Category Archives: Labor Unions

Union Members – 2016

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release, USDL-17-0107, January 26, 2017

The union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–was 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percentage point from 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.6 million in 2016, declined by 240,000 from 2015. 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.

The data on union membership are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 eligible households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and over. For more information, see the Technical Note in this news release. ….

…. In 2016, 7.1 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.4 million workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public-sector workers (34.4 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private-sector workers (6.4 percent). Within the public sector, the union membership rate was highest for local government (40.3 percent), which includes employees in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. In the private sector, industries with high unionization rates included utilities (21.5 percent), transportation and warehousing (18.4 percent), telecommunications (14.6 percent), construction (13.9 percent), and educational services (12.3 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.2 percent), agriculture and related industries (1.3 percent), food services and drinking places (1.6 percent), and professional and technical services (1.6 percent). (See table 3.)….

Right-to-work laws

Source: Ballotpedia, 2017

Right-to-work laws are pieces of legislation that guarantee that no employee can be forced to join, or not join, a union, or be forced to pay dues to a labor union as a condition of employment. Right-to-work laws also prohibit labor unions and employers from entering into contracts that only employ unionized workers for the jobs under the contract. ….

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Where to Find Better Candidates? Oregon Unions Are Growing Their Own

Source: Sara Ryan, Labor Notes, January 13, 2017

…..A coalition of public- and private-sector unions created the Oregon Labor Candidate School in 2012. It’s an independent nonprofit, with a board of staffers and officers from unions representing nurses, firefighters, teachers, school bus drivers, electricians and other building trades, public employees, direct care providers, and professors.

Our goal is to build a bench of candidates who will stand up and fight. We want leaders throughout Oregon who will push forward policies like a $15 minimum wage, paid time off for maternity and elder care, paid sick days, strong labor agreements with developers, health care available to everyone, and so much more.

Plus, when union contracts come up for negotiation, it’s essential to have members on local city councils and school boards who can speak up for workers. Having a firefighter on a school board and a teacher on a fire board benefits all public-sector employees……

New index of economic marginalisation helps explain Trump, Brexit and alt.right

Source: Andrew Cumbers, The Conversation, January 12, 2017

….Much has been said about the crisis of liberal political democracy, but these trends look inextricably linked with what is sometimes referred to as economic democracy. This is about how well dispersed economic decision-making power is and how much control and financial security people have over their lives. I’ve been involved in a project to look at how this compares between different countries. The results say much about the point we have reached, and where we might be heading in future.

Our economic democracy index looked at 32 countries in the OECD (omitting Turkey and Mexico, which had too much missing data). While economic democracy tends to focus on levels of trade union influence and the extent of cooperative ownership in a country, we wanted to take in other relevant factors.

We added three additional indicators: “workplace and employment rights”; “distribution of economic decision-making powers”, including everything from the strength of the financial sector to the extent to which tax powers are centralised; and “transparency and democratic engagement in macroeconomic decision-making”, which takes in corruption, accountability, central bank transparency and different social partners’ involvement in shaping policy…..

….The index provides strong evidence that xenophobic politics may be linked to changing levels of economic participation and empowerment – notwithstanding the French data. We found that the greater the poverty and inequality in a country, the lower the rates of economic democracy.

These findings suggest, for example, that the Anglo-American-led attack on trade unions and flexible labour policies may actually drive up poverty and inequality by cutting welfare benefits and driving up individual employment insecurity. While the OECD itself advocated these policies until recently, countries with high levels of economic democracy such as Norway, Denmark and Iceland have much lower levels of poverty than countries such as the US and UK…..
Related:
Democratising the economy: Transforming Public Policy Through Economic Democracy

Don’t Curse, Organize

Source: Michael Kazin, Dissent, Winter 2017

A cruel irony lurks beneath the debacle of the 2016 election: Donald Trump may have won the roughly 80,000 voters he needed in the Rust Belt at least in part because he vowed to fix a massive problem of twenty-first-century capitalism that the left had propelled into national prominence: economic inequality. The insurgents of Occupy, the fighters for $15, and Bernie Sanders and his young apostles had all drawn the media’s attention to the nagging wage gap, bad trade deals, and lousy, non-union jobs. Barack Obama won reelection in 2012 partly because he stoked this discontent when he ran against a businessman who wrote off nearly half the population of his own country. But last fall, it was Trump, not the uninspiring Democratic nominee, who made an effective, albeit classically demagogic, appeal to white working people to change a system “rigged” against them. “He stoked his base’s fears,” observed Gary Younge in the Guardian; “she failed to give her base hope.”

So how should radicals and liberals resist and help defeat an administration hostile to every principle and policy that makes a decent society possible? Several contributors to this issue offer sharp, sensible views about those burning questions. …. Leftists, in and out of social movements, should instead seize the opportunity that Hillary Clinton’s defeat has given them—by transforming the Democratic Party from inside.

