Category Archives: Labor Unions

Labor Unions and Political Participation in Comparative Perspective

Source: Jasmine Kerrissey Evan Schofer, Social Forces, Advance Access, June 6, 2018
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From the abstract:
This research uses comparative survey data to examine the effects of labor union membership on individual political participation. We argue that national political institutions—specifically, democracy and corporatism—shape the ways that unions mobilize their members to engage in the political sphere. Democratic regimes provide structural opportunities and cultural repertoires that lead unions to focus on member mobilization, especially via contentious politics and political parties. Corporatism, which directly links unions to state structures, undercuts the logics and incentives for union mobilization. We draw upon historical cases of Germany, the United States, Chile, and Egypt to illustrate how democracy and corporatism shape unions’ mobilization efforts. Multilevel models of World Values Survey data from roughly 60 countries find that union members participate more than non-members across a range of electoral and extra-institutional political acts, such as demonstrating, occupying buildings, signing petitions, party work, and so forth. In democratic societies, such effects are stronger and participation shifts toward parties and contentious politics. In less democratic societies, union members are particularly likely to work with and through other political organizations. Corporatist arrangements generally dampen the political activities of union members.

Five Lessons from the History of Public Sector Unions

Source: Priscilla Murolo, Labor Notes, June 11, 2018

As public sector unions contemplate losing key rights under the law, it’s worth remembering that for much of their history, such unions organized with no rights at all.

It wasn’t till 1958 that New York became the first city to authorize collective bargaining for city employees. Wisconsin did the same for state employees in 1959, and federal workers got bargaining rights in 1962.

Yet as early as 1940, a book titled One Thousand Strikes of Government Employees described strikes dating back to the 1830s, when workers at U.S. Navy shipyards stopped work multiple times to press demands for better wages and conditions. ….

Supreme Court decision in Janus threatens the quality of public-sector jobs and public services: Key data on the roles these workers fill and the pay gaps they face

Source: Celine McNicholas and Heidi Shierholz, Economic Policy Institute, June 13, 2018

In the last decade, an increasingly energized campaign against workers’ rights has been waged across all levels of government—federal, state, and local. Much of the focus of this anti-worker campaign has been on public-sector workers, specifically state and local government workers. For example, several states have passed legislation restricting workers’ right to unionize and collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. Beyond these legislative attacks, public-sector workers have been targeted by repeated legal challenges to their unions’ ability to effectively represent them. The Supreme Court will soon issue a decision in the most recent of these challenges, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. As a previous EPI report explained, the corporate interests backing the plaintiffs in Janus are seeking to weaken the bargaining power of unions by restricting the ability of public-sector unions to collect “fair share” (or “agency”) fees for the representation they provide. In this new report, we argue that the decision in Janus will have significant impacts on public-sector workers’ wages and job quality as well as on the critical public services these workers provide.

Related:
Press release

After Janus: A new era of teachers union activism

Source: Bradley D. Marianno and Katharine Strunk, Education Next, Vol. 18 no. 4, Fall 2018

…. Speculation about what a Janus ruling in favor of the plaintiffs will mean for teachers unions has been rampant. Many, if not most, of the analysts who follow education policy and organized labor believe that the ruling will result in decreased power for teachers unions. The logic behind this assumption is simple: teachers unions will lose dues revenue because membership will decrease and former agency-fee payers will cease paying fees for union services. With fewer resources, teachers unions will have less ability to exert their influence in local, state, and federal elections and at the bargaining table. Fewer members, less money, less power. Right?

Not necessarily. Agency fees have been challenged at the state level over the past decade, and two states recently stopped allowing unions to collect them: Wisconsin and Michigan. The passage of those Right-to-Work laws may have caught state affiliates by surprise, unlike the widely anticipated Janus ruling. Even so, a close look at Wisconsin and Michigan may provide important clues about the future of teachers unions in a post-Janus world. ….

Could Originalism Save Public Sector Unions?

Source: Maddy Joseph, On Labor blog, June 7, 2018

Justice Gorsuch’s silence during the Janus oral argument generated considerable buzz. Wishful (yet tentative) commentators hoped the silence was a sign that the new Justice’s originalism would lead him to uphold Abood. To be sure, Justice Thomas, the Court’s other steadfast originalist, voted with the majority in Harris. And commentators have largely assumed that both Justices will vote with Janus here. But winning over either Justice Gorsuch or Justice Thomas could be Abood’s best hope for survival. ….

A profile of union workers in state and local government

Source: Julia Wolfe and John Schmitt, Economic Policy Institute, June 7, 2018

Key facts about the sector for followers of Janus v. AFSCME Council 31

The forthcoming Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 will likely have profound implications for the 17.3 million workers in state and local government across the country. The case involves a First Amendment challenge to state laws that allow public-sector unions to require state and local government workers who are not union members, but who are represented by a union, to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees for the benefits they receive from union representation. By stripping unions of their ability to collect fair share fees, a decision for the plaintiffs in Janus would hurt all state and local government workers by impeding their ability to organize and bargain collectively. This report provides a profile of the 6.8 million of these workers who are covered by union contracts, and it reviews some key long-term trends in unionization in state and local governments.

