Category Archives: Labor Unions

Reclaiming the First Amendment Through Union Dues Restrictions?

Source: Harry G. Hutchison, University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law, Spring 2008
(subscription required)

… In view of the fact that labor unions and labor advocates increasingly see unions and the labor movement as a fighting force for class-based justice and societal transformation, it is possible that virtually all union expenditures (including collective-bargaining expenses) have freedom of expression implications that are adverse to the interests of dissenters. … In Beck, the Supreme Court had to decide whether an exclusive bargaining agreement within the meaning of section 8(a)(3) of the NLRA “permits a union, over the objections of dues-paying nonmember employees, to expend funds so collected on activities unrelated to collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment, and, if so, whether such expenditures violate the union’s duty of fair representation or the objecting employees’ First Amendment rights.” … First, labor unions are made up of diverse workers with disparate interests and preferences, and therefore, consistent with the parameters of postmodern discourse and Madisonian assumptions, it is impossible to believe that workers necessarily share a common interest. … Since self-interest implicates both economic and ideological goals, engaging in an inadequate search enables courts to overlook self-interested benefits (private externalities) that disproportionately accrue to union hierarchs and union outsiders that may have captured the union, its policymaking and its revenues. … Accepting the allegation that it is well settled that a union, which is obliged to act on behalf of all employees in the bargaining unit, may charge nonunion employees to bear their “fair share” of the costs of representation and basking in the assertion that Washington has a long and proud history of being a pioneer in the protection of employee rights, the Washington State Supreme Court approved agency shop provisions that require the deduction from nonmembers’ salary of fees equivalent to union dues. … Though grounds for skepticism may engulf the capacity of the Davenport case to empower dues objectors to reclaim First Amendment values, grounds for optimism can be found in the Court resolution of two issues: (A) that the state of Washington could constitutionally eliminate agency fees entirely in order to protect workers’ rights to their own money and (B) that the citizens of Washington are not bound by the allegation that dissent within labor unions cannot be presumed. … Taken together, this analysis clarified by John Nowak and Ronald Rotunda’s observations, implicates the following question: May a union, consistent with workers’ rights of freedom of association and speech, use union dues to advance causes or interests not favored by all of the dues payers? … An inspection of the evidence provided by Professor Troy, a careful survey of labor union websites, a detailed inspection of available union accounts, and an examination of the pronouncements of John Sweeney, Dennis Rivera and other labor leaders, reveals that the union movement has transformed itself into an anti-market fighting force for social justice. … The Davenport Court complements Hanson’s language by subordinating dues objections to the following proposition: Public-sector unions are only prohibited from using the fees of objecting nonmembers for ideological purposes that are not germane to the union’s collective-bargaining duties.

Support Staff Salaries in CT, 1998-2008: A Report Based on 3 CLASS Salary Surveys

Source: Sandy Smith Brooks, Library Worklife, Volume 6, No. 4, April 2009
(subscription required)

Academic & large public libraries pay better than school or smaller public libraries. Tolland and New London counties have some of the lowest salaries; Hartford and Fairfield counties still have the highest.

There are other positives in the survey results:

* More workers (a majority) now report full-time rather than part-time work – full-time work pays better.

* More workers have benefits and are unionized than in 1998 or 2003 – unionized workers get paid better.

* More workers report supervisory responsibilities – supervisors get paid better.

* More workers (a majority) report having a Bachelors degree or higher. More workers have an MLS degree, and more workers have an LTA certificate – and more education equates to better pay.

Big Business’ Big Lie: Higher Union Rates Do Not Equal Higher Unemployment

Source: Doug Cunningham, Worker’s Independent News, March 22, 2009

In their efforts to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act labor law reform, right-wing business interests claim making it easier for workers to join unions will cause higher unemployment. Not true. Canada’s percentage of unionized workers is 20 points higher than in the U.S. but it’s unemployment is 7.7 percent, lower than in the U.S. Historically, jobless rates in Denmark and Norway have averaged around 3 percent, yet in those countries 80 percent of workers are in unions. The Center for Economic and Policy Research says in the 1960’s more than 30 percent of U.S. workers were in unions. The jobless rate was below five percent for most of that decade Today, with 12 percent of workers in unions, our jobless rate is much higher. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development published a study in 2006 that concluded there is no link between unionization rates and unemployment.

