Category Archives: Labor Unions

The Union Dividend: It Reaches Beyond Members

Source: Kevin Cashman and Evan Butcher, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) blog, September 10, 2015

There is considerable research showing that unions benefit the workers who join them, and this is especially so for lower paid workers, African Americans, immigrants, and women. Workers represented by unions get higher wages, and are also more likely to enjoy benefits like paid sick days, paid holidays, and paid vacation than their non-union counterparts. …. The three graphics below show the laws across the country that guarantee paid sick leave and paid family leave, and the laws that mandate a minimum wage higher than the federal level by $0.50 or more. State-level jurisdictions are divided by color in three roughly equal groups based on the percent of workers in that jurisdiction who are represented by unions. (Click on the graphics for an interactive version. Clicking on the jurisdictions provides detailed information about the laws.) …. The correlations are obvious: those states with higher percentages of workers represented by unions are more likely to have any of these three policies. For paid sick leave, seven of the ten jurisdictions with laws at the state or local level are in the group with the highest level of union representation (the darkest green). For paid family leave the results are striking. All four of the jurisdictions with laws are in the group with the highest level of union representation….

union representation & paid sick leave

union representation & paid family leave

union representation & higher minimum wage

Bargaining for the American Dream: What Unions do for Mobility

Source: Richard Freeman, Eunice Han, David Madland, Brendan Duke, Center for American Progress, September 2015

From the summary:
….This report examines the relationship between mobility and another variable that Chetty and his co-authors did not consider: union membership. The analysis in this report begins on the area level using the same methodological approach as Chetty and his co-authors for their five factors. But the analysis then goes beyond this area-level analysis, using another dataset that matches parents with children that allows for the comparison of outcomes for children who grew up in otherwise similar union and nonunion households. This individual-level analysis is more appropriate than the area-level analysis for examining whether parents’ union membership actually influences mobility.

• Based on the research for this report, it is clear that there is a strong relationship between union membership and intergenerational mobility. More specifically: Areas with higher union membership demonstrate more mobility for low-income children. Using Chetty and others’ data, we* find that low-income children rise higher in the income rankings when they grow up in areas with high-union membership. A 10 percentage point increase in a geographic area’s union membership is associated with low-income children ranking 1.3 percentile points higher in the national income distribution. This relationship between unions and the mobility of low-income children is at least as strong as the relationship between mobility and high school dropout rates—a factor that is generally recognized as one of the most important correlates of economic mobility. Indeed, union density is one of the strongest predictors of an area’s mobility. Furthermore, unions remain a significant predictor of economic mobility even after one controls for several variables including race, types of industries, inequality, and more.
• Areas with higher union membership have more mobility as measured by all children’s incomes. We also measure the geographic relationship between union membership and another measure of mobility: the income of all children who grew up in an area after controlling for their parents’ incomes. According to our findings, a 10 percentage point increase in union density is associated with a 4.5 percent increase in the income of an area’s children. Here again, union density compares quite favorable with other common predictors of an area’s mobility. In addition, the relationship between unions and the mobility of all children remains strong after adopting several additional controls.
• Children who grow up in union households have better outcomes. Using a different dataset, we match parents and children to compare the outcomes of children who grew up in otherwise similar union and nonunion households. The findings show that children growing up in union households tend to have better outcomes than children who grew up in nonunion households, especially when the parents are low skilled. For example, children of non-college-educated fathers earn 28 percent more if their father was in a labor union. This analysis helps provide evidence suggesting a link between unions and economic mobility.

These findings are new and illustrate a previously ignored factor that could be essential for promoting economic mobility. However, they are not surprising, particularly given the extensive research that has been done on unions and middle class incomes. Previous research by the CAP Action Fund has found a strong geographical relationship between union membership and intragenerational mobility—the relationship between someone’s earnings when they are 35 to 39 years old and when they are 45 to 49 years old. Our findings also coincide with the findings of several studies showing that falling union membership has been a key driver in the rise of income inequality. Most recently, Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld of Harvard and the Washington University at St. Louis, respectively, found that the decline of labor unions explains up to one-third of the increase in male wage inequality between 1973 and 2007.

