Category Archives: Labor Unions

Union wage effects – What are the economic implications of union wage bargaining for workers, firms, and society?

Source: Alex Bryson, IZA World of Labor, July 2014

Despite declining bargaining power, unions continue to generate a wage premium. Some feel collective bargaining has had its day. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have recently called for the removal of bargaining rights from workers in the name of wage and employment flexibility, yet unions often work in tandem with employers for mutual gain based on productivity growth. If this is where the premium originates, then firms and workers benefit. Without unions bargaining successfully to raise worker wages, income inequality would almost certainly be higher than it is.

Jonathan Rosen: Building A Dynamic Union-Based Health and Safety Program

Source: Kaci McLaughlin and Craig Slatin, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Vol. 24 no. 1, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Jonathan Rosen has spent more than 30 years building union-based health and safety programs. In the 1970s he was a union activist. In 1980 he became a union health and safety committee chair at a Milwaukee manufacturing firm. Following that, he had a nearly 20-year career with the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF). He trained as an industrial hygienist and developed a highly regarded public sector union-based health and safety program. PEF’s Health and Safety Department supported a network of union health and safety committees. Program accomplishments included innovative work on workplace violence prevention, indoor environmental quality, infectious diseases, and ergonomics. Mr. Rosen promoted collaboration among unions, helped support new activists, advocated tirelessly for injured workers, and formed an effective alliance with researchers. Rosen discusses essential strategies for mobilizing union members and gaining commitment to health and safety from unions, employers, and policy makers.

Is Working Alone Undermining Solidarity in Your Workplace?

Source: Charly Richardson, Labor Notes, #426, September 2014
(A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #382, January 2011)

Solidarity is at the core of union power and depends on personal connections among workers, created in the course of interaction in the workplace. But management is changing work in ways that isolate people and eliminate opportunities for interaction. People are increasingly “working alone,” and the potential for collective voice is suffering.

To build solidarity and a tendency toward collective action, we need shared experiences. The collective experience of oppression at work leads to collective reaction. And social interaction builds commitment among co-workers and helps us create and enforce norms of behavior. Even in non-union workplaces, rate-busters are “disciplined” through informal pressures to conform.

Management’s Plan:
Eight interconnected trends are working to destroy our connections in the workplace:
• Downsizing through automation, speed-up, and spreading work around ….
• Restructuring/intensification/standardization ….
• Combining jobs ….
• Monitoring ….
• Computerization ….
• Changing schedules …..
• Contractors and temps ….
• Reduction of networking jobs ….

Where’s the Care?

Source: Eileen Boris, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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In 1966, Ida Phillips, a white mother of seven children, applied for a position as an assembly line trainee at a Martin-Marietta missile plant in Orlando, Florida. At a wage of $2.25 an hour with benefits, the job was a real improvement over waitressing at Donut Dinette. But the personnel office rejected her application, claiming that the firm did not hire women with preschoolers. Her subsequent suit led to the first US Supreme Court decision on Title VII in 1971. Litigated at a time when the scope of civil rights at work was up for grabs, when feminists envisioned a robust equality for women of all classes, Phillips v. Martin-Marietta illuminates the significance of anti-discrimination law in opening up hiring — and its profound limits for restructuring the workplace to revalue labors of care that disadvantage women over men and women of color over other women. It points to the obstacles that the fixed categories of the law — singular identities such as sex and race — impose when plaintiffs, despite their intersectional and complex, indeed fluid, selves – must compare themselves to other similarly situated individuals to claim differential treatment and thus establish harm. It reminds us that not all labor counts as work under the law.

Fifty years after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we have learned that formal equality is not enough. Title VII may have helped professionals crack glass ceilings and other women leave pink-collar work for better paying blue-collar jobs, but it does little to tear down maternal walls. Today feminist lawyers seek to deploy it as one tool against what Joan Williams in 2000 dubbed “family responsibility discrimination,” which severely impacts low-waged workers in jobs with little flexibility. However, paid care workers, disproportionately African American and immigrant women of color, turn elsewhere in their quest for recognition, dignity, better working conditions, and higher wages. Union organizing and bills of rights are the preferred tools of nannies, cleaners, and elder-, child-, and home-care workers of all sorts. These workers are leading the way toward a new social justice movement that values “caring across the generations,” fights for living wages, and recognizes the interdependence of us all….