Solidarity Community Network

Source: Workers’ Activities Programme (ACTRAV) of the International Labour Organization (the ILO), 2009

The Solidarity Community Network ( is a communications system designed especially for the labour movement.

SoliComm provides a powerful World Wide Web search engine which searches only union and union-related sites. It also provides free email for unionists, web-page hosting for labour organizations in developing countries, and computer conferencing facilities for online meetings and labour education.

The goal of the SoliComm project is ambitious but achievable: to make available all the information on the world’s union-related web sites searchable from one site and then begin to categorize that information so that it is useful for union researchers, educators, leaders and members plus the general public. We currently have 300 of the world’s largest labour web sites in the SoliComm search engine and more will be added. If you want to suggest a site for inclusion in SoliComm searches please send an email with the name of the site and its web address.

Unions and Upward Mobility for Service-Sector Workers

Source: John Schmitt, Center for Economic and Policy Research, April 2009

This report uses national data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) to show that unionization raises the wages of the typical service sector worker by 10.1 percent compared to their non-union peers. The study goes on to show that unionization also increases the likelihood that a service sector worker will have health insurance and a pension. The report also notes that workers with service jobs benefit as much from unionization as workers with manufacturing jobs.
See also:
Selected labor-market data for service sector, by state, 2004-2007
Press Release

Labor Union Coalition Challenges to Governmental Action: Defending the Civil Rights of Law-Wage Workers

Source: Maria Ontiveros, University of Chicago Legal Forum, Vol. 2009 (forthcoming)

From the the abstract:
The article examines international and domestic legal challenges filed by traditional labor unions, in coalition with others, against the government of the Unites States of America. The article argues that these lawsuits can help protect the civil rights of low-wage workers by creating a coherent legal theory defending the civil rights of low-wage workers and by creating an identifiable change agent to work on that defense. The lawsuits include those challenging governmental action with respect to immigrant workers, airport security screeners, social security no-match letters and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) workplace raids.

The article examines how the exclusion of low-wage workers from current constitutional and statutory protections has resulted in the lack of a coherent legal theory protecting their civil rights. It also discusses the lack of a national, collectively-based, institutional change agent devoted to protecting low-wage workers. Citing social movement theory, and applying it to lawyering for social change and labor union theory, the article argues that both are necessary to be effective. The article describes international lawsuits filed under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the International Labor Organization and describes how they are establishing a coherent legal theory based on a list of fundamental labor rights for North American workers and the concept of labor rights as human rights. On the domestic side, the article examines various constitutional claims brought against the government on behalf of low-wage workers and argues that the Thirteenth Amendment should be considered a useful umbrella for unifying these claims. Finally, the article describes how this type of advocacy is transforming the role of traditional labor unions.

The Future of American Labor and Employment Law: Hopes, Dreams, and Realities

Source: Theodore J. St. Antoine, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Published online: 27 March 2009
(subscription required)

In many respects the US is a deeply conservative country. Unique among the major industrial democracies of the world, it imposes the death penalty, provides no national health insurance, fixes a high legal drinking age, and subscribes to the doctrine of employment at will. Perhaps not surprisingly, its labor movement is also one if the most conservative on earth, eschewing class warfare and aiming largely at the bread-and-butter goal of improved wages, benefits, and working conditions. Yet American employers have generally never been as accepting of unionization as their counterparts in other countries. Over the last half-century the density of unions in the private sector has fallen from about 35% to 7.5%. Employee apathy, vigorous employer opposition, and changing patterns of work have all played a part in that decline but his paper will focus on the role of law.

