Category Archives: Labor Unions

The Erosion of Collective Bargaining Has Widened the Gap Between Productivity and Pay

Source: David Cooper and Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Raising America’s Pay, January 6, 2015

From the summary:
To understand the growth of income inequality—and the disappointing increases in workers’ wages and compensation as well as middle-class incomes—it is crucial to understand the divergence of pay and productivity.

Productivity growth, which is the growth of the output of goods and services per hour worked, provides the basis for the growth of living standards. Productivity and compensation (wages and benefits) of the typical worker grew in tandem over the early postwar period until the 1970s. In contrast, over the last few decades, productivity has grown substantially, but the hourly compensation of the typical worker has grown much less, especially in the last 10 years or so. In fact, the gap between productivity and compensation growth for the typical worker has been larger since the early 2000s than at any point in the post–World War II period. As such, the last 10 years have been a “lost decade” for American workers. In this light, it is more accurate to say that productivity provides the potential for growing living standards because there is no guarantee that productivity gains will be widely shared.

One key factor in the divergence between pay and productivity is the widespread erosion of collective bargaining that has diminished the wages of both union and nonunion workers. This will be demonstrated below by showing that the productivity–pay gap grew most in those states where collective bargaining coverage declined the most.

American Labor Movement At A Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies

Source: Albert Shanker Institute, the Sidney Hillman Foundation and the American Prospect, January 15, 2014

The American labor movement is at a critical juncture. After three decades of declining union density in the private sector and years of all-out political assaults on public sector unions, America’s unions now face what can only be described as existential threats. Strategies and tactics that may have worked in a different era are no longer adequate to today’s challenges. The need for different approaches to the fundamentals of union work in areas such as organizing, collective bargaining and political action is clear. The purpose of this conference is to examine new thinking and new initiatives, viewing them critically in the light of ongoing union imperatives of cultivating member activism and involvement, fostering democratic self-governance and building the collective power of working people.

• Leo Casey, executive director, Albert Shanker Institute
• Alexandra Lescaze, executive director, Sidney Hillman Foundation
• The Honorable Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor
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• Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers & Albert Shanker Institute
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• Tefere Gebre, executive vice president, AFL-CIO
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• Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large, American Prospect; columnist, The Washington Post; board member, The Albert Shanker Institute; judge, Sidney Hillman Foundation
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• Karen Nussbaum, executive director, Working America
• David Rolf, president, Workers Lab, SEIU 775
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Moderator: Alexandra Lescaze, executive director, Sidney Hillman Foundation

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• Paul Booth, assistant to the president, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
• Elizabeth Bunn, Organizing Director, AFL-CIO
• Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director, Freelancers Union
• Jessica Smith, chief-of-staff, American Federation of Teachers
• Cristina Tzintzun, executive director, Texas Workers Defense Project
Moderator: Phil Kugler, special assistant to the president for organization, American Federation of Teachers

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Conversation with:
• Marcell Grair, National Organizer, United Students Against Sweatshops
• Sarita Gupta, executive director, Jobs With Justice
• Gerry Hudson, executive Vvce president, Service Employess International Union; board member, Sidney Hillman Foundation
• Joseph McCartin, director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University
• Sejal Parikh, director, Fast Food Workers Campaign, Working Washington
Moderator: Leo Casey, executive director, Albert Shanker Institute

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• Catherine Fisk, chancellor’s professor of law; co-director, Center in Law, Society and Culture, University of California at Irvine Law School
• Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president, American Federation of Teachers; board member, Albert Shanker Institute
• Dan Schlademan, director, OUR Walmart, United Food and Commerical Workers International Union
• Prasi Gupta, deputy executive director, National Guestworker Alliance
Moderator: Cheryl Teare, director, Union Leadership Institute, American Federation of Teachers

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• Mark Brenner, director, Labor Notes
• Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow, Century Foundation; board member, Albert Shanker Institute
• Rich Yeselson, labor strategist
Moderator: Rachel Cohen, American Prospect

The U.S. Labor Movement: At a ‘Crossroads,’ or the Gallows?
Source: Jake Blumgart, In These Times, Working In These Times blog, January 21, 2015

Conferences of this type lend themselves to pontifications on the evergreen question “what is to be done?”—an exercise that often leads to presentations full of banalities. For the most part, such presentations were mercifully missing at the conference. A panel on community-labor alliances proved apt at naming everything the shrinking labor movement should be supporting, but provided precious little insight into how it can be expected to pay to ramp up such campaigns. … In terms of actual ideas, minority unionism seemed to hold the greatest hope—even if many attendees would probably have preferred that it didn’t. … The very fact that minority unionism is a hot topic of discussion at a D.C. labor conference is a sign of how badly organized labor’s hopes have been dashed. The architects of New Deal labor law pushed for majority representation and exclusive bargaining because a union that speaks for the entire workplace is likely to have more influence and can generate enough resources to fund both organizing and political campaigns. But the spread of right-to-work laws, the likely end of agency fees, and the members-only Local 42 that the UAW recently formed in Chattanooga seems to have forced establishment leaders and intellectuals to grapple with the idea. …. The NLRB has not hinted that they will be altering labor standards to accommodate minority unions. But the Chattanooga UAW local could force the issue. There are also several states where public workers now have to labor in conditions that could allow for such a model. In 2011, Tennessee banned exclusive representation for teachers and now requires members-only bargaining. Fisk calls it “a terrific natural experiment.” ….

