Category Archives: Labor Unions

After Twelve Years: Where Is That Labor-Intellectual Alliance?

Source: Herman Benson, Benson’s Union Democracy Blog, January 18, 2008

The following piece first appeared in the current issue of New Politics.

Cheerleading is not enough. It’s time for those scholars, artists, and writers to take another look at what’s happening in our labor movement.

When John Sweeney defeated Lane Kirkland and Tom Donahue to take over as president of the AFL-CIO in 1995, he proposed to lead the federation out of its doldrums. What resounded with promise was his call for “a reborn movement of American workers, ready to fight for social and economic justice … a new progressive voice in American life …changing the direction of American politics …a vibrant social movement, a democratic movement that speaks for all American workers.”

In the Shadow of Antilabor Law: Organizing and Collective Bargaining 60 Years after Taft-Hartley

Source: Working USA, March 2008

The essays and commentary in this issue mark six decades since an overwhelming majority of Congressional Republicans and Democrats joined forces to vilify and castigate the specter of “big labor” haunting the postwar economy. In June of 1947, the U.S. had a new labor policy when both houses of Congress handily overrode Harry Truman’s presidential veto to pass the Taft-Hartley Act amending the national Labor Relations Act of 1935. Future amendments to federal labor law have not mitigated the fundamental antilabor impact of Taft-Hartley. Despite tumultuous shifts in the U.S. and world economy and the precipitous decline in private-sector union membership, Taft-Hartley’s amendments to the NLRA remain integral to the legal framework for twenty-first-century labor relations. This regime of antilabor law provides the thematic backdrop for the essays and commentary in this special issue of Working USA.

Articles include:
Labor Law Inside Out by Wilma Liebman
Preemption and Civic Democracy in the Battle Over Wal-Mart by Catherine Fisk and Michael Oswalt
More Democratic Than a Secret Ballot? The Case for Majority Sing-Up by Gordon Lafer
Labor’s New Opening to International Human Rights Standards by Lance Compa
The Employee Free Choice Act and a long-Term Strategy for Winning Workers’ Rights by James Pope, Peter Kellman and Ed Bruno

Unions and Upward Mobility for African-American Workers

Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research

Press release:
This paper examines the impact of unionization on the pay and benefits of African-American workers. The most recent data suggest that even after controlling for differences between union and non-union workers –including such factors as age and education level– unionization substantially improves the pay and benefits received by black workers.

On average, unionization raised black workers’ wages 12 percent -about $2.00 per hour- relative to black workers with similar characteristics who were not in unions.

The union impact on health-insurance and pension coverage was even larger. African-American workers who were in unions were 16 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 19 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan than similar non-union workers.

These union effects are large by any measure. To put these findings into perspective, between 1996 and 2000, a period of sustained, low unemployment that helped to produce the best wage growth for low-wage workers in the last three decades, the real wage of 10th percentile workers (who make more than 10 percent of workers, but less than 90 percent of workers), rose, in total, about 12 percent. The 12-percent union wage boost for black workers, therefore, was equal in magnitude to four years of historically rapid real wage growth.

Over the same boom period in the 1990s, employer-provided health and pension coverage among the bottom fifth of workers rose only about three percentage points for health insurance (up 3.2 percentage points) and pensions (up 2.7 percent) – only about one-fifth of the impact of unionization on health-insurance coverage and about one-sixth of the impact on pension coverage for African Americans.

The benefits of unionization were even higher for black workers in typically low-wage occupations. Black workers in unions in otherwise low-wage occupations earned, on average, 14 percent more than their non-union counterparts. Unionized black workers in low-wage occupations were also 20 percentage points more likely than comparable non-union workers to have employer-provided health insurance, and 28 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan.

Full report (PDF; 174 KB)

New Report Highlights the Trouble with Smithfield

Source: Food & Water Watch

A new report by consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch arms consumers with the facts about a major player in the meat business, Smithfield Foods. The group’s new report, The Trouble With Smithfield: A Corporate Profile, details the damage the world’s largest pork producer has caused to the environment, animal welfare, public health, family farmers, and workers around the world.

The company’s opportunistic acquisitions and the failure of the federal government to enforce anti-trust laws have allowed Smithfield to dominate almost all aspects of pork production and processing.

The factory farms that the company owns or controls cram hundreds or thousands of pigs into long, warehouse-like barns. And all those hogs generate lots of waste. In 1997, the company received one of the largest Clean Water Act fines in history for failing to install adequate pollution control equipment.

In addition to environmental damage, Smithfield operations threaten the health of people living nearby who suffer from a wide range of ailments, including asthma, allergies, eye irritation, compromised immune function, depression and other disorders.

