Category Archives: Labor Unions

Educating for Change: How Labor Education Centers and AFL-CIO Bodies Can Grow and Transform Together

Source: David Reynolds, Barbara Byrd, Jeff Grabelsky, Paul Iversen, Jason Kozlowski, Sarah Laslett, Katherine Sciacchitano, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017

From the abstract:
In order to survive and prosper today, both labor councils and labor education centers need to rethink their mission, goals, and strategies. In this report, we examine how partnerships between these two types of organizations have fostered creative transformation for both. We examine the innovative relationships between labor education programs and their respective labor councils and state federations in five states (Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Iowa, and West Virginia). These cases include those with long-standing strong relationships and those that have been recently rebuilt or rethought. In several cases, the labor education centers owe their very existence to the work of state labor leaders to who helped found them and, more recently, to maintain and expand their resources. In addition, we document the role played by the UCLA labor education program in revitalizing the Orange County AFL-CIO, as well as two key partnership programs of Cornell and the AFL-CIO in New York: the Union Leadership Institute and the New York City Capacity Building Initiative.

Accidental Revitalization? Looking at the Complex Realities of Union Renewal

Source: Jason Foster, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article outlines a union renewal case study with unexpected circumstances. It examines a local that underwent significant renewal in a context where renewal would normally not be expected. It did so by significantly altering its practices while retaining a stable leadership and highly centralized structure. This unexpected renewal is explained through the application of a referential unionisms framework. The article coins the term accidental revitalization to describe the case, arguing the intentionality for reform lies not in design, policy, or upheaval, but instead in an extension of logics constructed through narrative resources mobilization.

How to Jump-Start a Weak Union to Fight Open-Shop Attacks

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Labor Notes, January 2, 2018

Hostile forces are poised to encourage public sector workers to ditch their unions as soon as the Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case in 2018. To stave off a big exodus, many unions are asking workers to commit to keep paying dues. If you’re active in your union, leaders may even be asking you to “sell” membership to your co-workers.

But what if you’re caught in a union that hasn’t been doing a good enough job? What if your union doesn’t communicate much with members, or is mostly invisible, or only reaches out to you when there’s a crisis, or doesn’t fight hard for good contracts, or is too cozy with the boss?

Tragically, there are many union locals like this. If the leadership of your union isn’t open, inclusive, and fighting on behalf of your co-workers, this could present a kind of crisis for you. Perhaps when some representative comes around asking you to recommit to the union, you and your co-workers are saying, “Really? Why should we?” You might even be tempted to stop paying dues yourself, as a form of protest.

This is a tough moment, but one also filled with great possibility. If you know that workers are better off with a union, then of course you have to fight to keep the union no matter what. If you’re asked to sign a “Recommitment Card” it makes sense to do that; your frustrations are with the way the union is run, not with being a member, and the only way to change things is to keep organizing.

So let’s consider what you can do to improve the union you’re in, while helping to keep it alive during the “post-Janus” era. …..

Escalating Moral Obligation in the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011

Source: Matthew Kearney, Social Forces, Advance Access, December 28, 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This study uses insider ethnographic and interview data to examine one of the largest sustained collective actions in the history of the United States—the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011. It finds that this event took a highly unusual form due to a social relation that I term escalating moral obligation, a sense of solidaristic duty that grows increasingly fervent as others struggle on behalf of a shared cause. Each of three active groups within the movement engaged in arduous and unconventional resistance to controversial legislation, and did so in a manner that induced moral debt among the other groups. Fervency of commitment to the cause increased as a result of allies taking risky or self-sacrificial actions. Each group felt obligated to continue difficult mobilization as long as others continued theirs. Escalating moral obligation develops a simultaneously emergent, endogenous, and cognitive dimension of social movements. It is a relational mechanism linking political opportunity with actual mobilization. The political opportunity in this case was a combination of several conditions: an elite cleavage over the desirability of public unions, a more local balance of power allowing dissident legislators to obstruct but not defeat legislation, and an immediate severe popular reaction. This mechanism is potentially generalizable to other risky or arduous protests. When activists are motivated by the sacrifice or risk-taking of allied activists, escalating moral obligation is present. The concept links group-level imperatives with individual-level motivations. Escalating moral obligation shows one way that individual subjectivities can change through group interrelations and emotionally intense interactions.

Can Unions Stop the Far Right?

Source: Vauhini Vara, The Atlantic, December 2017

If it weren’t for working-class voters, Germany’s recent election could have had a different outcome. …. Can the United States learn from Germany’s example? The German system is a product of the country’s culture and history as well as its economic structure, and it may not be possible to replicate in the United States. In fact, some evidence suggests that Germany is moving in America’s direction, not the other way around. In recent decades, the German government has cut back on social benefits that were seen as hampering growth and keeping able-bodied people from working, and unions agreed to slow down wage increases in order to minimize layoffs. Unemployment fell, but inequality rose—a fact that, in the postelection analysis, was cited as one reason for the AfD’s surprising showing. ….

Everything Passes, Everything Changes: Unionization and Collective Bargaining in Higher Education

Source: William A. Herbert, Jacob Apkarian, Perspectives on Work, 2017

From the abstract:
This article begins with a brief history of unionization and collective bargaining in higher education. It then presents data concerning the recent growth in newly certified collective bargaining representatives at private and public-sector institutions of higher education, particularly among non-tenure track faculty. The data is analyzed in the context of legal decisions concerning employee status and unit composition under applicable federal and state laws. Lastly, the article presents data concerning strike activities on campuses between January 2013 and May 31, 2017.