Unions, Education, and Low-Wage Workers

Source: Michael Selmi, University of Chicago Legal Forum Symposium Issue, 2009

The abstract:
Low-wage workers have never had privileged access to desirable labor market opportunities but their position has significantly deteriorated over the last two decades, as union representation has decreased and the demand for higher skilled labor increased. This essay explores the future for low-wage workers and begins by defining what we mean by low-wage work, and also who low-wage workers are. I next explore the two most common advocated paths for improving the lives of low-wage workers: reviving unions and a human capital focus. I suggest that reviving unions, even in the context of the Employee Free Choice Act, offers at best a limited hope for improving the labor market opportunities for most low-wage workers. For a variety of complicated reasons, there is no basis for expecting a substantial resurgence of union representation, even if the law is changed to make union organizing more effective. Instead, I emphasize a human capital path, noting in particular, that far too many young individuals attend college without attaining any degree, and I discuss the important role community colleges can play in enhancing the human capital of low-wage workers. In the final part of the paper, I discuss educational reforms at the high school level that target at-risk populations, including a return to vocational education and the rise in charter schools, both of which might offer important opportunities for students to excel in school.

The Origins of Federal Industrial Relations Systems: Australia, Canada and the USA

Source: Greg Patmore, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 51 no. 2, 2009
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
There are tensions in federal political systems over whether the central government or the states/provinces are the most suitable jurisdictions for dealing with the relationship between employers and unions. As integrated national economies developed, there are growing pressures on federal governments to intervene in industrial relations. States/provinces, however, might still maintain unique economic and social conditions that render federal legislation inappropriate. This article examines the development of federal jurisdictions in Australia, Canada and the USA up until the late 1940s. While Australia, unlike the other the two countries, had a constitution that provided for federal coverage of industrial relations, it was a limited power. Despite this, there was a gradual spread of federal coverage beyond that originally intended by the original framers of the Australian Constitution. The Canadian and US constitutions predate the rise of organized industrial relations. However, federal governments in these countries also increased their involvement in industrial relations to resolve disputes in key national industries such as railways and in response to critical events such as the Great Depression and World Wars, which challenged existing assumptions about industrial relations. While there was a trend towards the federal regulation of industrial relations, states and provinces still played a key role as innovators in both experimenting with new ways of regulating relations between employers and unions and imposing restrictions on the power of organized labour.

Should Congress Adopt The Employee Free Choice Act?

Source: LERA, Perspectives Online Companion (Number 10), Spring 2009
(subscription required)

This tenth edition of LERA’s Perspectives Online Companion contains four articles on the proposed Employee Free Choice Act. Each derives from remarks delivered as part of the Distinguished Panel at LERA’s Annual Meeting in January 2009.

* For Organized Labor, The Employee Free Choice Act is Neither a Cinch, Nor a Panacea
By Steven Greenhouse
The nation’s labor law system “is inarguably broken,” writes Steven Greenhouse, labor reporter for The New York Times. However, supporters of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act face a tough uphill battle, and revitalization of union organizing will require more than this bill’s passage.

* Prospects for Labor Law Reform After the 2008 Election: A Law Perspective
By William B. Gould IV
Labor law reform has been attempted many times since 1959. “This time, we must we must get it right,” writes William Gould, a former chair of the National Labor Relations Board. This article analyzes the current Employee Free Choice Act proposal and presents Gould’s recommendations.

* Union Recognition and Collective Bargaining: How Does the United States Compare With Other Democracies?
By John Logan
Opponents portray the proposed Employee Free Choice Act as “radical and undemocratic,” writes John Logan, a scholar based at the University of California-Berkeley. His article demonstrates why the proposed legislation is a modest reform measure.

* Prospects for Labor Law Reform: A Labor Perspective
By Jonathan Hiatt
AFL-CIO general counsel Jonathan Hiatt explains why the current obstacles to expanded collective bargaining in the United States represent “a two-dimensional crisis of human rights and economic wellbeing.” According to Hiatt, coercion of workers will be less of a problem under the Employee Free Choice Act than it is under the present law.