The Trouble With Smithfield: A Corporate Profile

Full Report (PDF; 1.2 MB)

Building Bridges Radio: Domestic Workers Uniting – Your Home, My Work

Source: Mimi Rosenberg and Ken Nash, WBAI’s Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report, March 7, 2008
(audio)

From the summary:
Domestic workers to tell their stories – of their pains, their pride and their efforts to organize. Women of color, from around the world work as domestic workers. Most are employed without a living wage, health care, and basic labor protections.

Unions & Cooperatives: Allies in the Struggle to Build Democratic Workplaces

Source: Lisabeth L. Ryder, Grassroots Economic Organizing, GEO 73/72 (I), February 26, 2008

As labor organizers, we struggle in the field every day to improve the lives of workers; we are in search of tools and alternatives for working people that will meet the needs of today’s casualized and insecure workforce, with shrinking or negligible benefits. It is in the spirit of innovative leadership that we propose that the labor movement use worker cooperatives, an alternative organizing strategy added to more traditional labor organizing methods, as a means of returning control of their lives to the American working people.

The work of unions is to create workplace democracy, and in the larger picture, economic democracy. Currently, we do this in the context of an adversarial relationship between employer and employee. A worker cooperative is an alternative that reaches outside of the limitations of this model, converting workplaces into democratically run institutions owned by the workers. Worker cooperatives are not a panacea for the woes of today’s labor movement. Yet worker cooperatives have a long history in the American workers’ struggle for economic democracy and hold potential for expanding the labor movement into unexpected workforces, as well as providing alternatives for better serving the workers we already represent.
Related:
Worker Coops Unite! Collaborative Double Issue with the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives
Source: Grassroots Economic Organizing, GEO 73/72 (I), 2008

Articles include:
Worker Cooperatives – A Powerful Force for Justice and Democracy
The People’s Grocery: Developing a Worker-Owned Community Grocery Store
Searching For the Next Cooperative Principle
A Strategy for Unions and Coops: Toward Building A Labor-Ownership Economy
Unions & Cooperatives: Allies in the Struggle to Build Democratic Workplaces
Our Eyes On the Prize: From a “Worker Co-op Movement” to a Transformative Social Movement
World Social Forum at a Crossroads: 5th International, Solidarity Economy, or Stand Pat?
Dreaming of America Beyond Capitalism? Gar Alperovitz
Autonomy and/Or Economic Development? David Ellerman and Helping People Help Themselves

Labor’s New Regional Strategy: The Rebirth of Central Labor Councils

Source: Amy Dean and David B. Reynolds, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17 no. 1, Spring 2008

The 2005 AFL-CIO/Change to Win debate was notable not simply for what was discussed, but also what was not. It focused on how to build one crucial element of worker power: workplace organizing and the collective bargaining strength that comes with it. Absent, however, was discussion of a second necessary dimention: regional power built in the community. Yet, historically in the United States, and around the world, geographic power has been necessary to increase workplace power.

Neutrality Agreements: Innovative, Controversial, and Labor’s Hope for the Future

Source: Richard W. Hurd, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17 no. 1, Spring 2008

Over the past ten years there has been a notable shift in union organizing strategies. Once the exception, organizing conducted under the umbrella of negotiated neutrality agreements has become the preferred method in the drive to reverse decline and build union density.

The Union Authorization Card Majority Debate

Source: Henry H. Drummonds, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 58 no. 4, Winter, 2007

This article sketches developments in the card majority debate and several related issues reflected in developing case law concerning the use of “salts,” “neutrality” agreements, and accretion clauses in union attempts to expand representation rights. It also briefly mentions other significant recent decisions that make it more difficult for unions to win, and keep, representation rights. … A major public policy issue faces the Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state labor boards. How is the ideal of employee free choice best actualized? The law is changing. From the union side one sees legislative attempts to win card majority recognition/certification rights and to avoid elections in which employers are free to campaign against unionization at all costs. And from the perspective of the NLRB’s General Counsel and the NLRB’s current majority, concerns for employee free choice create persistent questioning of long-assumed principles of card check recognition. For the private sector unions, especially, this issue may decide their ultimate fate as the percentage of represented employees shrinks toward the vanishing point.

Union Membership Rises, but Quality of Jobs Has Changed

Source: Jeremy Smerd, Workforce Management, February 7, 2008

The proportion of union workers is up for the first time in decades, but jobs are more likely to be low-wage.

Union membership as a part of the overall workforce in the United States grew last year for the first time in a quarter-century, according to analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The news, published January 25, came a day after the Ford Motor Co. announced it would further reduce the number of hourly workers by 11,000 on top of the 44,000 jobs the auto-maker has shed since 2006.

It represents part of the seismic shift in the makeup of America’s unionized workforce. Today, a union worker is more likely to be a low-skilled, low-paid service worker than a skilled, well-paid manufacturing employee.

“The future of the unions is the $8-an-hour home health care worker,” says David Gregory, professor of law at St. John’s University. The unions may have regained membership with lower-wage service workers, but they cannot regain the dues lost along with higher-paid jobs, Gregory says.