Category Archives: Labor Unions

Will Labor Law Prompt Conservative Justices to Adopt a Radical Theory of State Action?

Source: Joseph E. Slater, Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 1, 2017

From the abstract:
With the Supreme Court poised to rule that the First Amendment bars all union-security clauses in public-sector collective bargaining agreements, this article addresses the strong implication in the Harris v. Quinn (2014) that such a rule could be extended to the private sector. Remarkably, the five conservative justices in the majority in Harris, seemed open to the idea that a contract clause two private parties voluntarily agreed to governing terms of employment implicated state action sufficient to trigger constitutional rights. A union security clause provides that employees in a union bargaining unit must pay at least some portion of dues to the union that represents them. Prior to Harris, one old Supreme Court case had found state action in such clauses and another old case had used the doctrine of constitutional avoidance in interpreting the relevant statute. More recent cases on the topic, however, have ignored constitutional issues. Thus, Harris revived an outdated and extraordinarily broad theory of state action.

This article argues that the suggestion that private-sector union security clauses implicate the Constitution involves unconvincing and incoherent understandings of “state action” that the Court should explicitly reject. Such clauses are negotiated between two private entities. Relevant labor law statutes permit (and limit) but do not require them, nor do labor statutes reward parties for adopting them. Such clauses would be entirely legal in the absence of statutory authorization, and indeed, they existed prior to these statutes. Harris entertained a theory that would go beyond the Court’s broadest reading of state action, in Shelley v. Kraemer. Notably, while liberals pushed for this broad approach decades ago in an attempt to fight race discrimination by private parties before the era of anti-discrimination statutes, conservatives pushed for an analogous broad approach to state action specifically to attack unions. But in more recent decades, courts have hewed to a narrower view of state action. No current theory of state action could be stretched to include private-sector union security clauses.

This article examines all the proposed justifications for the position that private-sector union security agreements could constitute state action. It describes the development of state action theories in general. It analyzes specific arguments based on old labor cases, arguments “right to work” advocates have made, and analogies to the Keller case on mandatory bar fees. It concludes that there is no plausible argument that private-sector union security clauses involve state action. It then argues that adopting the suggestions in Harris would have radical and undesirable consequences in labor law generally and beyond. It concludes that courts should reject the suggestion that private-sector union security clauses implicate the First Amendment, and it describes a theory of state action consistent with this result and existing precedent.

Worker Centers and the Moral Economy: Disrupting Through Brokerage, Prestige, and Moral Framing

Source: César F. Rosado Marzán, University of Chicago Legal Forum, Forthcoming, Last revised: December 16, 2017

From the abstract:
Social scientists have shown that labor unions helped to maintain economic inequality in check in the United States from about the 1950s until about the 1970s by, inter alia, using their once formidable resources to maintain a moral economy for labor. A moral economy is a package of social and legal norms that elicit moral condemnation when violated. With private sector union density rates at about 6% today, labor’s moral economy is now in the past; inequality has increased in the U.S. However, worker centers, one of the central “alt-labor” organizations filling the gap left by receding labor unions, are growing. Can worker centers help to rebuild labor’s moral economy and restrain economic inequality? This article reports evidence collected by the author through participant observation in a Chicago worker center, Arise Chicago, to answer whether or not, and how, worker centers can contribute to a new, labor moral economy. It argues that despite worker centers’ scant money and human capital, their social and symbolic capital, and their capacity to frame issues morally could enable them to contribute significantly to a new, labor moral economy.

Debt as Threat: Evidence from Union-Sponsored Shareholder Proposals

Source: Alberta Di Giuli, Arthur Petit-Romec, Last revised: December 22, 2017

From the abstract:
This paper uses data on shareholder proposals to study how leverage affects the interaction between firms and labor unions. We find a negative association between financial leverage and shareholder proposals sponsored by unions. Our results are consistent with the idea that capital structure affects labor unions’ behavior and suggest that debt deters labor unions from engaging in negotiation tactics. Additional tests indicate that the negative association between debt and union proposals is driven by governance proposals and more pronounced in firms in poorer financial condition. Our results also suggest that union proposals in firms with low level of debt are value destroying.

