Category Archives: Labor Unions

Republicans Will Turn the NLRB into a Force for Union Busting. We Can Turn It Back.

Source: Shaun Richman, In These Times blog, May 17, 2017

….On the potential chopping block are the board’s expedited election rules, the organizing rights of graduate employees and workers at charter schools, the rights of subcontracted employees to join their coworkers in a union, the ability of unions to organize smaller units within a larger enterprise and the culpability of a parent company for a subsidiary’s illegal behavior.

As inevitable as this right turn is for our nation’s workers’ rights board, so, too, should be our planned counterattack…..

How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Conversations Are the Building Blocks for Milwaukee Teachers

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

For public-employee unions in Wisconsin, an open shop isn’t even the worst of it. The anti-union Act 10, which Governor Scott Walker forced through in 2011, mandated annual recertification votes and all but eliminated collective bargaining.

Some unions gave up on staying certified at all—but not the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. So far its 4,600 members include 69 percent of the district’s teachers and a narrow majority of educational assistants.

An organizing team of two staffers and six members on release time is working hard to raise those numbers, focusing on six schools per semester. Organizers tailor a plan based on the particular history and challenges at each school, but the universal building blocks are one-on-one conversations to find out members’ concerns, identify leaders, and ask people to join the union.

You have to learn to tolerate the discomfort of directly asking people to join, says Vice President Amy Mizialko. Especially in a district where school vouchers and private charter schools have already siphoned off a major share of the public schools’ budget, she tells co-workers that their students are counting on them: “The only way we can effect change for students and educators is being collectively organized.”….

How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Oil Refinery Workers Get People in Motion

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

he key is collective action, says Steelworkers Local 675 Secretary-Treasurer Dave Campbell. His union represents 4,000 workers in California and Nevada, many of them at oil refineries where workers get a window of opportunity to drop their membership each time the contract comes up for renegotiation. In each refinery of 300-600 workers, the union maintains around 90 percent membership.

That’s because members have the habit of acting for themselves as a union on the shop floor. Union leaders encourage members to bolster a grievance with workplace action. For instance, a supervisor had forbidden people to wear baseball caps, sunglasses, or Hawaiian shirts in the control room. Workers collected signatures on a petition and presented it to the other supervisor, who crumpled it up and threw it away.

“We organized all four crews to show up for work with Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, and ball caps,” Campbell says, “and the union bought the roast pig for a Hawaiian luau lunch. When the superintendent saw all the workers united, he of course asked what the hell was going on—and the supervisor who had caused all this was reassigned.”

Besides being fun and effective, these activities give workers the chance to learn by doing. “In essence they see what the union really is,” Campbell says. “The union is them, and it’s their concerted, collective activity on the shop floor which gives the union power.”….

How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Boston Postal Workers Use Grievances to Build the Union

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

Federal-employee unions are all open shop. Yet the Postal Workers (APWU) Boston Metro Area Local, representing 2,100 workers, hovers around 94 percent membership.

“I think the key is get to them as often as you can, early in their career,” says General President Scott Hoffman. At each new-hire orientation, a representative walks new hires through the benefits the union has won. A week later there’s another chance, at the training session for window clerks. “We ask who still hasn’t joined or had anybody talk to them,” Hoffman says. “Try to get as many bites at the apple as you can in the beginning.” ….

Dispatches from the Front Lines of Right to Work
The open shop is the rule for private sector workers in 28 “right-to-work” states, for public sector workers in 25 states, and for federal workers all over this country. That means workers covered by a union contract get to enjoy the benefits of representation without being members or paying dues.
But even in states and sectors where membership is legally optional, some unions have high percentages of workers signed up as members. How do they do it? This month we asked union leaders representing:
Oil refinery workers in Nevada
Postal workers in Boston
Teachers in Milwaukee
For a short exercise to help your union start preparing to survive an open shop click here. ….

Philadelphia Union Wins Equal Pay for Immigrant Nurses

Source: Samantha Winslow, Labor Notes, May 5, 2017

It started when a few nurses at Temple University Hospital told stewards that they weren’t being paid for their experience.

One of the first to speak up was Jessy Palathinkal, who had become a nurse in India in 1990. She got her U.S. nursing license when she moved here in 1995. But when she started working at Temple, her placement on the pay scale was as though those five years of nursing never happened.

She asked why. Human Resources told her the hospital didn’t count years of experience in foreign countries.

“I was feeling a little bit upset. I had all the certification,” Palathinkal said. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s not right, but what can I do?’”

What Palathinkal did was tell her shop steward. The steward told officers of their union, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP). And the officers started asking around to see whether anyone else was affected.

They put out a call in their monthly newsletter—did anyone else think that their pay was incorrect for their level of experience? Three more nurses had the same complaint.

Four nurses joined a class-action grievance. Management denied it. That’s when union officers decided this was a hospital-wide issue…..

