Category Archives: Labor Unions

How California Birthed the Modern Right Wing

Source: Chris Lehman, In These Times, October 6, 2015

Many of 20th-century conservatism’s tricks were honed in 1930s agribusiness’s fight against farmworkers. ….. Conservative rule in America is by now so deep-seated that a veritable cottage industry has sprung up to explain its origins. By varying accounts, the modern Right’s resurgence has its roots in populist religious revivals, Cold War paranoia, racial scapegoating and the ongoing cultural backlash against the New Left. Taken together, they raise the question: What served as the mainspring force? …..

The Historical Roots of American Domestic Worker Organizing Run Deep

Source: Jake Blumgart, In These Times, Working in These Times blog, September 21, 2015

Domestic workers and their advocates have been making an increasing number of headlines since 2010, when New York became the first state to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Guaranteeing overtime and time off, such legislation has spread to four other states and is being fought for in many more. But organizing around domestic work has been ongoing since at least the 1930s, an often forgotten corner of the labor movement. …

Latino Workers and Unions: A Strategic Partnership for America’s Progress

Source: Hector E. Sanchez, Victor Baten, Marcela Barrientos, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), 2015

This report will examine the unique partnership the labor movement and the Latino community can achieve together. Unions are in desperate need of new membership while Latinos need the protection and wages a union job can provide them. This mutually beneficial partnership can curb the negative conditions Latino workers face while saving a movement that has changed the American workforce. …..

The Right to Strike

Source: Ari Paul, Jacobin, September 18, 2015

“Right-to-work” is coming to the public sector. The key to survival is social movement unionism. ….. If anything, the fear Friedrichs inspires could force unions to do the type of everyday, internal organizing that dissidents and reform activists often complain doesn’t happen. While this could distract from other efforts, it could also drive unions to reconnect with their membership — actually improving their chances of surviving in the long term. In addition, some argue it’s too fatalistic to equate right-to-work with union decline, because a well-organized union could still thrive. Union membership in Indiana has remained steady despite right-to-work legislation passed in 2012 (although a failure to reach good contracts in the years to come could spark a mass exodus). Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which primarily represents Las Vegas casino workers, maintains a 90 percent density rate in a right-to-work state because of its on-the-ground organizing. The obvious counterexample to this is Wisconsin, where union membership has plummeted since going right-to-work. But there’s an obvious explanation: public unions there can’t collectively bargain. For unions who can demonstrate dues money makes it possible to fight and win, it’s a much easier sell. …..

Representing Worker Interests: Past, Present, and Future

Source: Peter Berg, Social Service Review, Vol. 89, No. 2, June 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Although productivity and employment are rising in the United States, many US workers continue to suffer from stagnant wages and poor benefits. This essay reviews three books about the state of the labor organization, both through formal unions and informal workers’ groups, in the United States and globally: What Unions No Longer Do, by Jake Rosenfeld; New Labor in New York: Precarious Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement, edited by Ruth Milkman and Ed Ott; and The Promise and Limits of Private Power: Promoting Labor Standards in a Global Economy, by Richard M. Locke. It concludes with some suggestions of ways to increase employee voice and raise labor standards.

Why Labor Moved Left

Source: Nelson Lichtenstein, Dissent, Vol. 62 no. 3, Summer 2015

Hard times sometimes have a silver lining. As American unions have come under unrelenting assault, the left is “enjoying” a historic victory, but one most labor partisans would rather do without. If one considers the political landscape in the United States over the last half century, then American unions have moved—or been moved—to the left margin of mainstream thinking and action. They have gotten there primarily because of the shifting political and economic landscape on which they stand; for the most part, their leftism represents no conscious insurgency. Organized labor has become, instead, the domain of reluctant radicals.