As this report shows:
• A majority (58 percent) of union workers (workers covered by a collective bargaining contract) in state and local government are women.
• African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up one-third of unionized state and local government workers.
• While teachers constitute the single largest subgroup of union workers in state and local government, union workers also include those serving the public as administrators, social workers, police officers, firefighters, and other professionals.
• On average, union workers in state and local government have substantially more formal education than workers in the private sector. Over 60 percent of state and local government union workers have a four-year college degree or more education, compared with one-third in the private sector.

Data on union membership trends shed light on why a Supreme Court decision affecting the unionized state and local government workforce has broad implications. State and local government workers constitute the largest subgroup (42.1 percent) of all union members in the country. Over a third (36.1 percent) of state and local government workers belong to a union, compared with just 6.5 percent of workers in the private sector nationally. This 36.1 percent share is down from the roughly 38- to 40-percent share sustained throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In the 2010s, state and local government worker union membership has been slowly declining as attacks on public-sector unions have ramped up.

Before It All Melts Away

Source: Chris Brooks, Labor Notes, May 30, 2018

Will this spring’s wave of teacher strikes lead to stronger unions? Not if their unions return to business as usual.

The motor force behind the strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina is teachers’ deep frustration. Educators are feeling the pinch from decades of funding cuts that their unions have been unable to stop…..

Moral Economies or Hidden Talents? A Longitudinal Analysis of Union Decline and Wage Inequality, 1973–2015

Source: Tom VanHeuvelen, Social Forces, Advance Access, Published: May 30, 2018
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From the abstract:
The decline of labor unions in the United States has been central to the rise of wage inequality since the early 1970s. Recently, sociologists have noted that unionization influences inequality through both direct and indirect pathways, reconciled with the concept of the moral economy, broadly shared norms of fairness institutionalized in market rules and customs that can reduce inequality in pay. While the theory of the moral economy has been resonant in the stratification literature, few have held it to empirical scrutiny. The current study assesses how selection bias from unobserved worker-level heterogeneity influences the associations between unionization and wage attainment and dispersion. To do so, I merge data from the Current Population Survey to 33 waves of longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Using combinations of variance function regression models, fixed-effects regression models, and dynamic panel models, I find that the magnitudes of associations tend to be reduced by around half after accounting for unobserved heterogeneity. Yet, more critically, the pathways linking unions and wage inequality via the moral economy prove to be remarkably robust to all tests cast upon them. Results highlight the fundamental importance of labor power resources for the contemporary rise of inequality. They provide a micro-level foundation for theories linking unionization and stratification. They identify the importance of union decline for rising earnings volatility. And they provide implications for the fallout of economic well-being for workers following antiunion policy change. Additional theoretical and policy implications are discussed.

Why Do Workers Strike?

Source: Martin Glaberman, Jacobin, May 30, 2018

Think conservative workers won’t strike? Think again. History shows it’s not workers’ ideas that count, it’s the conditions they face on the job.

…. Here, we reproduce the concluding chapter of Wartime Strikes. The historical backdrop of wartime strikes and those that have taken place today are obviously different, and Glaberman’s analysis of why auto workers took the actions they did can’t be directly transposed onto today’s events.

But his insistence that working people can be transformed when they’re forced to deal with the reality in front of them is an essential reminder for anyone trying to understand where and how the next working-class upsurge might continue to spread today. ….

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

Source: Henry S. Farber, Daniel Herbst, Ilyana Kuziemko, Suresh Naidu, NBER Working Paper No. 24587, May 2018
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From the abstract:
It is well-documented that, since at least the early twentieth century, U.S. income inequality has varied inversely with union density. But moving beyond this aggregate relationship has proven difficult, in part because of the absence of micro-level data on union membership prior to 1973. We develop a new source of micro-data on union membership, opinion polls primarily from Gallup (N ≈ 980, 000), to look at the effects of unions on inequality from 1936 to the present. First, we present a new time series of household union membership from this period. Second, we use these data to show that, throughout this period, union density is inversely correlated with the relative skill of union members. When density was at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, union members were relatively less-skilled, whereas today and in the pre-World War II period, union members are equally skilled as non-members. Third, we estimate union household income premiums over this same period, finding that despite large changes in union density and selection, the premium holds steady, at roughly 15–20 log points, over the past eighty years. Finally, we present a number of direct results that, across a variety of identifying assumptions, suggest unions have had a significant, equalizing effect on the income distribution over our long sample period.

Related:
There Is Power in a Union
Source: Mike Konczal, The Nation, May 23, 2018

A new study overturns economic orthodoxy and shows that unions reduce inequality.
unions keep inequality in check