Category Archives: Labor Unions

State of the Unions Week

Source: Pacific Standard, April 2018

…. This week Pacific Standard will be taking a look at the current and future states of American labor. We’ll explore everything from the promise and limitations of “alt-labor” models of organizing, to the danger that autonomous vehicles pose to truck drivers (a traditional bastion of organized labor), to the future of songwriters in the Spotify era.

While the state of traditional organized labor may be weak by historical standards, the stories we’ll tell this week (as well as the stories that have played out recently in West Virginia and Oklahoma) suggest a more nuanced and complex narrative of worker organizing in the 21st century. Traditional unions may be down, but workers aren’t yet out. ….

Articles include:
CAN THE ALT-LABOR MOVEMENT IMPROVE CONDITIONS FOR AMERICAN WORKERS?
By Dwyer Gunn
An expert gives us an overview of the movement sweeping labor reform.

A LOOK AT THE EDUCATION LABOR MOVEMENTS EMERGING ACROSS THE COUNTRY
By Elena Gooray
A round-up of the strikes and protests organized by educators around the country who are frustrated with low pay and gutted school budgets.

WHY CAN’T CHARTER SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS’ UNIONS BE FRIENDS?
By Elena Gooray
The president of California’s largest teachers’ labor group weighs in on the recent unionization of charters across the state—a shift that runs counter to the history of tension between charters and labor groups.

WHAT CAUSED THE DECLINE OF UNIONS IN AMERICA?
By Dwyer Gunn
Globalization, politics, and the American psyche are all to blame.

‘WE’RE ON LIFE SUPPORT’: IS STREAMING MUSIC THE FINAL NOTE FOR PROFESSIONAL SONGWRITERS?
By Jack Denton
Operating without a union, songwriters are still paid through royalty structures created in the days of player pianos and Tin Pan Alley. And in the streaming era, that’s a losing formula.

THE STATE OF THE UNIONS
By Dwyer Gunn
Introducing a weeklong Pacific Standard series on America’s labor unions.

Why Young People Are Joining Unions Again

Source: Hannah Finnie, Talk Poverty blog, April 19, 2018

…. Young people are at a tipping point. They are frustrated by a system whose cracks were etched into place by preceding generations, but have only fully metastasized for theirs. They experience suffocating levels of student debt alongside declining wages and income equality while watching companies monopolize entire industries, and sometimes even nationwide elections. Representation—actual representation—feels more like theory than reality.

People are, finally, beginning to take notice of young people’s activism to fix that system. However, many are mistaking the new wave of media coverage dedicated to young people’s political activism for young people’s newfound political activism. It’s not that young people were ever politically dormant; it’s just that their activism has existed in places where older generations aren’t used to looking: on college campuses, like the Know Your IX movement and tuition equity campaigns for undocumented students, and inside activist movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #ByeAnita and #Occupy.

And now, increasingly, unions. ….

Georgia Bus Drivers Joined the School Uprising and Paid a Price

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, The Intercept, April 22, 2018
The red-state school uprising is spreading to educators around the country, with teachers in Colorado and Arizona now planning walkouts to demand better treatment from state and county governments. But the widespread public support that has helped carry the teachers to victories so far has been less present for blue-collar workers following in their footsteps. In Georgia, bus drivers who organized their own work stoppage last week were met with public condemnation and immediate firings.

On Thursday, the same day that the votes in favor of a walkout were tallied in Arizona, nearly 400 school bus drivers in DeKalb County, Georgia, stayed home from work, staging a “sickout” to protest their low salaries and meager benefits.  

Whether the school bus drivers can succeed in winning their demands and maintaining broad popular support remains to be seen, but the protest provides an important test case on whether these teacher movements will lead to a broader working-class uprising or stay limited to organizing among a narrower band of white-collar professionals. The bus drivers are not building their case around the idea that their unique talents merit greater monetary reward, but that they simply need and deserve to be treated more fairly…..

…..While the teachers strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona have boasted the vocal support of local school boards and superintendents, the school district leadership in DeKalb County has offered no such solidarity to the school bus drivers. In fact, seven bus drivers were fired on Thursday, identified as “sickout ringleaders.”….

