Category Archives: Labor Unions

Anti-Democratic Attacks on Unions Hurt Working Americans

Source: David Madland, Alex Rowell, and Gordon Lafer, Center for American Progress, June 22, 2017

From the summary:
It is highly likely that unions will soon be under attack at the federal level. The exact nature of the attack is still in question, but based on recent state actions—including the passage of new right-to-work laws and attacks on public sector workers’ bargaining rights—and bills that have been introduced in both this and recent sessions of Congress, it is clear the attacks will come.

This issue brief delves into these recent threats to unions, specifically exploring a category of attacks on worker power that would make it harder for workers to organize by undermining the union formation process. Previous and forthcoming reports from CAP Action highlight other likely attacks on unions, such as so-called right-to-work and paycheck protection legislation…..

Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement

Source: Brantly Callaway, William J. Collins, National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper No. 23516, June 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
We study a novel dataset compiled from archival records, which includes information on men’s wages, union status, educational attainment, work history, and other background variables for several cities circa 1950. Such data are extremely rare for the early post-war period when U.S. unions were at their peak. After describing patterns of selection into unions, we measure the union wage premium using unconditional quantile methods. The wage premium was larger at the bottom of the income distribution than at the middle or higher, larger for African Americans than for whites, and larger for those with low levels of education. Counterfactuals are consistent with the view that unions substantially narrowed urban wage inequality at mid-century.

How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Letter Carriers Keep Numbers up with Shop Floor Action

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, June 28, 2017

Postal unions, like all federal employee unions, are open shop. That means workers can get the benefits of union representation while opting out of paying dues.

Yet the postal unions generally maintain high rates of voluntary union membership—and Letter Carriers Branch 82 in Portland, Oregon, does even better than most. From 90 percent membership five years ago, it has “slowly up-ticked,” says Organizing Chair Willie Groshell, to around 95 percent of the 1,200 represented carriers.

How did they raise that number so high? It’s mostly the work of volunteers like Groshell, who delivers the mail full-time. (Three top officers make up the branch’s full-time staff.)

Most new hires sign up right away at orientation, where the branch vice president spends up to two hours with them—the union has this right guaranteed in its contract—talking through the union’s history and what to expect. One perk is getting immediate access to the union’s uniform closet, since the Postal Service won’t provide a uniform allowance until your probation is up…..

The new American way—how changes in labour law are increasing inequality

Source: Mark Stelzner, Industrial Relations Journal, Early View, First published: 27 June 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
How have changes in labour law affected income inequality in the United States over the last half century? Curiously, even though employers have increased the degree to which they break labour law, workers have decreased their utilisation of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the strike. How do we understand the unwillingness of labour to utilise the NLRB and the strike when under increasing attack? To answer these interrelated questions, I analyse three central changes in federal labour law and norms from the middle of the 20th century to present: the usage of permanent replacement workers, adjudication of the main federal labour law—the National Labor Relations Act—and change in administration of the NLRB—the body charged with overseeing the National Labor Relations Act.

Osmotic Mobilization and Union Support during the Long Protest Wave, 1960–1995

Source: John-Paul Ferguson, Thomas Dudley, Sarah A. Soule, Administrative Science Quarterly, OnlineFirst, Published June 8, 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
To examine whether and how social movements that target private firms are influenced by larger protest cycles, we theorize about osmotic mobilization—social movement spillover that crosses the boundary of the firm—and how it should vary with the ideological overlap of the relevant actors and the opportunity structure that potential activists face inside the firm. We test our hypotheses by examining the relationship between levels of protest in U.S. cities around issues like Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and the women’s movement and subsequent support for labor-union organizing in those cities. Combining nationally representative data on more than 20,000 protest events from 1960 to 1995 with data on more than 150,000 union organizing drives held from 1965 to 1999, we find that greater levels of protest activity are associated with greater union support, that spillover accrued disproportionately to unions with more progressive track records on issues like Civil Rights, and that these effects were disproportionately large in the wake of mobilization around employment-related causes and shrank in the wake of conservative political reaction that limited room for maneuver among the external protesters, the labor movement, or both. Our research helps to specify the channels through which external pressures affect firm outcomes.

How to Orient New Members to the Union

Source: Heather Roe, Labor Notes, June 9, 2017

….At the hospital where I work as a nurse, union orientations for new hires are done on-site, something we have negotiated in our contract. I have found it works best in two simple steps: a group orientation, followed by a personal, one-on-one conversation.

An early orientation helps in a few ways:
– It makes sure everyone hears about the union right away.
– It gives us the chance to frame our own message to nurses, rather than letting the employer describe the union.
– It helps us keep track of who has signed up to become a member.

At our local, we are typically seeing these potential members within the first two weeks of their employment. In right-to-work setting, which we’ll face after our contract expires in 2018, these orientations are vital to our future.

I find that the single most important task is to meet people where they are. Everyone comes to the table with a different idea of what a union is and isn’t. Don’t just throw a member application at them. Take some time to listen to them and then build their understanding from a positive place…..