There are strong reasons to believe that unions may increase opportunity. First, there are the direct effects that a parent’s union membership may have on their children. Union workers make more money than comparable nonunion workers—what economists call the union premium—and when parents make more money, their children tend to make more money—which economists refer to as the intergenerational earnings elasticity. In theory, unionized parents should pass on a portion of the union premium to their children. There may be other channels through which children whose parents were in a union have better outcomes than other children: union jobs may be more stable and predictable, which could produce a more stable living environment for children, and union jobs are more likely to provide family health insurance…..

Organizing Is the Key to Surviving Friedrichs

Source: Samantha Winslow, Labor Notes, July 30, 2015

When news broke that the Supreme Court would hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, headlines instantly projected the worst, calling it “The Supreme Court Case That Could Decimate American Public Sector Unionism,” “An Existential Threat,” and even “The End of Public-Employee Unions?”

Hyperbole aside, a decision that makes the whole public sector “right to work” could be devastating. But it won’t make unions powerless.

After all, public sector workers didn’t always have legal protection to unionize, bargain, or strike, much less enforce agency shop. Not too far back in history, they won those rights—by organizing without them…..

Symposium: Another battle in the war over union fees

Source: Charlotte Garden, SCOTUSblog, August 28, 2015

…Abood’s balance reflects two realities about collective bargaining. First, a major reason states choose to allow public-sector bargaining is to provide a productive and stable channel for workers’ voices, which is much more easily achieved when an elected union has adequate resources. Second, agency fees are appropriate when – as in this case – unions are required to fairly represent all workers in the bargaining unit, whether or not they become members; the alternative would permit destabilizing free ridership. Thus, Abood reflects a careful balance of the competing speech and association interests of workers (including both those who wish to associate with a union and those who do not), and state governments’ managerial interests….

Symposium: Correcting the “historical accident” of opt-out requirements
Source: David Rivkin and Andrew Grossman, SCOTUSblog, August 27, 2015

David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Andrew M. Grossman practice appellate litigation in the Washington, D.C., office of Baker & Hostetler LLP. They filed an amicus brief in support of certiorari in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association on behalf of the Cato Institute, where Mr. Grossman is an adjunct scholar.

Whatever the fate of mandatory “fair share” payments that nonmembers are often required to make to fund public-sector unions’ collective bargaining activities, Friedrichs will likely mark the end of requirements that dissenting workers take action to “opt out” of funding public-sector unions’ political and ideological activities, the subject of the second question that the Court agreed to consider. Although less prominent than the forced-payments issue, ending opt-out requirements would correct a serious anomaly in the Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, one that facilitates tens of millions of dollars annually in union political spending of funds obtained through inertia, trickery, and coercion….

Symposium: The Friedrichs petition should be dismissed
Source: Catherine Fisk, SCOTUSblog, August 26, 2015

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association presents two issues: (1) whether to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and hold that the First Amendment prohibits school districts and teachers’ unions from requiring teachers to pay the union their fair share of the cost of union representation services; and (2) whether the First Amendment requires any government employee who wishes to join a union to opt into membership rather than, as the law currently requires, to opt out.  The Court ought not decide either issue because both depend on facts not in the record.  If it does decide the case, it cannot rule for the petitioners without substantial violation of the First Amendment rights of unions and their members….

Symposium: Public-sector unions, labor relations, and free speech
Source: Ann Hodges, SCOTUSblog, August 25, 2015

[editor’s note: SCOTUSblog will be hosting a symposium on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association this week. This is the second post in the symposium.]

….What justifies forcing employees to pay fees to a union if they object? The rationales recognized in Abood, and questioned by Justice Samuel Alito in the recent opinions of Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000 and Harris v. Quinn, are labor peace and avoiding free riders. Justice Alito’s dismissal of these justifications, which certainly prompted Friedrich’s arrival at the Court in warp speed, fails to appreciate that they are part and parcel of longstanding labor relations systems chosen by many states. Given the decline in the unionized percentage of the work force in the last thirty years, it is perhaps understandable that many may not recognize the history behind these systems, the importance of each part of the system to the whole, and the consequent risk of dismantling the systems piecemeal. But it is crucial that the Court consider the full scope of the labor relations systems in order to evaluate properly the weight of the justification for any infringement on employees’ First Amendment rights…..

…..Unions also benefit from the exclusive representation system, although the advantages for the union are mixed. The union that wins the representation election is insulated from challenges to its representation rights for significant time periods, but other unions cannot organize those employees. Additionally unions must represent individuals who are not members and may be hostile to the union, reducing the resources available to serve those members who pay full dues.

