Category Archives: Labor Unions

Interactive Map: Unions Are Good for Workers and the Economy in Every State

Source: Center for American Progress, February 15, 2009

Unions paved the way to the middle class for millions of workers and pioneered benefits along the way, including paid health care and pensions. Even today, union workers earn significantly more on average than their non-union counterparts, are nearly 54 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions, and are 28 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided heath insurance. Nearly three out of five survey respondents from a Peter Hart Research Associates poll report that they would join a union if they could. Yet workers attempting to unionize currently face a hostile legal environment and are commonly intimidated by aggressive antiunion employers.
See also:
State and national fact sheets

Trade Unions, Wage Bargaining Coordination, and Foreign Direct Investment

Source: Roxana Radulescu, Martin Robson, Labour, Vol. 22, Issue 4, December 2008
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Conventional wisdom is that a high trade union bargaining strength and a system of coordinated wage bargaining reduce the attractiveness of an economy as a location for foreign direct investment, although there is limited evidence for this. The paper takes panel data for 19 OECD economies to examine the relationship between trade union bargaining strength, bargaining coordi nation, and a range of incentives for inward foreign direct investment. It finds a strong negative effect of trade union density on inward foreign direct investment, which is dependent on the degree of wage bargaining coordination. A high degree of coordination weakens the deterrent effect of high union density, which is consistent with the notion that under certain circumstances a coordinated increase in wages can increase profits of the multinationals by hurting domestic firms.
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October 2006 version

Squandering the blue-collar advantage

Source: Josh Bivens, Economic Policy Institute, EPI Breifing Paper #229, February 13, 2009

Why almost everything except unions and the blue-collar workforce are hurting U.S. manufacturing.

It has become convenient in some circles to blame unions for the hemorrhaging of jobs in the manufacturing sector. The facts, however, simply do not support that argument.

Instead, the main culprit for manufacturing’s troubles over the past decade is an overvalued U.S. dollar. Smaller contributors to manufacturing’s decline include a dysfunctional health care system and the high labor costs of managers and executives.

What is equally clear is that the pay and productivity of blue-collar workers in manufacturing are clearly not a competitive drag. In fact, these workers actually earn lower wages than many of the most important U.S. trading partners while simultaneously posting higher productivity levels. In short, the relatively low pay and high productivity of the blue-collar workforce in the U.S. manufacturing sector provides an important competitive edge over its trading partners. This report documents that competitive edge and how it has been squandered.

Can Labor Revive the American Dream?

Source: Esther Kaplan, Nation, Vol. 288 no. 3, January 26, 2009

The financial markets are in tatters, consumer spending is anemic and the recession continues to deepen, but corporate America is keeping its eyes on the prize: crushing organized labor. The Center for Union Facts, a business front group, has taken out full-page ads in newspapers linking SEIU president Andy Stern to the Rod Blagojevich scandal. The Chamber of Commerce is capitalizing on the debate over the Big Three bailout to claim that “unions drove the auto companies off the cliff,” while minority leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators insist on steep wage cuts. A December 10 Republican strategy memo revealed their central obsession: “Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor,” the memo read. “This is a precursor to card check”–a clear reference to the Employee Free Choice Act.

This simple amendment to federal labor law, which would, among other things, allow workers to unionize when a majority sign cards rather than requiring a bruising election, has galvanized the business community in a way even the $700 billion bailout couldn’t. “I get the sense that this is more important to them than even taxes or regulation,” says the AFL-CIO’s director of government affairs, Bill Samuels. “This is about power. And the business community is not going to give up power willingly.” Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said as much to a meeting with analysts in October. “We like driving the car,” he told them, “and we’re not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us.”

At first glance, Employee Free Choice looks like little more than a technical fix. In addition to allowing unionizing through majority sign-up, it stiffens penalties for intimidating or firing union supporters and imposes arbitration when a company refuses to bargain a first contract. But as the leading corporate lobbies recognize, the bill could have far-reaching effects. By reviving unions, it could push up wages, realigning the broken economy so that company profits are spread beyond CEOs. It could help rein in corporate power and, perhaps most threatening to a business community that has enjoyed decades of deregulation, sustain a progressive majority in Washington in the years to come. If progressives aren’t doing the math, conservatives are. “Unions don’t spend money to elect Republicans,” Senator John Ensign told a group of executives this past fall. “They spend money to elect Democrats. From our perspective, this would have devastating consequences.”

