Category Archives: Labor Unions

Steward’s Corner: Challenge Unilateral Changes

Source: Robert M. Schwartz, Labor Notes, February 7, 2018

When management changes an established working condition or adopts a new policy that adversely affects employees, stewards should alert union leaders quickly. By submitting a demand to bargain or filing a grievance, the union may be able to stop, modify, or at least delay harmful developments. Pressure tactics such as petitions, rallies, and picket lines add leverage…..

The Relationship between Union Membership and Net Fiscal Impact

Source: Aaron Sojourner, José Pacas, IZA – Institute of Labor Economics, IZA DP No. 11310, January 2018

This paper develops the first evidence on how individuals’ union membership status affects their net fiscal impact, the difference between taxes they pay and cost of public benefits they receive, enriching our understanding of how labor relations interacts with public economics. Current Population Survey data between 1994 and 2015 in pooled crosssections and individual first-difference models yield evidence that union membership has a positive net fiscal impact through the worker-level channels studied.

Don’t Fall for the Members-Only Unionism Trap

Source: Chris Brooks, Labor Notes, January 4, 2018

One of corporate America’s next big goals might surprise you: passing legislation to prevent unions from having to represent workers who don’t pay dues. This is just the latest of many business-friendly labor law reforms proliferating across the country. …..

….. Some union supporters have argued that the way to solve the free-rider problem is by allowing unions to simply kick out the “freeloaders.” ….

…. Now, employer-backed groups are making similar arguments. The State Policy Network (SPN)—a coalition of corporate-financed right-wing think tanks—is also advocating for laws that would eliminate the requirement that unions represent non-members in a unionized workplace.

What do right-wing advocates of this strategy hope to accomplish? For an answer, we can look at the case of unionized teachers in Tennessee. ….

Steward’s Corner: Union Newsletters: Two-Way or No Way

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Labor Notes, February 2, 2018

For union members trying to breathe a little life into their local, a newsletter is often the “go-to” solution. But what should go in it?

Say you and a group of buddies at work want to push your union in the right direction, toward greater member involvement. It’s not that things with the union are all terrible; in fact you’ve got a decent contract and stewards do a reasonable job handling grievances. But day to day a lot of problems come up that the union doesn’t seem to touch. Morale is low. There aren’t many union meetings, and attendance is often poor. You’ve got a sense that things could be different.

Perhaps there already is a newsletter—either print or electronic—but no one pays much attention to it. You may be thinking that a new and improved newsletter would be an easy way to stimulate interest in the union, educate co-workers, increase transparency, and motivate engagement. And you’d be right… but only if you keep certain basic organizing principles in mind.

Consider these scenarios, and ask yourself how best to report on them in a newsletter in a way that helps encourage more members to get involved in the union:….


Newsletter Distribution: Worst to Best
• Posted on the union website
• Left on a table in the mail room or break room
• Put in mailboxes or cubbies
• Sent via postal mail
• Email blast
• Hand distributed by stewards/reps
• Individually distributed with conversations
• All of the above
• All of the above, plus the newsletter includes “discussion topics” for members
• All of the above, plus discussions are organized around members’ responses….

Will the Supreme Court deal a blow to trade unions?

Source: S. M., The Economist, Democracy in America blog, February 1, 2018

The court will consider whether unions can require non-member workers to help pay for collective bargaining.

OF ALL the blockbuster cases at the Supreme Court this year, Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is expected to hold the fewest surprises. Janus, which is due to be argued on February 26th, asks whether public employees who choose not to join their designated union may nevertheless be charged “agency fees” to support collective bargaining. Since 1977, when Abood v City of Detroit Board of Education was decided, it has been acceptable to require non-members to subsidise contract negotiations over their salary, benefits and working conditions, but a no-no to make them pay toward a union’s lobbying or political organising. This compromise was teetering on the edge in 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia died while a case raising the same question, Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, was pending. Bereft of a fifth vote to seal Abood’s demise, the justices split 4-to-4 in Friedrichs and put the 40-year precedent back on life support. 

The man everyone expects to help pull the plug this time is Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s pick to replace Justice Scalia. Observers think Justice Gorsuch will join his four conservative brethren to say that workers should not be compelled to subsidise union negotiations for higher wages any more than they are required to pay for efforts to elect candidates or advocate for political causes. Undoing that distinction may be how Janus is resolved. But a brief from two libertarian legal scholars, alongside a brief submitted by a bevy of eminent economists, supplies a strong case for preserving what unions call “fair-share fees”…..

The Eminent Libertarians Who Might Save Public Sector Unions
Source: Rachel M. Cohen, The Intercept, February 2, 2018

The Supreme Court will hear arguments this month in a case challenging the constitutionality of so-called agency fees, payments that workers represented by a union must pay if they do not wish to be dues-paying members. Conservatives have been crusading against these fees for years on First Amendment grounds, and with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the labor movement’s odds seem grim.

But last month, unions got a surprising lifeline from an unlikely friend: Two prominent conservative legal scholars filed an amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31 — the case before the court — urging the justices to uphold a 1977 decision that ruled the agency fees constitutional…..