Accordingly, the union is not just a membership organization that provides incidental benefits to nonmembers. It is an organization that, by law, must provide benefits to nonmembers in order to facilitate a comprehensive system of labor relations. Although fair share agreements are not authorized in all states, there is a classic collective action problem at work. The union’s power comes from the collective. When some individuals get the full benefits without paying, however, even the union’s supporters may make the rational decision not to pay. Ultimately the union may lack the resources to engage in effective representation, which will eviscerate the entire system. Therefore, to enable this system to function effectively, many states have decided that fair share fees are necessary…..

Symposium: Will the Court continue to recognize a distinction between bargaining with government and lobbying the government?
Source: Bill Messenger, SCOTUSblog, August 25, 2015

[editor’s note: SCOTUSblog will be hosting a symposium on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association this week. This is the third post in the symposium.]

William Messenger is an attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.  He argued on behalf of the petitioners in Harris v. Quinn.

The First Amendment generally forbids the government from forcing citizens to support a private organization’s speech and expressive activities. Yet, roughly forty years ago, the Supreme Court held in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that the government can force public employees to financially support some types of union speech, but not other types. Specifically, Abood held that employees could be forced to subsidize union collective bargaining with the government, but not union political activities intended to influence government policy….

Symposium: Overrule Abood to protect individual rights
Source: Deborah La Fetra, SCOTUSblog, August 24, 2015

[editor’s note: SCOTUSblog will be hosting a symposium on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association this week. This is the first post in the symposium.]

In Davenport v. Washington Education Association, the Supreme Court described laws that empower unions to garnish the wages of non-union members as an “extraordinary state entitlement to acquire and spend other people’s money.” Nonetheless, for nearly forty years, since Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Court has allowed that wage garnishment on the theory that without such entitlements, unions’ collective bargaining efforts might be undermined by “free riders.” A series of cases upholding workers’ First Amendment rights to speak and associate as they choose has steadily chipped away at Abood, culminating in this Term’s grant in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The Court should take this opportunity to overrule the flawed Abood decision. That case was based on faulty premises and an unrealistic view of public-employee unionism, and the rule it announced infringes on individual rights….

New challenge to public employee unions, made simple
Source: Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSblog, August 24, 2015

….There is a lot of history behind this dispute. The specific case focuses on dues charged by unions representing the public school teachers in California, but it raises much broader questions. The future of public-sector unionism itself could be at stake. Let’s sort this out, simply. …

Could SCOTUS case make U.S. a Right to Work nation?
Source: Ohio Civil Service Employees Association – AFSCME Local 11, AFL-CIO (OCSEA), July 8, 2015

The plaintiffs in Friedrichs are seeking to overturn a long-standing Supreme Court court case that gave public sector employees the right to collectively bargain in the first place. The case, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, gave public sector employees the right to form a union and ensured that everyone who benefited from a union contract paid their fairshare of union dues. In addition to gaining exclusive representation, those provisions gave public employees the bargaining power they needed to powerfully represent themselves. IN the last 40 years, they’ve been able to gain pay raises, overtime pay, paid sick leave, vacation, disability pay, pick-a-post and work area agreements—and all those provisions that members have fought hard to win in the OCSEA contracts.

But now those very rights could be on the chopping block when Friedrichs is taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court as early as the end of the year.

Groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers and the National Right to Work Committee have been trying to eliminate public sector unions state by state for years now.

But now these anti-union groups, the same ones behind Senate Bill 5, believe they have the case that will wipe out public sector employee unions in every state.

A negative Supreme Court decision in the Friedrichs case could do any or all of the following:
• Create a national Right-to-Work law for all public-sector employees by eliminating “Agency-Fee” or “Fair-Share.”
• Make it illegal for union dues to be withdrawn from an employee’s paycheck by eliminating Dues Check-off.
• Prohibit millions of public sector employees the right to select a union of their choosing by eliminating Exclusive Representation…..

Cal AG Files Brief in Opposition to Certiorari in Friedrichs
Source: Juhyung Harold Lee, OnLabor blog, June 4, 2015

Last week, California Attorney General Kamala Harris submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to deny certiorari in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (previously discussed here and here), and thereby to let Abood live to fight another day. Harris’s brief — which was filed at the request of the Court after she initially waived her right to respond to the petition — tracks a number of the same arguments raised by the respondent unions in their separate brief.