Law, Organizing, and Status Quo Vulnerability

Source: Benjamin I. Sachs, Texas Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 2, 2017

From the abstract:
In an era of deep economic and political inequality, academics and policymakers are paying renewed attention to the decline of unions and asking how the labor movement might be revived. For legal scholars, the question is how law can facilitate unionization among workers who desire it. This essay aims to expand our understanding how labor law enables union organizing, and, by doing so, to provide insight into both labor law reform and the relationship between law and organizing more broadly. Drawing on social movement theory, the essay shows how law can facilitate organizing by rendering the status quo vulnerable to challenge. In the labor law context, this means that law works to enable unionization by demonstrating to workers that management – and the non-union system of workplace relations it supports – is susceptible to challenge and change. The essay reinterprets a range of labor law rights and remedies through this theory. Having done so, the essay then suggests a different set of reforms for those interested in combating inequality through unionization. It also suggests that law’s ability to demonstrate status quo vulnerability may explain the relationship between law and social movements across contexts.

Worker Voice in America: A Current Assessment and Exploration of Options

Source: Thomas Kochan, William Kimball, Duanyi Yang, and Erin L. Kelly, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute for Work and Employment Research, Working Draft 1/17/2018

This article reports the results of the first phase of a multi-method study of the state of worker voice in America and options available to workers for closing the gap between the amount of say or influence they expect to have on their job and their actual level of influence. The authors draw on a nationally representative survey of workers that both updates the Freeman and Rogers 1995 survey and one conducted by the Department of Labor in 1977 and goes beyond the scope of these previous efforts to assess worker interest in a wider array of workplace issues including workplace/personal issues, personnel/collective bargaining issues, and higher level organizational values and related issues. The array of voice options examined is also expanded to capture internal firm provided options such as supervisors, coworkers, ombuds systems, grievance procedures, joint committees along with union representation and the newer examples of worker advocacy such as online petitions, occupational associations, and protests. Results indicated that workers believe they ought to have a voice on this full set of workplace issues, there are substantial gaps between their expected and actual voice, a higher percentage of non-union workers want to join a union than was observed in the two prior national surveys, and there are significant variations in the preferences, rates of use, and satisfaction with different voice options. The results suggest that there is a sizable voice gap in American workplaces today but there is no “one sized shoe” (voice option) that fits all workers or all issues.

Here’s how workers would spend the corporate tax cut – if they had a voice
Source: Thomas Kochan, The Conversation, January 30, 2018

White-Collar Unionization is Good for Everybody

Source: Alex Press, The Nation, January 29, 2018

Some have argued that it creates a class divide in labor—they’ve got it backward. ….

In a recent Atlantic article, Alana Semuels asks: “Why have high-profile organizing campaigns succeeded for white-collar workers and failed for blue-collar workers?” Semuels presents new BLS data that demonstrates the growth of white-collar unions: union membership in professional and technical jobs grew by nearly 90,000 last year, and several white-collar occupations saw an uptick in union density, which grew from 4 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2017. Contrasting this with recent defeats of blue-collar unionization drives, Semuels argues that there is a growing “class divide” within organized labor. …..

…..But this is where Semuels’s argument reveals its flaw: white-collar workers aren’t organizing because they feel secure, but because they have more in common with precarious blue collar workers than ever…..

The State of the Unions 2017: A Profile of Unionization in Wisconsin and in America

Source: Jill Manzo, Monica Bielski Boris, Frank Manzo IV, Robert Bruno, Midwest Economic Policy Institute, September 4, 2017

From the summary:
A new study conducted by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, the School for Workers at the University of Wisconsin–Extension, and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, evaluates the impact that labor union membership has on a worker’s hourly wage in Wisconsin and in the United States. A key finding in the report, The State of the Unions 2017: A Profile of Unionization in Wisconsin and in the United States, indicates that unionization benefits low-income and middle-class workers most in Wisconsin, helping to foster a strong middle class and reduce income inequality.

Since 2007, unionization has declined in Wisconsin and in the United States. There are about 157,000 fewer union members in Wisconsin today than there were in 2007, accounting for 14.3 percent of the 1.1 million-member drop in union workers across the nation over that time. There are 155 fewer labor unions and 2,247 fewer individuals working for labor unions in Wisconsin today than there were in 2006. This is in part due to Wisconsin’s Governor Walker’s fight against collective bargaining….