33 prominent economists, 3 Nobel laureates to the Supreme Court: The anti-union position in Janus is simply wrong as a matter of basic economics
Source: Dan Jackson, American Constitution Society blog, January 25, 2018

Thirty-six distinguished economists and professors of law and economics including three Nobel laureates, two recipients of the American Economic Association’s prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, and two past presidents of the American Economic Association filed an amici curiae brief to assist the Supreme Court in understanding the free-rider problem at issue in Janus v. AFSCME….

Janus Should Lose, and the Justices Know It

Source: Andrew Strom, On Labor blog, January 31, 2018

Most of the coverage of Janus v. AFSCME, like this recent piece in USA Today, simply (and perhaps correctly) assumes that the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court will use the case to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the 1977 case upholding fair share fees for public sector workers.  But, now that the briefs have been filed, it is more clear than ever that those five Justices will have to put their thumbs heavily on the scale for the petitioner, Mark Janus, to prevail….

Will Labor Law Prompt Conservative Justices to Adopt a Radical Theory of State Action?

Source: Joseph E. Slater, Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 1, 2017

From the abstract:
With the Supreme Court poised to rule that the First Amendment bars all union-security clauses in public-sector collective bargaining agreements, this article addresses the strong implication in the Harris v. Quinn (2014) that such a rule could be extended to the private sector. Remarkably, the five conservative justices in the majority in Harris, seemed open to the idea that a contract clause two private parties voluntarily agreed to governing terms of employment implicated state action sufficient to trigger constitutional rights. A union security clause provides that employees in a union bargaining unit must pay at least some portion of dues to the union that represents them. Prior to Harris, one old Supreme Court case had found state action in such clauses and another old case had used the doctrine of constitutional avoidance in interpreting the relevant statute. More recent cases on the topic, however, have ignored constitutional issues. Thus, Harris revived an outdated and extraordinarily broad theory of state action.

This article argues that the suggestion that private-sector union security clauses implicate the Constitution involves unconvincing and incoherent understandings of “state action” that the Court should explicitly reject. Such clauses are negotiated between two private entities. Relevant labor law statutes permit (and limit) but do not require them, nor do labor statutes reward parties for adopting them. Such clauses would be entirely legal in the absence of statutory authorization, and indeed, they existed prior to these statutes. Harris entertained a theory that would go beyond the Court’s broadest reading of state action, in Shelley v. Kraemer. Notably, while liberals pushed for this broad approach decades ago in an attempt to fight race discrimination by private parties before the era of anti-discrimination statutes, conservatives pushed for an analogous broad approach to state action specifically to attack unions. But in more recent decades, courts have hewed to a narrower view of state action. No current theory of state action could be stretched to include private-sector union security clauses.

This article examines all the proposed justifications for the position that private-sector union security agreements could constitute state action. It describes the development of state action theories in general. It analyzes specific arguments based on old labor cases, arguments “right to work” advocates have made, and analogies to the Keller case on mandatory bar fees. It concludes that there is no plausible argument that private-sector union security clauses involve state action. It then argues that adopting the suggestions in Harris would have radical and undesirable consequences in labor law generally and beyond. It concludes that courts should reject the suggestion that private-sector union security clauses implicate the First Amendment, and it describes a theory of state action consistent with this result and existing precedent.

Worker Centers and the Moral Economy: Disrupting Through Brokerage, Prestige, and Moral Framing

Source: César F. Rosado Marzán, University of Chicago Legal Forum, Forthcoming, Last revised: December 16, 2017

From the abstract:
Social scientists have shown that labor unions helped to maintain economic inequality in check in the United States from about the 1950s until about the 1970s by, inter alia, using their once formidable resources to maintain a moral economy for labor. A moral economy is a package of social and legal norms that elicit moral condemnation when violated. With private sector union density rates at about 6% today, labor’s moral economy is now in the past; inequality has increased in the U.S. However, worker centers, one of the central “alt-labor” organizations filling the gap left by receding labor unions, are growing. Can worker centers help to rebuild labor’s moral economy and restrain economic inequality? This article reports evidence collected by the author through participant observation in a Chicago worker center, Arise Chicago, to answer whether or not, and how, worker centers can contribute to a new, labor moral economy. It argues that despite worker centers’ scant money and human capital, their social and symbolic capital, and their capacity to frame issues morally could enable them to contribute significantly to a new, labor moral economy.

Debt as Threat: Evidence from Union-Sponsored Shareholder Proposals

Source: Alberta Di Giuli, Arthur Petit-Romec, Last revised: December 22, 2017

From the abstract:
This paper uses data on shareholder proposals to study how leverage affects the interaction between firms and labor unions. We find a negative association between financial leverage and shareholder proposals sponsored by unions. Our results are consistent with the idea that capital structure affects labor unions’ behavior and suggest that debt deters labor unions from engaging in negotiation tactics. Additional tests indicate that the negative association between debt and union proposals is driven by governance proposals and more pronounced in firms in poorer financial condition. Our results also suggest that union proposals in firms with low level of debt are value destroying.