What AFT members need to know about the ‘Friedrichs’ case
Source: Sam Lieberman, Tim Shea, Robert Morgenstern, American Federation of Teachers – AFL-CIO, News, May 11, 2015

….In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a group of educators backed by a right-wing pressure group filed a lawsuit that has made its way to the highest court in America. It asks the court to decide whether public sector unions may continue to charge nonmembers a fee equal to the cost of representing them to their employer. This fee is called “agency fee” or “fair share.” In states where there is no fair share, the union must sign up everyone as a member—not merely a fair share payer—to keep the union strong. …. The court will choose what it decides on, but it is being asked to answer two questions: (1) whether public sector agency fee arrangements should be invalidated under the First Amendment; and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require public employees to opt out of paying full dues (as they must do now) rather than having to opt in, which would force unions to sign up members over and over again every year. ….. Friedrichs represents a real threat to workers, so we have two choices: We can agonize or we can organize. The AFT already is rising to this challenge, operating as if the justices will issue an unfavorable decision. Many of our members are working hard to sign up and activate members, especially by bringing nonmembers and agency fee payers on board as members….

Pushing Back: What every PSRP needs to know about member mobilization.
Source: American Federation of Teachers – AFL-CIO, PSRP Reporter, Summer 2015

….In the 1970s, a group of teachers in Detroit who did not want to join the Detroit Federation of Teachers or pay the agency fee brought a lawsuit, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. They argued that having to pay the fee violated their First Amendment right to associate with whoever they wanted to. The Supreme Court upheld the agency fee, saying it did not violate the First Amendment.

Abood has remained the law of the land since 1977. However, over the past several years, the Supreme Court has decided two cases calling that law into question. In 2012, the court held in Knox v. SEIU that the First Amendment does not permit a public sector union to impose a special assessment unless a worker opts in. Two years later, in Harris v. Quinn, the court said the First Amendment prohibits the collection of agency fees from home healthcare providers, whom the court determined to be “partial” or “quasi” public employees, not full-fledged public employees like those in Abood.

Now there’s the Friedrichs case. The court will choose what it decides on, but it is being asked to answer two questions: (1) whether public sector agency fee arrangements should be invalidated under the First Amendment; and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require public employees to opt out of paying full dues (as they must do now) rather than having to opt in, which would force unions to sign up members over and over again every year…..

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association Heads to the Supreme Court
Source: Antonia Domingo, OnLabor blog, March 9, 2015

In Harris v. Quinn, which we have covered extensively, the Supreme Court stopped short of declaring public-sector fair share fees unconstitutional. However, several commentators have noted that Justice Alito seemed to invite a case that would allow the Court to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and thereby invalidate public-sector agency shop arrangements. The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) may have presented the Court with just such a case. CIR represents the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, teachers who claim that contracts requiring them to contribute to collective bargaining and administration costs violate their First Amendment rights….

….The case seems specially crafted for the Supreme Court. In the California district court CIR took the unusual move of filing a motion asking the court to rule in favor of the union. The court, in an opinion that can be found here, agreed. Because Abood is still good law the lower courts must follow Supreme Court precedent. California law also allows unions to collect agency fees to support collective bargaining. The district court recognized that a ruling in favor of the union would allow CIR to quickly appeal the case to the Supreme Court: “Plaintiff’s ultimate aim — and thus their request for judgment on the pleadings in favor of Defendants — is to have these precedents overturned on appeal.” CIR filed the same motion in the Ninth Circuit, which the court granted. The plaintiffs then filed their petition for writ of certiori on January 26, 2015. The Court has not yet announced if it will hear the case….
Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association
Source: SCOTUSblog, 2015
Docket No. Op. Below Argument Opinion Vote Author Term
14-915 9th Cir. TBD TBD TBD TBD OT 2015
Issue: (1) Whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment; and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech.