Putting a Big Chill on a “Big Hurt:” Genuine Interest in Employment of Salts in Assessing Protection Under the National Labor Relations Act

Source: Jeffrey A. Mello, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Published online: 25 July 2008


(subscription required)

From the abstract:


As union membership has continued to decline steadily in the US, union organizers have become more creative and vigilant with their organizing strategies. Chief among these strategies has been “salting,” a process by which unions attempt to organize employees from the inside rather than the outside. The Supreme Court has ruled that, under the National Labor Relations Act, “salts” cannot be discriminated against solely on the basis of their status as salts. This paper examines employer responses to resist salting efforts, including a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board, which redefines the landscape under which salting activities can be conducted and considered protected activity.

Unions Without Borders: Recent Developments in the Theory, Practice and Law of Transnational Unionism

Source: Alan Hyde and Mona Ressaissi, Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal, Forthcoming

From the abstract:


Unions facing global capital, or representing migrant workers, or both, should adopt a strategy of: (1) insisting, to the extent possible, on representation of workers by national labour movements covering the location where work is performed; (2) linking those national labour movements in enduring transnational union organizations that coordinate reciprocity; and (3) vigourously seeking alliances with worker support organizations outside the union movement. These conclusions follow a review of recent experiences, which confirm a game-theoretic account in which transnational institutions arise to solve coordination problems among national institutions. (1) The insistence on the local responds to union defeats in European Union law, in which Swedish unions, insisting that Latvian workers building a school in Sweden be paid Swedish wages, were held to have interfered with the free movement of capital. North American unions representing migrant farm workers must avoid the analogous claim that such workers were hired in Mexico or Jamaica, then posted to Canada or the U.S. (2) While existing formal transnational union organizations and framework agreements have achieved little, they offer the promise of future reciprocity. By contrast, ad hoc campaigns seeking union support have achieved less, while engendering cultural misunderstanding harmful to future support. (3) Although systematic comparison is not possible, many anecdotes suggest that alternative worker support organizations in the developed world, are more effective allies for unions in the developing world, than are developed-world unions.

Questions, answers on the Employee Free Choice Act

Source: Ross Eisenbrey and David Kusnet, Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief #249, January 29, 2009

The nation’s labor laws are broken and need to be fixed. The basic labor law–the National Labor Relations  Act (NLRA)–was intended to protect workers’ rights to organize and join unions and bargain with their employers for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. But it has been distorted by decades of hostile amendments, lax enforcement, and corporate tactics that bend or break the law.

Originally, the NLRA encouraged workers to form unions freely without interference by the employers who control their livelihoods. But now, elections administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) offer overwhelming advantages to anti-union employers. These companies can campaign on their premises, while workers who support the union cannot campaign on the worksites.

During these anti-union campaigns, employers routinely intimidate, harass, coerce, and even fire employees who support unions-and a weakened NLRB and watered-down labor laws can do little or nothing to stop them. In the event that workers succeed in voting to be represented by a union, companies can delay negotiations for the first union contract by challenging the results and then refusing to bargain in good faith, and existing labor laws are powerless to stop these stalling tactics.

A bill to be introduced in Congress with broad Democratic support, called the Employee Free Choice Act, would help restore balance to the labor market by making it easier for workers to form a union, and harder for employers to use illegal tactics to fight such an effort. EPI has prepared 15 questions and answers to help explain the need for the new law, and how it would work.

NLRB Elections vs. Card Check Campaigns: Results of a Worker Survey

Source: Adrienne E. Eaton and Jill Kriesky, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 62 No. 2, January 2009
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The authors evaluate policy arguments for and against the use of card check as a method to determine union recognition. The results of an analysis of data from telephone surveys of 430 workers who had been through the NLRB election or card check campaigns of six unions in 2003 indicate that there was little undue union pressure to support unionization in card check campaigns, and that management pressure on workers to oppose unionization was considerably greater than pressure from co-workers or organizers to support the union in both card checks and elections. The authors also find that although workers in card checks do appear to have had somewhat less information about unions and about the recognition process than workers in elections, workers who felt they had insufficient information to make a decision about unionization tended not to sign cards.

Union Members in 2008

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Press Release, USDL 09-0095, January 28, 2009

In 2008, union members accounted for 12.4 percent of employed wage and salary workers, up from 12.1 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of workers belonging to a union rose by 428,000 to 16.1 million. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.