This Florida Stealth Offensive Against Unions Could Preview GOP Onslaught in 2018

Source: Michael Arria, In These Times, December 22, 2017

Florida Republicans are pushing a bill designed to deal the state’s unions a death blow. House Bill 25, which was introduced by Longwood state Rep. Scott Plakon, would decertify any union in which 50 percent of the workers don’t pay dues, thus preventing them from being able to collectively bargain. Despite the fact that unions negotiate for the benefit of all their workers, no employee is forced to pay dues in Florida, because it’s a “Right to Work” state. ….

Want to stop sexual abuse in the workplace? Unionize.

Source: Jeff Spross, The Week, November 27, 2017

….Harassment occurs at all levels of the economy precisely because it’s bound up with economic hierarchy. Women (and sometimes men) are targeted because they’re dependent on someone else — be it a boss or customer — for an income, a job, a promotion, a career path, etc. Women in low-wage work also often face retaliation for trying to fight back: not merely the loss of a career, but the loss of a viable income of any form.

We need to confront the workplace hierarchy directly. That means unions and labor organizing. It means demands for more democratic workplaces, and established institutions and practices for dealing with sexual harassment. Many companies already have human resource departments, and labor movements can and should force the creation of more. But even these can wind up focusing more on the business’ bottom line than the interests of owners. All of these demands must be backed by workers’ ability to threaten protests, work stoppages, and strikes…..

Reconciling Agency Fee Doctrine, the First Amendment, and the Modern Public Sector Union

Source: Courtlyn G. Roser-Jones, University of Wisconsin, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1423, Last revised: September 14, 2017

From the abstract:
Few institutions have done more to improve working conditions for the middle class than labor unions. Their efforts, of course, cost money. To fund union activities, thousands of collective bargaining agreements across the nation have long included provisions permitting employers to require employees to pay “fair share,” or “agency” fees. In public unions “when the employer is the government” this arrangement creates tension between two important values: the First Amendment’s protection against compelled expression, and the collective benefits of worker representation. When confronted with this tension nearly forty years ago in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court struck an uneasy compromise, allowing public sector unions to recoup expenses for collective bargaining, but not for political activity. For decades, the decision has been a lightning rod, with some scholars calling for its reversal and others insisting on its preservation. In the meantime, the realities of modern public sector collective bargaining have changed, and First Amendment jurisprudence has evolved. The Supreme Court has recently signaled an interest in revisiting the issue, and test cases are making their way through the circuit courts. The time has come to reconsider Abood’s fragile compromise. This Article offers a new way forward within the First Amendment, one that honors the importance of both union activity and free expression. It proposes a way to reconcile these twin interests while also updating the doctrine to account for state legislative efforts, modern union realities, and First Amendment jurisprudential developments. Specifically, the Article argues that agency fees should be brought into step with current political contribution and campaign finance jurisprudence. Under this approach, some agency fees “but only those that are “closely drawn” to avoid unnecessary expressive infringement” will remain lawful. This approach, a middle ground, may not satisfy those who ardently oppose agency fees of any kind, or those who want Abood’s rule fully upheld. Still, it emerges as the best way forward through a difficult terrain: It avoids the false dichotomy between union and political activities, respects state legislatures that craft innovative collective bargaining statutes, and grounds public sector agency fees with other coherent aspects of First Amendment jurisprudence.

Is it Time for a New Free Speech Fight? Thoughts on Whether the First Amendment is a Friend or Foe of Labor

Source: Catherine Fisk, University of California, Berkeley – UC Irvine School of Law, Research Paper No. 2017-27, May 30, 2017

From the abstract:
The First Amendment, at least in the Supreme Court, hasn’t been much of a friend to labor unions. Among the few First Amendment rights that the Supreme Court has expanded in the labor union context recently is the right of union represented employee to refuse to pay fees to the union that represents them. Notwithstanding reasons to believe the contemporary First Amendment is more likely to be foe than friend of labor, history suggests the contrary. This essay explains why, making three arguments. First, social movements exist only where and when there is a robust commitment to free speech, and workers have real power only when labor has the capacity to be a social movement. Second, labor gained power as a social movement by engaging in protest and it started down the path to losing power when, in a series of cases decided between 1941 and 1960, the Supreme Court largely eliminated constitutional rights to picket and boycott. In the early 1960s, just when the Court finished creating the labor protest exception to the free speech clause, it extended First Amendment protection to civil rights and antiwar protest. Just as civil rights protesters drew on the sit down strike pioneered by labor in the 1930s, the Supreme Court found a First Amendment right to engage in civil rights protest by drawing on the cases that labor unions had won in 1939 and 1940. Third, the literature on the role of lawyers for social movements between the 1930s and now suggests the importance of law to how lawyers advise their clients. The only hope for the future of the labor movement is in cultivating a spirit of protest. Without the right to engage in robust protest, labor lawyers are in a difficult place when they advise their clients, and can do little to create the legal space to enable workers and social justice activists to launch a new round of free speech fights of the sort that brought the labor movement into power in the 1930s.