“A Sense of Possibility and a Belief in Collective Power”: A Labor Strategy Talk with Karen Nussbaum

Source: Lane Windham, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 12 no. 3, September 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Historian and former union organizer Lane Windham sits down with longtime labor activist and leader Karen Nussbaum to discuss the promises and challenges in today’s worker’s movement through the lens of Nussbaum’s own life. In 1973, Nussbaum cofounded 9to5, a groundbreaking women office workers’ group, and now directs Working America, a community-based AFL-CIO group for working people who do not have a union, founded in 2003. Windham paints Nussbaum as a foremother of contemporary “alt-labor,” labor groups like Working America that are not based in traditional collective bargaining. Nussbaum and her 9to5 cofounders rode the momentum of the women’s movement in the 1970s just as workers’ organizations today build from the immigration, sustainable food, and global justice movements. Highlights of the article include Nussbaum’s motivations for founding Working America, her thoughts on labor’s future, and a discussion of strategies necessary for a potent new workers’ movement.

The Future of Work and Workers

Source: Pacific Standard, 2015

A special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace.

Articles include:
Stagnation, Automation … Frustration
Source: Steven Greenhouse, August 27, 2015
….Let’s explore two major workplace issues, starting with wage stagnation. This is a huge problem, and unfortunately many Americans don’t realize how serious it is. Wages for the typical worker are up just 1.6 percent over the past six years, and, believe it or not, after-inflation wages remain below where they were in 1973. Try to raise a family on that. Median household income—$52,250—remains 8.6 percent or nearly $5,000 below its peak back in 2000. Forty-two percent of American workers earn less than $15 an hour—that translates to just $31,200 a year for a full-time worker…. One doesn’t have to be an Einstein to realize that wage stagnation has contributed to America’s income inequality—the worst it’s been since the Gilded Age of the 1920s. … A second major issue: the effects of automation. For more than a century, economists have maintained that new technologies create as many jobs as they destroy. …

The World Needs a New Business Model
Source: Sharan Burrow, Pacific Standard, August 26, 2015
….The world needs a new business model. The world’s GDP has trebled since 1980, yet inequality is at historic levels. The hidden workforce of the richest companies in the world work long hours for poverty wages, too often in unsafe environments or with unsafe products…..

Creative Destruction and the New World of Work
Source: John Irons & Alyson Wise, Pacific Standard, August 25, 2015
….With technology proliferating at an increasingly rapid pace, we face a pressing need for modernized labor laws, systems, and organizations that will promote greater resilience and inclusion. Creating these will require us to re-frame, re-imagine, and build upon Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the 21st century…..

Preparing Students for a Changing World of Work
Source: Freeman A. Hrabowski III, Pacific Standard, August 24, 2015
Our nation’s workforce continues to evolve in a workplace transformed by new ideas, products, processes and services—the offspring of our highly productive innovation ecosystem. At the same time, the workforce is affected by increasing globalization and major demographic shifts—including an aging Baby Boomer generation and growing minority and immigrant populations. These changes have created a more competitive economy that affects the substance and conditions of the work we will do across occupations, the participation of underserved groups in the economy, and the ways colleges and universities prepare students for careers….

Caring for the Crowdworker Going It Alone
Source: Mary L. Gray, Pacific Standard, August 21, 2015
…..While we must develop robust mechanisms that prevent individuals from scamming platforms in the on-demand economy, we must with equal vigilance penalize employers for misclassifying, delaying, or failing to pay workers, one of the greatest challenges facing those making a living at freelancing today. Supporting the many people who may never enjoy the security of a 40-hour workweek will be one of the most important conversations we have about the on-demand sharing economy…..

Shorter Hours, Higher Pay
Source: Dorothy Sue Cobble, Pacific Standard, August 20, 2015
Most Americans work too much and are paid too little. Reversing these trends is the most important thing we can do to improve the lives of workers and their families today. Time and money are connected but not in the way we often think. For all too long we’ve been trying to raise our pay by lengthening our hours. In truth, we need to shorten our hours. Then and only then will we be able to raise our pay…..

Organize the Immigrant Workers
Source: Kent Wong, Pacific Standard, August 19, 2015
….The United States is home to 11 million undocumented immigrants. A national campaign for legalization and a path to citizenship has repeatedly been blocked in Congress. But immigrant workers are actively forming and joining unions. Their emergence as a powerful force bodes well for the future of the U.S. labor movement and is an inspiration to other workers struggling for justice and dignity in the U.S. and throughout the world. ….The American labor movement will be well served if it continues to advance an aggressive campaign to organize immigrant workers and to build a new labor movement for the new working class…..