Articles include:
The Fight Ahead:

Tomorrow’s Fight
Jedediah Purdy
Trump has put us where he put his followers all year: frightened, in a besieged place, a country we do not feel we recognize, in need of a champion. Now we all have to be one another’s champions.

Left Foot Forward
Sarah Leonard
….Now that our enemies are in power, what comes next? For starters, if the Democrats stand a chance in the near future, Republicans have conveniently demonstrated for them what they did not believe coming from the left: economic populism works….

The Next Democratic Party
Timothy Shenk
Parties recover from defeat in two ways. They can try to beat the opposition at their own game, or they can try to change the rules of the game. Donald Trump did the latter. Now it’s the Democrats’ turn.

A Call for Sanctuary
Mae Ngai
The American public does not support mass removal of immigrants. And by turning cities and campuses into sanctuaries against raids and deportations, we have the power to stop it.

Prepare For Regime Change, Not Policy Change
N. Turkuler Isiksel
Lessons from the autocrats’ toolkit. …. Confidence in the exceptional resilience of American democracy is particularly misplaced in the face of today’s illiberal populist movements, whose leaders are constantly learning from each other. Trump has a wide variety of tried and tested techniques on which to draw; already, he has vowed to take pages out of Putin’s playbook. Defenders of liberal democracy, too, must learn from each other’s victories and defeats. Below are some hard-earned lessons from countries that have been overrun by the contemporary wave of illiberal democracy. They could be essential for preserving the American republic in the dark years to come…..

A Devil We Know
Robert Greene
Frightening as it is, Trumpism has many precedents in U.S. history—and the social movements of the last century, from the Southern Tenant Farmers Union to ACT UP, offer important lessons for how to fight it.

Texas’s New Ground Game
Michelle Chen
….The Texas Organizing Project (TOP), a gritty grassroots network linking three rapidly browning cities—San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston—has fought and won enough local battles to demonstrate the value of seeding incremental progressive wins on the neighborhood level in order to build a grassroots people’s movement. And they know better than to take anything about Texas for granted. For TOP’s communications director Mary Moreno, giving people a reason to believe voting still makes a difference in a politically predictable state starts with talking about them, not their vote…..

The Future of Work:

Introduction: No Retreat
Sarah Jaffe and Natasha Lewis
….When we sat down to consider the future of work, then, we decided to set aside the debate over whether, how many, and how fast the robots are coming and concentrate on these questions of politics, of power. Which workers have it, and how do they wield it? Whose work is valued, and how much? Who is a member of the working class these days, and how is that likely to change?

And we decided to think big. Though it might be hard to imagine a more dire political reality than the one we currently face, the shock of the recent election shows there is space for new political ideas. The authors in the following pages set out provocations and strategies to win the future we want, and warn of the futures we might get if we lose these fights…..

Thank God It’s Monday
Kate Aronoff
….Reverence for hard work is not simply a decorative gimmick, but core to the WeWork philosophy. The imperative to hustle reflects the way the founders see (and wish to shape) the future of work. Meanwhile, WeWork’s popularity is driven—in part—by the increasing atomization of labor, across income brackets. By offering workers an alternative to days spent alone behind a computer, Neumann and McKelvey discovered they could turn a profit by exploiting one of the defining features of work’s so-called future: isolation….

A Strike Against the New Jim Crow
Janaé Bonsu
(subscription required)
….Last September, inmates around the nation boldly resisted as exploited workers have often done in the past. They staged the largest prison strike in U.S. history. It was organized by the Free Alabama Movement, a group of prisoners and allies, and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a segment of the Industrial Workers of the World…..

Love’s Labor Earned
J.C. Pan
(subscription required)
….To most women today who find themselves exhausted by unwaged, unappreciated emotion work, receiving payment for it probably seems like a pretty delightful idea. Why continue to coddle and counsel men without getting something in return? Why work as therapists without charging therapist rates?….

Learning from the Rank and File: An Interview with Barbara Madeloni
Sarah Jaffe and Barbara Madeloni
On November 8, as the electoral map turned redder and redder, Massachusetts and the surrounding northeastern states began to look like a little blue island. Reliably Democratic in presidential elections even after a Republican took the governor’s office in the state two years ago, Massachusetts was still the site of significant election-night drama, as an initiative that would have drastically expanded the reach of charter schools was on the ballot—and went down, sixty-two to thirty-eight. Barbara Madeloni is the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and helped build the No on Two coalition that defeated the initiative. She spoke with Dissent about the lessons from that fight for the future of the labor movement as it prepares for the attacks that will likely come from a Trump administration.