The decimation, over the past few decades, of the industrial relations system that was a bulwark of Cold War liberalism has forced even some traditionally conservative unions—such as the Teamsters, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and the old Retail Clerks (now the UFCW)—to take stances once adopted by left-wing unions in the 1940s: participating in liberal-led coalitions, advertising their multiracial character, and “blaming and shaming” corporate adversaries. Labor’s capacity to play the role of an insular, conservative interest group stands in inverse proportion to its organizational strength. Meanwhile, and ironically, a few of the “new social movements” spawned by the New Left—environmentalists, “lean-in” feminists, and some elements of the now triumphant gay rights movement—have shifted to the center. Corporations and even some elements of the GOP court them, even as those same companies and politicians remain steadfastly hostile to trade unionism.

The labour of learning: overcoming the obstacles facing union-worker centre collaborations

Source: Gabriel Hetland, Work Employment & Society, Published online before print September 3, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
In the USA, the UK and elsewhere, community unionism appears a potentially fruitful strategy for organizing the growing numbers of workers holding precarious employment. In the USA there is increasing interest in a form of community unionism that may gain traction in the UK: union-worker centre collaborations. Unions and worker centres have struggled to collaborate, however, because of their structural, cultural and ideological differences. This article examines a rare case of successful union-worker centre collaboration, asking why this collaboration emerged, what challenges it has faced, and why it has succeeded. Data show this collaboration emerged due to organizational crises, linked to broader economic changes, and individual learning following semi-successful organizing campaigns. The collaboration overcame challenges stemming from the differences between unions and worker centres through intra- and inter-organizational learning. Two conditions facilitated this outcome: bridge builders and state support for unionization. This case is used to explore broader questions about union revitalization.

A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor

Source: Black Labor Collaborative, July 2015

A new 35-page white paper, “A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor,” was released this week by the Black Labor Collaborative, a group of influential African American leaders from major labor organizations who offer a progressive critique and agenda to frame discussions about the direction of the American labor movement. This is a seismic development, because it is the first time representatives of 2.1 million black trade unionists have published a comprehensive outlook on organized labor.

The BLC report lands the same week that the AFL-CIO’s Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice held its first meeting. It also comes amid an explosion of protests and activism in black communities and among low-wage black workers across the nation, demanding racial justice as well as economic justice. For example:
• For the past 50 years, the unemployment rate for African American workers has been at least double that of their white counterparts.
• At its lowest point, when white male median earnings dropped to $37,000 in 1981, it was still higher than the peak median earnings of $34,118 that black men reached in 2006 — 25 years later.

In an executive summary that accompanies the report, the BLC calls for a “transformed labor movement,” noting that “the foe we face, in the political Right and global capitalism, demands a transformed and energized labor movement that can fight back with more than slogans of solidarity. No tinkering around the edges! A transformed movement must be authentically inclusive because diversity carries the strongest seeds of change, of untapped creativity.”….

Executive Summary

Collective Bargaining In 2015–2016 – Analysis and Lists

Source: AFL-CIO’s Center for Strategic Research, September 2015

From the press release:
Working people are achieving significant victories through the most expansive period of collective bargaining in modern labor history, according to a new report by the AFL-CIO’s Center for Strategic Research. …

The AFL-CIO report represents the most comprehensive look at the current state of collective bargaining in a period when an estimated 5 million American workers will bargain for new contracts.

According to the report, working people who bargained for new contracts in the first half of 2015 saw their wages increase by an average of 4.3%, an increase of $1,147 a year for an average wage earner in the United States. These increases are up from 2.9% in the first half of 2014, with substantial wage wins occurring in sectors from nursing and oil to airline pilots and teachers.

Other notable statistics from the report include:
– Among private sector workers: grocery stores, health care, rail transportation, telecom, and auto manufacturing combined account for 31% of workers covered by newly bargained contracts.
– The contracts in the top eight industries include workers from 22 AFL-CIO affiliated unions.
– A combined 2.4 million union members will bargain for new contracts in the top eight industries negotiating contracts.