The Transformation of Work at the Heart of Middle East Unrest
Source: Ragui Assaad, Pacific Standard, August 18, 2015
He is a 28-year-old Egyptian with a degree in sociology. He graduated six years ago and has since had three jobs as a waiter in various Cairo coffee shops and restaurants. He wants to marry but can’t convince his sweetheart’s parents he is ready, given his employment situation. He lives with his parents, both government employees who will soon retire with government pensions. He, on the other hand, can only dream of a job that would guarantee him a pension. Millions of educated youth like this find themselves shut out of the middle class because of an inability to convert their education into the kind of decent job their parents found a generation ago. Even as access to education has expanded dramatically in the region, the quality of employment for educated workers has deteriorated markedly. I’d argue that the gap between what these young people expected for their education and what they have achieved is the main source of the anger and frustration driving the Arab uprisings….

Who Owns the Robot in Your Future Work Life?
Source: Richard Freeman, Pacific Standard, August 17, 2015
….The key to whether we all benefit from robots at work or whether robots exacerbate the inequality of income between the super-wealthy few and the rest of society depends on who owns the robot. The first law of a robotized labor market is that as artificial intelligence and computing power improve, robots will better substitute for human work. The second law is that technological progress will reduce the cost of the robot substitutes over time. The third law, a corollary of laws one and two, is that the wages of workers in occupations undergoing robotization will fall…..

Labor Law Must Catch Up
Source: Richard L. Trumka & Craig Becker, Pacific Standard, August 14, 2015
American workers will continue to become more productive as the digital revolution advances. But United States labor law must be reconstructed to recognize changes in work and the employment relationship and to once again effectively permit workers to organize and designate representatives to bargain with their employers. Otherwise, workers will not share the increased income generated by their productivity, ultimately threatening economic growth….

The Water Cooler and the Fridge
Source: Mario L. Small, Pacific Standard, August 13, 2015
….The simple opportunity to run into others may be one of the most overlooked privileges of modern work life, and the one aspect of the office that work from home can rarely replicate. The water cooler chat became ubiquitous in the workplace because talk, as water, sustains life. One cannot run into colleagues on the way to one’s refrigerator….

We Have Been Here Before
Source: Paul Saffo, Pacific Standard, August 12, 2015
This is not the first time society has fretted over the impact of ever-smarter machines on jobs and work—and not the first time we have overreacted. In the Depression-beset 1930s, labor Jeremiahs warned that robots would decimate American factory jobs. Three decades later, mid-1960s prognosticators offered a hopeful silver lining to an otherwise apocalyptic assessment of automation’s dark cloud: the displacement of work and workers would usher in a new “leisure society.”….

Why Wages Aren’t Keeping Up
Source: Robert Solow, Pacific Standard, August 11, 2015
One of the more puzzling and damaging features of the American labor market in the last few decades has been the failure of real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) wages and benefits to keep up with the increase in productivity. …. The custom is to think of value added in a corporation (or in the economy as a whole) as just the sum of the return to labor and the return to capital. But that is not quite right. There is a third component which I will call “monopoly rent” or, better still, just “rent.” It is not a return earned by capital or labor, but rather a return to the special position of the firm. ….The suggestion I want to make is that one important reason for the failure of real wages to keep up with productivity is that the division of rent in industry has been shifting against the labor side for several decades. This is a hard hypothesis to test in the absence of direct measurement. But the decay of unions and collective bargaining, the explicit hardening of business attitudes, the popularity of right-to-work laws, and the fact that the wage lag seems to have begun at about the same time as the Reagan presidency all point in the same direction: the share of wages in national value added may have fallen because the social bargaining power of labor has diminished. This is not to say that international competition and the biased nature of new technology have no role to play, only that they are not the whole story. Internal social change and the division of rent matter too…..