ITUC Global Rights Index 2017

Source: International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), June 2017

The number of countries experiencing physical violence and threats against workers has risen by 10 percent in just one year, according to the annual ITUC Global Rights Index. Attacks on union members have been documented in fifty-nine countries, fuelling growing anxiety about jobs and wages. ….

….The ITUC Global Rights Index 2017 ranks 139 countries against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected in law and in practice.

The report’s key findings include:
– Eighty-four countries exclude groups of workers from labour law.
– Over three quarters of countries deny some or all workers their right to strike.
– Over three quarters of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.
– Out of 139 countries surveyed, 50 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.
– The number of countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 10 per cent (from 52 to 59 countries) and include Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia and Ukraine.
– Unionists were murdered in 11 countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mauritania, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines and Venezuela…..

….UNITED STATES
No tripartite consultative body to address labour law and policy
The U.S. government does not maintain a formal tripartite consultative body to address labour law and policy. There are some opportunities for consultation, as with the Labour Advisory Committee within the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Some government agencies seek input from interested parties by conducting notice-and-comment rulemaking prior to formulating new regulations or policies. Unions may also file amicus curiae briefs in court and agency adjudications to provide their views on disputed matters that will affect labour law or policy.

Far from consulting with unions regarding labour law and policy, some states and U.S. politicians have taken deliberate steps to roll back workers’ collective bargaining rights.

Restrictions with respect to type of strike action
The National Labour Relations Act (NLRA) and judicial decisions interpreting the law prohibit workers from engaging in sitdown strikes, partial strikes and secondary boycotts, and impose other restrictions on organisational or recognitional strikes. Workers at certain health care institutions must provide 10 days’ advance notice before engaging in a strike or picketing, such as intermittent strikes, secondary boycotts and other forms of mutual aid and protection…..

Vigorous Campaign Revives Transit Union in Right-to-Work Virginia

Source: John Ertl, Labor Notes, May 31, 2017

Going into its latest contract, the transit union in Fairfax County, Virginia, was in tough shape. People weren’t active because they didn’t believe the union could do much—and the union couldn’t do much because people weren’t active.

Management never budged on the issues that stewards brought up. Grievances piled up, unresolved. And since Virginia is a “right-to-work” state, half the workers in the bargaining unit weren’t even members of Transit (ATU) Local 1764.

But after a robust union campaign, in a matter of months the Fairfax Connector went from a unit at risk of decertifying to a strong union shop…..

Until Death Dues Us Part?

Source: Jim DeWan, Rockefeller Institute of Government, June 1, 2017

One of the most immediate impacts of Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court may be on a case that could have a major impact on public employee unions right here in New York.

CASE OVERVIEW
This case, Janus v. AFSCME, deals with state laws that allow public employee unions to automatically withhold fees or dues from all represented employees’ paychecks, even those who are not members of the union. The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, is an employee of the state of Illinois. He is suing his union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), because he believes the Illinois state law allowing AFSCME to deduct monies from his paycheck violates his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. New York has a similar law on its books. Illinois and New York are two of 22 states that allow for arrangements under which all represented employees must make payments to a union as a condition of their employment, even if they affirmatively elect not to join the union….

How Bad Could it Get (Legally)?

Source: Benjamin Sachs, OnLabor blog, May 26, 2017

It’s a good moment to think creatively and expansively about how to revitalize the U.S. labor movement. This important work is underway, with contributions from academics, labor lawyers, union organizers, and others. Substantive debates about the future of labor law and labor organizing now populate the pages of publications ranging from the Yale Law Journal to Boston Review. Much of this writing evidences an appropriate degree of optimism – the pieces assume a future in which, for example, progressive law reform might be possible, or in which workers can regain power through increased use of strikes even in the absence of law reform, or in which fundamental aspects of U.S. political economy (and political ideology) might be transformed. This kind of optimism is necessary to visionary thinking, and it’s badly needed today.

But, I thought it might also be worth writing from the opposite perspective and asking how bad it might really/plausibly get over the next handful of years. Most of us know much of this already, so you might wonder what the point of such a morose exercise would be. The idea is not to wallow. To the contrary, the idea is that putting in one place the major pieces of what could go wrong (legally) over the next few years could help as we continue to imagine and build a better future for the labor movement. As Van Jones put it recently, “hope for the best but expect and prepare for the worst.”

Some caveats. One, and most important, what follows are not predictions, and I do not mean to suggest that these things are likely. Instead, these are thoughts about the kinds of negative developments that seem within the realm of the possible (even though, with respect to every one, I think the better arguments are on the other side). Two, given the limits of my expertise, I focus exclusively on how bad labor law could get, leaving to others the question of how bad things could get on other fronts. Three, I may be wrong in two directions: omitting other possible problems and including things that aren’t plausible. For that reason, we invite follow-on posts that offer either kind of corrective. Four, and finally, it might be worth saying that this exercise goes against my own nature, which, for better or worse, skews optimistic (as I’ve been critiqued for being).

All that said, here’s what seems within the realm of the plausible: ….