How Black Lives Matter Came to Philadelphia’s Schools

Source: Tamara Anderson and Shira Cohen, Labor Notes, May 8, 2017

When teachers in Seattle planned a Black Lives Matter action in response to an incident of violent racism last October, our caucus of teachers in Philadelphia got inspired.

Seattle’s John Muir Elementary had received bomb threats after planning a motivational event where elementary students on their way into school would be greeted by hundreds of African American men. After the threats, the union’s representative assembly voted to support the event, and thousands of educators wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts to support their students of color.

The Caucus of Working Educators (WE) saw our chance to bring that spirit to Philadelphia. But we knew our action would have to go beyond the hashtag, pushing educators, parents, and students into an honest and difficult dialogue.

About 20 percent of Philadelphia teachers are African American. Our city is mired in poverty and income disparity. Union jobs are steadily decreasing, and the district is shuttering public schools in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods. So we wanted to do more than a day of solidarity…..

Union Meeting Exercise: The ‘Right to Work’ Stress Test

Source: Labor Notes, May 3, 2017

We know that so-called right to work is bad for workers, and we have to fight it. The silver lining is that the most effective way to prepare is to get organized on the job. It’s not easy, but it’s also not a distraction; it’s the core work of the union. The results will not only boost membership, but also get more members engaged and help us win on issues….

Claims of employment discrimination and worker voice

Source: Keith A. Bender, John S. Heywood, Michael P. Kidd, Industrial Relations Journal, Early View, First published: 26 April 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Using the U.S. National Study of the Changing Workforce survey, we show that claims of racial and gender discrimination emerge less frequently in workplaces with established worker voice mechanisms. This result accords with the hypothesis that participation enhances perceptions of workplace fairness. We show that while having a supervisor of the same race or gender is associated with reduced discrimination claims, the role of voice tends to be larger when the race or gender of the supervisor is different from that of the worker. This suggests that voice may be particularly important in heterogeneous workplaces.

Why Unions in the United States will Die: American Labor Organizations in the Age of Trump

Source: Raymond L. Hogler, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Volume 29 Issue 2, June 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This essay analyzes the effects of Donald Trump’s election as President on organized labor in the United States and, more specifically, on the demographic of workers responsible for his electoral college victory. The argument is that culture rather than economics explains Trump’s success in capturing key industrial states. His support depended on white middle-aged male voters without college degrees, the same cohort that makes up the backbone of unions in the United States. The likelihood is that Trump’s policies will further immiserate the American working class rather than reinvigorate it. In three key areas, Trump’s presidency will result in lower union membership density and higher inequality of wealth. The cultural orientation of Trump’s supporters outweighed politics, policy, and competence in selecting a national leader.

Workers Made Germany Into the World’s Best Economy

Source: Noah Smith, Bloomberg View, April 18, 2017

Let’s hope U.S. policy makers have woken up to the fact that the country is in a period of sclerosis, where its economic institutions seem to be inefficient along a variety of fronts. When things aren’t working, one good idea is to look around and see which countries are doing better. Right now, Japan is one such country. But in many ways, Germany looks like the most successful economy in the developed world….

….What is Germany doing right? The country has a very large state sector, generous welfare spending and a trade unionization rate almost twice that of the U.S. Though the country did undertake a few free-market reforms in the early 2000s, there has been no major wave of deregulatory mania. Nor did Germany escape the 2008 financial crisis or the Great Recession, both of which hit it hard. In fact, political and financial instability in the European Union probably was a drag on the country.

A new article by economists Christian Dustmann, Bernd Fitzenberger, Uta Schönberg and Alexandra Spitz-Oener proposes a theory for the German revival. Essentially, they say, it’s all about exports and unions…..
Related:
From Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar: Germany’s Resurgent Economy
Source: Christian Dustmann, Bernd Fitzenberger, Uta Schönberg, Alexandra Spitz-Oener, Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 28, no. 1, Winter 2014

From the abstract:
In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, Germany was often called “the sick man of Europe.” Indeed, Germany’s economic growth averaged only about 1.2 percent per year from 1998 to 2005, including a recession in 2003, and unemployment rates rose from 9.2 percent in 1998 to 11.1 percent in 2005. Today, after the Great Recession, Germany is described as an “economic superstar.” In contrast to most of its European neighbors and the United States, Germany experienced almost no increase in unemployment during the Great Recession, despite a sharp decline in GDP in 2008 and 2009. Germany’s exports reached an all-time record of $1.738 trillion in 2011, which is roughly equal to half of Germany’s GDP, or 7.7 percent of world exports. Even the euro crisis seems not to have been able to stop Germany’s strengthening economy and employment. How did Germany, with the fourth-largest GDP in the world transform itself from “the sick man of Europe” to an “economic superstar” in less than a decade? We present evidence that the specific governance structure of the German labor market institutions allowed them to react flexibly in a time of extraordinary economic circumstances, and that this distinctive characteristic of its labor market institutions has been the main reason for Germany’s economic success over the last decade.