A Nightmare Scenario—and Three Things That Might Prevent It
Source: Andrew Schrank, Pacific Standard, August 10, 2015
What worries me most about the future of work and workers is the possibility that the technological determinists are right, or that scientific innovation will outpace social adaptation and wreak political and economic havoc. Skilled as well as unskilled workers would be replaced by robots and computers. Jobs that couldn’t be automated would be outsourced to the lowest bidder, whether in Boston, Barranquilla, or Bangalore. The profits would be captured by “supermanagers,” who would increasingly dictate their own salaries as well as the salaries of their subordinates. And the average worker—or former worker, as luck would have it—would be left to pick up the pieces: overqualified, underemployed, or just plain out in the cold. …

Making Service Work Pay
Source: Lydia DePillis, Pacific Standard, August 7, 2015
…And what if this trend continues? What if the new opportunities available to the Skillet Johnsons of the world continue to be low-paying positions with little opportunity for advancement? With the exception of registered nurses, the 10 highest-growth occupations for the next decade make less than $33,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s not the kind of employment base you need to rebuild a middle class. Part of the answer is better, cheaper education to match people with higher-paying jobs where there’s more demand, like nursing or computer programming. But Johnson thinks there’s another piece of the puzzle: Transforming those low-paying jobs into careers that can support a family. …

The Union Advantage for Women

Source: Julie Anderson, Ariane Hegewisch, and Jeff Hayes, Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), Briefing Paper, IWPR #R409, August 2015

From the press release:
A new briefing paper released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that women represented by a union in the United States earn an average of $212 more per week than women in nonunion jobs. In addition, union women earn more in every state, with the size of the union wage advantage varying across states: union women in Wyoming earn $349 per week more than their nonunion counterparts in the state, while union women in the District of Columbia earn $48 more per week than D.C.’s nonunion women. The analysis also finds that the size of the union wage advantage is large enough in 32 states to cover the costs of full-time child care for an infant in a center.

Women’s share of union members has increased markedly in the last three decades, from 33.6 percent in 1984 to 45.5 percent in 2014. While men are more likely than women to be in labor unions or covered by a union contract in the United States as a whole (13.1 percent of men, compared with 11.9 percent of women), there are eight jurisdictions—California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Vermont—where women are more likely to be unionized than men. More than one in four female workers (25.7 percent) in New York are in a labor union or covered by a union contract. Nationally, public sector workers are five times more likely to belong to a union than private sector workers (35.7 percent, compared with 6.6 percent).

How Much More Money Would You Make If You Were Unionized?

Source: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, New Republic, June 11, 2015

On Wednesday, the Century Foundation released a thorough report on virtual labor organizing. If you’re interested in organizing your workplace, there might soon be an app for that. And if you’re not interested in being unionized, you’re leaving money on the table. Lots of money. By the hour, according to the report, unionized personal care workers can expect to make almost 10 percent more than their non-union counterparts, while construction workers in unions can earn nearly 42 percent more. For unionized workers in life, physical, and social sciences, hourly pay is almost double that of non-union workers in the same field….

New challenges, new alliances: union politicization in a post-NAFTA era

Source: Tamara Kaya, Labor History, Volume 56 Issue 3, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The ascendency of neoliberalism, anti-state ideologies, and increased corporate power has taken its toll on labor movements around the globe. Today, the proportion of unionized workers in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries is half what it was in the 1970s. I argue that unions are dealing with the crises presented by neoliberal economic integration by entering new political coalitions and nontraditional advocacy areas – particularly relating to immigration, environment, and trade – in an effort to increase their relevance, influence, and allies. I examine how the North American Free Trade Agreement helped politicize unions to move beyond traditional workplace-centered struggles and engage in broader and more diverse political struggles linked at the domestic and the transnational level. Union positions vis-à-vis immigrants have shifted dramatically from supporting draconian legislation to leading a broad-based movement for immigrants’ rights. Key unions joined with environmental organizations to advocate for environmental and worker protections through a green economy and green jobs; unions continue their fair trade advocacy, fighting the Tran-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreements and investor–state enforcement mechanisms. In an interesting and important twist, unions’ foray into these new arenas in part results directly from the privatization of governance practices, which has undermined democratic processes across the continent.

Organized Labor and the Unionization of Hispanic, Chinese, and Filipino Americans

Source: Daniel Schneider, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 40 no. 2, June 2015
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From the abstract:
This work adds a systematic understanding of the diverse relationships of immigrants and minorities to organized labor in the United States. Using Current Population Survey data from 1994 to 2013, I interrogate the unionization of Hispanic, Chinese, and Filipino Americans. In comparison to whites, native-born and established immigrant Hispanics have higher rates of unionization, Filipinos (both immigrant and native born) are much likelier to join unions, and Chinese immigrants are less likely to be unionized and more likely to leave unions. Labor market position continues to have a profound effect on unionization; however, solidaristic characteristics also shape patterns of unionization.