As of 2016, the overall union membership rate is 8.1 percent in Wisconsin:
• Men are more likely to be unionized (10.5 percent) than women (5.7 percent);
• Veterans are among the most unionized socioeconomic groups in Wisconsin (8.4 percent);
• By educational attainment, the most unionized workers in Wisconsin hold Master’s degrees (15.2 percent) and associate’s degrees (10.9 percent);
• Public sector unionization (22.7 percent) is four times as high in Wisconsin as private sector unionization (5.5 percent)…..

The State of the Unions 2017: A Profile of Unionization in Minnesota and in America

Source: Jill Manzo, Monica Bielski Boris, Frank Manzo IV, Robert Bruno, Midwest Economic Policy Institute, September 4, 2017

From the summary:

The report finds that labor unions increase individual incomes by lifting hourly wages. On average, unions raise worker wages by 8.0 percent in the state. The wage effect, however, is even larger for low-income workers.

• The union wage premium is higher for the median income worker (10.7 percent) than the richest 10 percent of workers (7.2 percent).
• The union wage premium is particularly high for middle-class occupations, such as construction and extraction careers (30.6 percent), transportation and material moving jobs (25.2 percent), and service positions (12.3 percent).
• Unions help sustain a strong middle class and reduce income inequality.

Unions also help to close racial and gender income gaps in the state.

• Unions increase the wages of white workers by 7.4 percent but boost the hourly earnings of non-white workers by 13.9 percent.
• The personal benefit to being a union member is 7.7 percent for men and 8.7 percent for women.
• Unions are one of the most effective anti-poverty institutions in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, unionization has declined in Minnesota and in America since 2007.

• There are approximately 36,000 fewer union members in Minnesota today than there were in 2007.
• The decline in union membership has occurred in both the public sector and the private sector.
• The total number of labor unions and similar labor organizations declined from 324 to 314 worker establishments from 2006 to 2015.

As of 2016, the overall union membership rate is 14.2 percent in Minnesota:

• The number of union members has increased from 351,000 in 2012 to about 364,000 in 2016.
• Workers 45 to 54 years of age are the most unionized age cohort, with a union membership rate of 17.3 percent.
• Approximately 15.9 percent of workers who reside in the city center are unionized, 15.4 percent of workers who reside in rural areas are unionized, and 12.8 percent of workers who reside in the suburbs are unionized.
• By educational attainment, the most unionized workers in Minnesota hold Master’s degrees (29.9 percent) and associate’s degrees (17.3 percent).

Almost one half of all public sector workers are unionized in Minnesota. In comparison, just one-in-12 (8.3 percent) Minnesotans who work in the private sector are union members.

Job versus environment: an examination on the attitude of union members toward environmental spending

Source: Meng-jieu Chen, Environmental Economics and Policy Studies, Volume 19, Issue 4, October 2017

From the abstract:
There seems to be a widespread perception in the United States that labor union members are indifferent or even hostile to environmental protection efforts. Previous work on the nature of the relationship between labor unions and environmentalists, mostly drawn from case studies and interviews with union leaders, has not reached consistent conclusions. To provide a realistic examination of the relationship, we apply an empirical analysis to investigate attitudes of individual union members toward the stringency of environmental policies. Using the General Social Survey, we examine grass-root union members’ preferences for public environmental spending options. Contrary to prevailing perceptions of conflict, we find a positive association between union membership and the choosing to increase environmental spending. Further, investigating the environmental attitude of union members in heavily regulated industries, we do not find evidence to support the argument that these laborers tend to be unfavorable toward environment. Our results also suggest that the level of regulation an industry is facing does not appear to have a statistically significant effect on respondent’s choice of environmental spending.

Do Unions Increase Labor Shares? Evidence from US Industry-Level Data

Source: Andrew T. Young, Hernando Zuleta, Eastern Economic Journal, Online First, December 9, 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
We explore the relationship between union membership rates and labor shares using panel data on 35 industries, spanning the entire US economy, for the years 1983–2005. For the full sample, a standard deviation increase in union membership rates is associated with an increase in an industry’s labor share of about 10%. Starting from the mean labor share in our sample (0.614), this effect amounts to about 6 percentage points. However, the effect is weaker and not statistically significant for manufacturing industries. We control for the capital-to-output ratio in all of our estimations, and the results are consistent with an elasticity of substitution between capital and labor that is less than unity. As such, the positive union effect on labor share is consistent with either the right-to-manage or the efficiency bargaining model of unions.