An Economist’s Case for Open Borders
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian
…..Last April, an economist named Branko Milanovic published a proposal to reduce global economic inequality in the Financial Times. The best way to help the world’s poor, he wrote, is to encourage movement of labor and get countries to open up their borders. But of course, that’s easier said than done: many citizens of rich host countries balk at the idea of increased migration. When they imagine foreigners settling down within their borders, they fear that their jobs, their benefits, and their idea of national (and, let’s face it, ethnic) unity will be threatened. The campaigning around the British initiative to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election will endure as the consequences of this talk in action. Milanovic’s suggestion is as follows: what if we make some concessions to these concerns and fears, and formally reduce the rights and benefits foreigners are entitled to, so long as they are welcome to come, work, and get a shot at improving their economic situation, at least for a limited time?….

Bargaining with Silicon Valley
Rebecca Burns
(subscription required)
…..At this rate, it’s unlikely that all of us will be working on online platforms anytime soon. But the defining feature of the gig economy isn’t really that workers accept jobs through an app on their phone: it’s that they work with no benefits, no job security, and no unions. And it’s this model of the future, in which workers are fully fungible, that is being embraced not only by tech acolytes, but also by traditional employers and the broader right. Under the guise of inevitability, a host of tech, business, and anti-union groups appear eager to use the gig economy as a Trojan horse for changes that affect far more workers: privatizing what remains of the social safety net, “modernizing” (read: gutting) key labor laws, and further hobbling unions…..

A Left Vision for Trade
Erik Loomis
(subscription required)
….Both Trump and Clinton explained their objection to the TPP in terms of the very real threat it posed to American jobs. But globalization is not going away, with or without the TPP. So how can we make it fairer?….

Turning an Issue into a Campaign: How Minnesota Public Employees Stood Up for Paid Parental Leave

Source: Joan Treichel, Steph Meyer, and Johanna Schussler, Labor Notes, January 3, 2017

Many unions agonize over how to get young workers involved. At the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), we did it with a fight over an issue that mattered to younger members—paid parental leave…. It started with just a few of us who got angry about the problem, and grew into a two-year campaign that energized our union by attracting new members, boosting meeting participation, and developing new leaders. And when we won the right to six weeks of paid parental leave for both parents for the birth or adoption of a child, a new generation felt the power of the union. Our victory benefits not only MAPE’s 14,000 members but all 32,000 union-represented executive-branch employees, including members of AFSCME, Nurses United, and the teachers unions…..

What Made Paid Parental Leave a Good Organizing Issue?
Organizers are always on the lookout for problems that can be solved through collective activity. Use these four criteria to evaluate a possible organizing issue:
– Is it widely felt? Many people must feel that this is a real problem and agree with the solution you’re pursuing. It became clear that paid parental leave was a hot issue among MAPE members when an initial meeting attracted 75 people.
– Is it deeply felt? It’s not enough that many people agree if none feels strongly enough to do anything about it. Paid parental leave hit home, touching on the value of family. Enough members were ready to back up their feelings with action to form a Solidarity Team.
– Is it winnable? It’s hard to know for sure whether you will win, but it’s possible to get a good idea of whether you can. Identify the decision-maker who can give you what you want. How hard do you expect this person to resist, and how much pressure can your group muster? MAPE had evidence that workers elsewhere had won similar benefits—and a decision-maker, the governor, who seemed moveable.
– Does it build the union and build leaders? MAPE had a goal to involve more of its newer members—and this issue mattered especially to them. Through this campaign, many newer members participated in union activities for the first time or took on new roles of leadership. ….

The Declining Fortunes of American Workers: Six Dimensions and an Agenda for Reform

Source: Stephen F. Befort, University of Minnesota Law School, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-28, September 27, 2016

From the abstract:
At the turn of the century, I undertook an assessment of the then current state of workplace rights and obligations. I concluded that the balance of power between employers and workers was “badly skewed” in favor of employers. This article revisits that topic for the purpose of assessing twenty-first century trends through the lens of six workplace dimensions. They are: workforce attachment, union-management relations, employment security, income inequality, balancing work and family, and retirement security. An examination of these dimensions reveal that the status of U.S. workers has significantly declined during the first sixteen years of the twenty-first century. This article then sets out a proposed agenda for reform designed to recalibrate the current imbalance in the respective fortunes of employees and employers.

Workplace Information Forcing: Constitutionality and Effectiveness

Source: Charlotte Alexander, American Business Law Journal, Vol. 53, 2016

From the abstract:
“Know-your-rights” posters are ubiquitous in the American workplace, as employers are required by statute or regulation to display numerous notices about workers’ rights on the job. These posters were relatively uncontroversial until a recent set of lawsuits by employer groups attempted, on statutory and constitutional grounds, to block rules that would require notices about workers’ rights to form a union and bargain collectively. The lawsuits have produced mixed results in the courts. Using these recent cases, as well as the few prior cases that challenged other notice posting rules, this article addresses the constitutionality of workplace notice posting requirements. It then examines the effectiveness of notice posting rules, considering how such rules might best be structured to accomplish their first-order goals of informing workers about their rights and their second-order goals of spurring enforcement action to improve the conditions of work.