The Teacher Strikes Show That Workers Are Really, Finally, Fed Up

Source: Eillie Anzilotti, Fast Company, April 19, 2018

By walking out of their classrooms, U.S. teachers are part of a global uprising against low wages for the benefit of increasing corporate profits. ….

….Legislatures in more conservative states have granted tax cuts to corporations, which have constricted budgets. To balance the budgets, the things that get cut are salaries and benefits. In the private sector, there’s often a similar story: Companies keep salaries and benefits low–or outsource work to independent contractors who don’t get any benefits at all–in order to maximize profitability and return money to shareholders.

That leaves us, Orleck says, with a broad coalition of workers, both public and private sector, whose livelihoods have suffered for the benefit of corporations. And as the teachers’ strikes–and scores of labor strikes around the world–have shown, that system has reached its breaking point…..

How Janus Could Spill into the Private Sector Without Radically Redefining the State Action Doctrine

Source: Boyd Garriott, On Labor blog, April 19, 2018

This term, the Supreme Court will decide Janus, where it will determine the future of agency shop agreements in public sector unions. Despite being a public-sector union case, Justice Ginsburg raised a question on many people’s minds at oral argument: “what happens in the private sector?” Her question may prove prescient, considering that five justices in Harris v. Quinn’s dicta questioned an older line of cases upholding private sector agency fee arrangements. Contrary to others who have spoken on this issue, I believe that a holding striking down public sector agency shop agreements in Janus could spill into the private sector without doing much violence to the state action doctrine….

Indiana Teachers ‘Go Green’ To Track Member Sign-Up

Source: Samantha Winslow, Labor Notes, April 13, 2018

What will happen to public sector unions after the Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case this spring? Indiana teachers are already there. Slammed by a “right to work” law in 1996 and a new barrage of attacks in 2011, the teachers experienced what many unions are afraid of—a big drop in membership.

But the Indiana State Teachers Association didn’t roll over and give up after that. The union developed a tracking system called “Go Green” to help local leaders get membership back up.

It’s working. The first year of the program, the union narrowed its deficit between existing members lost to retirement and new members gained. The second year, it broke even. The third year, statewide membership increased.

This is in a legal environment that’s worse than right to work. Budget cuts in 2011 were paired with sweeping restrictions that kneecapped unions. Teachers bargain over only wages and benefits, and only between September and November of each year. Past that, impasse is declare and a third-party factfinder decides the final agreement.

…. So how does it work? The heart of the “Go Green” program is getting teachers in every school involved in signing up members.

Schools below 50 percent union membership are flagged as red. Schools at 50 percent or higher are coded yellow, and those at 70 percent or higher are green. The color scheme helps officers and association reps (stewards) prioritize which schools, and even which parts of buildings, need the most help. ….

….LIVING WITHOUT DUES DEDUCTION

A popular line of anti-union attack by state legislators is to ban employers from deducting dues from members’ paychecks. Dues deduction is banned for Michigan teachers, for instance, and for the whole public sector in Wisconsin.

Indiana has no such law at this point—but the teachers union opted to stop payroll deduction anyway. When new members sign up, they give the union their bank or credit card information to process dues directly.

This preempts a fight with hostile legislators and keeps the union’s focus on talking to teachers. It also takes control of union funds out of the hands of employers…..

The Special Status of Union Stewards

Source: Robert M. Schwartz, Labor Notes, April 13, 2018

Standing up to bosses is essential to being a steward. On the shop floor and in grievance meetings, you must defend the actions of members and contest those of management.

In many cases you should be able to make your points temperately, practicing “quiet diplomacy.” But occasions will undoubtedly arise when you will want to raise your voice, challenge a supervisor’s credibility, or argue your case in other vigorous ways.

A widely accepted labor relations canon allows employers to discipline workers who fail to act respectfully toward management. Some legal treatises call this the “master-servant rule.”

But if stewards were subject to this rule while engaging in union activity, they would face an intolerable risk: speaking up for a member could put their own jobs in jeopardy. To resolve this dilemma, labor law accords a special status to union representatives. ….