In this issue brief, we offer a set of recommendations designed to empower workers so that they are better positioned to cope with the ravages of COVID-19, keep themselves and their families safe, and build a more equitable economy than the one the pandemic shut down.

There is strong bipartisan support for the recommendations we are suggesting. A large majority of likely voters support giving workers a formal voice in setting health and safety standards. Only 19% of likely voters said they opposed these reforms. View the full polling results here.

As with the original Clean Slate report, the recommendations here are designed so that they apply to all workers regardless of whether the law classifies them as employees, independent contractors, or otherwise outside of traditional labor law’s protection. And a central premise of the Clean Slate for Worker Power project is that any attempt to empower workers must begin with the effort to make labor law, and the labor movement, fully inclusive of workers of color – workers who have faced exclusion from the start.

When law empowers all workers to demand equitable treatment – including safe and healthy working conditions – workers can build the kind of nation we all deserve.

The enormous impact of eroded collective bargaining on wages

Source: Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute, April 8, 2021

From the summary:
A major factor depressing wage growth for middle earners and driving the growth of wage inequality over the last four decades has been the erosion of collective bargaining. Indeed, the only factor more responsible for weak wage growth for the typical worker is the excessive unemployment perpetrated by central bank policymakers’ high interest rate policies and fiscal austerity. The share of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement fell from 27.0% in 1979 to just 11.6% in 2019 (Hirsch and Macpherson 2020). The erosion of collective bargaining has been especially harmful to men’s wages because men were far more likely than women to be unionized in 1979 (when 31.5% of men were covered by collective bargaining versus 18.8% of women). Thus men had more to lose from the subsequent attack on unions and collective bargaining.3 Rebuilding collective bargaining is a necessary component of any policy agenda to reestablish robust wage growth for the vast majority of workers in the United States, and broader unionization would lessen racial inequities and benefit women at least as much as men.

Public Sector Unions Mean Middle-Class Jobs for Black Workers

Source: Hayley Brown, Dean Baker, CEPR, February 25, 2021

Government jobs have been an important source of economic mobility for Black workers and their families for many years. The federal government was an early adopter of anti-discrimination provisions, and today about a fifth of federal workers are Black. This includes those employed by the United States Postal Service, which provided well-paying jobs and career pathways to formerly enslaved people well before the rest of government, and in 2020 employed just under a fifth of Black federal workers. State and local governments have similarly emerged as wellsprings of relatively stable and well-paying employment for Black workers and pensions for Black retirees. The public sector’s legacy as a path to the middle class for the Black community persists today; government workers are disproportionately Black, and the pay gap between Black workers and white workers is smaller in the public sector than in the private sector.

The public sector is also an important source of union jobs for Black workers. Our analysis of 2020 data from the Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group indicates that the unionization rate for Black workers in the public sector is quadruple the unionization rate for Black workers in the private sector, and unionized public sector workers account for a larger share of the Black workforce than they do of the white workforce. This matters because research has shown that Black workers who are members of a union or covered by a union contract enjoy considerable earnings and benefit advantages compared to their nonunion counterparts.

Bargaining for Better Labor Journalism: How The Wave of Unionizing In Media Transforms How Unions Are Covered

Source: Hannah Finnie, OnLabor blog, February 26, 2021

…While not every person in digital media who’s experienced unionizing becomes, like Kelly, a labor reporter overnight, it’s hard to imagine that the effects of being in a union have no impact on their work. After all, while unions are about benefits and wages, they’re also about worker dignity, principles that can inform more than just what your paycheck looks like. What happens to labor coverage when there are thousands of Kim Kellys out there? Thousands of people who now know what it’s like to unionize and have a large (albeit constrained) platform through their media outlet? What does that shift mean for media labor coverage?…

Inside a Long, Messy Year of Reopening Schools

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, New Republic, March 8, 2021

Teachers unions were accused of being obstinate and compromising education. The real story is a lot more complex.

Last month in Chicago, after months of heated negotiations, the teachers union and Chicago Public Schools emerged with one of the most detailed school reopening agreements in the nation. Brad Marianno, an education policy professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has been studying these agreements since last spring, called it the most comprehensive he’s seen, citing its inclusion of things like testing protocols, measures that might lead to reclosing schools, and vaccination commitments. Among other things, the union succeeded in negotiating accommodations for hundreds more members at higher risk of Covid-19 complications, or who serve as the primary caregiver for someone at higher risk, than the district had originally agreed to accommodate.

Stacy Davis Gates, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said one of the most important components of the agreement was the so-called “school safety committees” a demand the union put forward in December to hold leadership accountable to the health and safety promises it’s made. The school-based committees include up to four CTU members, the principal, the building engineer, and a “reasonable” number of other employees like janitors, lunchroom staff, and security guards. On a regular basis, they will flag to the principal any issues that arise and can hold the school liable if they go ignored. ….

I Am a Man: A Conversation With William Lucy

Source: Steve Flamisch, Rutgers Today News, February 26, 2021

Francis Ryan, a labor historian in the School of Management and Labor Relations, interviews the union leader who coined the iconic phrase, “I Am a Man,” during the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike.

When two sanitation workers were killed by a malfunctioning garbage truck in Memphis, Tennessee, in February 1968, the city’s fed-up public works employees went on strike to demand safer working conditions and higher wages.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) dispatched a young, up-and-coming union official named William Lucy to help the 1,300 striking workers—all Black men—in their struggle.

“Here you had men who had worked the better part of their adult life for the city—some were working 15 to 20 years,” Lucy recalled. “Their wage levels were $1.25, $1.35 an hour. They were confronted with equipment that came from the Stone Age.”….

Promoting Good Jobs and a Stronger Economy: How Free Collective-Bargaining States Outperform “Right-to-Work” States

Source: Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, February 9, 2021

From the press release:
In an eight-year period of national economic expansion that followed the Great Recession of 2008, the 27 U.S. states that had enacted so-called “right-to-work” laws saw slower economic growth, lower wages, higher consumer debt, worse health outcomes, and lower levels of civic participation than states that had not, according to a new study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.