“The Largest Civil Rights Organization Today”:Title VII and the Transformation of the Public Sector

Source: Thomas J. Sugrue, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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In a 1966 interview, Gloster Current, a longtime official at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told historian August Meier that he considered the “federal government the largest civil rights organization today.” Current captured the most important economic impact of the long black freedom struggle: government had become the single most important agent of African American economic advance in the last third of the twentieth century. “Public employment,” write historians Michael Katz and Mark Stern in their systematic survey of twentieth-century census data, “became African Americans’ distinctive occupational niche.” In 2000, a remarkable 43 percent of black women and 19 percent of black men worked in government and state-related jobs. Those jobs served as a buffer against deindustrialization and an alternative to rapidly proliferating, poorly paid service-sector and retail jobs. “In 2000,” Katz and Stern show, “the median income for blacks who worked full time in the public sector exceeded the income of black private sector employees by 15 percent for men and 19 percent for women.” They conclude: “Public and state-related employment have thus proved the most powerful vehicles for African American economic mobility and the most effective anti-poverty legacy of the Great Society.” That government employment would be the major vehicle for black advancement was by no means inevitable, even when Current made his optimistic statement in early 1966…..

In the Driver’s Seat: Chicago’s Bus Drivers and Labor Insurgency in the Era of Black Power

Source: Erik S. Gellman, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
During the summer of 1968, hundreds of black bus drivers initiated two wildcat strikes in Chicago. These actions crippled the city’s bus routes and left hundreds of thousands of people without service. The strike was unusual because the drivers demanded more of their union than of the company. These Chicago Transit Authority employees protested the antidemocratic structure of the Amalgamated Transport Union, which they believed favored white employees and retirees despite a majority black workforce. As the strike made headlines and worried Mayor Richard J. Daley (and his plans for the Democratic convention), drivers formed alliances with community groups. Fusing the cause of economic justice with that of the Black Power movement, these drivers and their allies formed the Concerned Transit Workers (CTW) as a vehicle for their demands. In this article Erik Gellman addresses the following questions: How did Black Power advocates address economic injustice at work? And how does this case study change previous understandings of black and labor protests during the late 1960s? Historians have only begun to account for the late 1960s stream of black activism by focusing on affirmative action’s history from the local level, and Chicago is a vital case study for this approach because it has come to symbolize how whites in the urban North stymied southern civil rights activists when they tried to apply their nonviolent activism above the Mason-Dixon line. Many of these activists saw transit as a key urban space and sought to reverse deindustrialization and persistent job discrimination through black working-class nationalism, which provides a more complex and more contested vision of working-class Black Power as a potential remedy to the growing urban crisis in modern American cities.

Advancing the Ivory-Collar/Blue-Collar Partnership

Source: James N. Gregory, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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In recent years, labor scholars in Washington have developed close relationships with the state labor council, the M. L. King County (Seattle) Labor Council, and key unions, in part through efforts such as the living-wage campaigns. LAWCHA president Nancy MacLean challenged us to develop “campus-labor-community partnerships” in her recent essay in Labor Rising, citing examples of creative organizing by Chicago-area faculty members affiliated with the Center for Working-Class Studies. I want to share some additional observations based on experiences in the Seattle area.

The ivory-collar/blue-collar relationship in Washington State rests primarily on two institutions, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington, founded in 1992, and the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association (PNLHA), which has held annual labor history conferences and other events in this region since the 1960s. Over the years, the Bridges Center and PNLHA have encouraged faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to interact on many levels with unions and social-justice organizations both off and on campus. Here are three techniques used in Washington that labor academics at other institutions might find useful….
• Invitations …
• Press work …
• Labor Archives …

Free Rider States: How Low-Wage Employment in “Right-to-Work” States Is Subsidized by the Economic Benefits of Collective Bargaining

Source: Robert Bruno, Frank Manzo IV, University of Illinois and Illinois Economic Policy Institute, Research Report, August 28, 2014

From the press release:
States with right-to-work laws “free ride” on the higher tax revenues generated by workers in collective bargaining states, says a new study from a University of Illinois labor expert. According to Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations on the Urbana campus, workers in collective bargaining states are effectively subsidizing the low-wage model of employment in right-to-work states….

Bruno and study co-author Frank Manzo IV, the policy director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, investigated the impact of right-to-work laws on worker earnings, employment, tax revenues and government assistance.

The authors found that right-to-work laws:
• Reduce worker income from wages and salaries by 3.2 percent on average.
• Lower both the share of workers who are covered by a health insurance plan (by 3.5 percent) and the share of workers who are covered by a pension plan (by 3 percent).
• Reduce union membership rates by 9.6 percent.
• Increase the employment rate (by 0.4 percent), but at the expense of a lower labor force participation rate (by 0.5 percent).

While workers in right-to-work states account for just 37.4 percent of all federal income tax revenues, they receive 41.9 percent of all non-health, non-retirement government assistance, the paper says….