US union revival, minority unionism and inter-union conflict

Source: Mark Harcourt, Helen Lam, Geoffrey Wood, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 56 no. 5, November 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
One option for reversing US union decline, requiring no legislative change, would involve re-legitimizing non-majority or minority union representation, allowing unions to organize without running the gauntlet of union certification. Such minority representation, applicable only to workplaces without majority union support on a members-only basis, could run in parallel with the existing system of exclusive representation in workplaces where majority support is achieved. The increased representation in the currently unrepresented workplaces would inevitably promote workers’ collective voice and contribute to union revival. However, minority unionism has been criticized for breeding union competition because it is non-exclusive. In this paper, the nature and extent of inter-union conflict under minority unionism are re-examined, using survey data from unions in New Zealand which already has non-exclusive, minority union representation. The low levels and consequences of conflict suggest that the benefits of minority unionism far outweigh any potentially unfavourable effects.

Gender as a Boundary Condition of Models of Union Women’s Mental Health and Participation in Relation to Perceived Union Tolerance for Sexual Harassment

Source: Steven Mellor, Leslie M. Golay, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Online First September 2, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Do models of union women’s mental health and union participation extend to union men? To answer this question, we attempted to replicate two supported models using data from union men (N = 150): The interactional effect model of union women’s mental health and the conditional indirect effect model of women’s union participation (Mellor and Golay in Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 2014a, Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 148, 73–91, 2014b). In both models, perceived union tolerance for sexual harassment is positioned as a moderator of the predictor-outcome relationship. Retests of the models did not suggest favorable replication. As such, neither model was extended to men. Implications for sexual harassment theory and union intervention are discussed.

Killing Unions with Culture: Institutions, Inequality, and the Effects of Labor’s Decline in the United States

Source: Raymond L. Hogler, Herbert G. Hunt III, Stephan Weiler, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Online First, December 25, 2014

From the abstract:
This essay examines the relationship between culture, inequality, and organized labor in the United States. We argue that America’s exceptional cultural values are the key to falling union membership density and rising inequality. Cultural attitudes originated with the process of colonization in this country, particularly the embedded social structures that defined regimes of slavery and impeded the development of general trust. Citizens orient themselves toward policy positions depending on their “cultural cognition.” Culture determines our world views and political leanings. Research shows that attitudes about collective action and social justice versus individual efficacy and social hierarchy predict policy choices. We offer historical and quantitative evidence to support our argument.
Introduction to “Killing Unions with Culture: Institutions, Inequality, and the Effects of Labor’s Decline in the United States”
Source: Victor G. Devinatz, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Online First, December 18, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Much has been written in recent years about the factors contributing to the current weakness of the US trade union movement. Union density in this country, for example, has not reached such a low level since 1916. Coinciding with organized labor’s decline over the last 30 years is the concomitant rise in economic inequality in the United States which became a rallying point for the Occupy Wall Street Movement when it was formed more than three years ago. More recently, increasing economic inequality has been reignited as a hot topic of conversation in the United States with the publication of the English translation of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century in April 2014. The article published in this issue’s “Perspectives Section” deals with both topics – the decline of US organized labor and economic inequality. In this first-rate, perceptive, original and extremely well-written essay, Dr. Raymond L. Hogler, Professor of Management at Colorado State University; Dr. Herbe …

Labor Union Membership and Life Satisfaction in the United States

Source: Patrick Flavin, Gregory Shufeldt, Baylor University, Working Paper, October 27, 2014

While a voluminous literature examines the effects of organized labor on workers’ wage and benefit levels in the United States, there has been little investigation into whether membership in a labor union directly contributes to a higher quality of life. Using data from the World Values Survey, we uncover evidence that union members are more satisfied with their lives than those who are not members and that the substantive effect of union membership on life satisfaction rivals other common predictors of quality of life. Moreover, we find that union membership boosts life satisfaction across demographic groups regardless if someone is rich or poor, male or female, young or old, or has a high or low level of education. These results suggest that organized labor in the United States can have significant implications for the quality of life that citizens experience.
Opinion: Want to Be Happy? Join a Union
Source: John Guida, New York Times, January 13, 2015

Social movement unionism in practice: organizational dimensions of union mobilization in the Los Angeles immigrant rights marches

Source: Cassandra Engeman, Work Employment & Society, Published online before print: December 30, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
To revitalize union movements globally, labour scholars frequently prescribe social movement unionism. This union strategy adopts social change goals beyond member representation and contract negotiations and often requires allying with community organizations in pursuit of these goals. As a term, however, social movement unionism is often described in opposition to union organizational functions, such as member representation. This article challenges this organization-movement dichotomy by demonstrating the important influence of union organizational dimensions on the dynamics of social movement unionism. Analysis is based on case study research of labour union involvement in the 2006 immigrant rights marches in Los Angeles. Unions that participated in organizing these marches – thus, practicing social movement unionism – allied with large community organizations, preferred reform goals and advocated tactics perceived as effective. Such strategic decisions were informed by organizational considerations regarding members’ interests and unions’ long-term capacity for mobilization.

Labor-Management Partnerships Will Not Revive the Union Movement

Source: Chris Maisano, In These Times, Working in These Times blog, January 12, 2015

As late as 2008, it was not unreasonable to think that the stars were aligning for a long-awaited revitalization of the U.S. labor movement. The financial crisis focused popular anger on the Wall Street financiers whose speculative activities brought the global economy to the brink of collapse. The election of Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress raised labor’s hopes for the passage of an economic recovery program and long-sought labor law reforms. …. It didn’t happen. Labor law reform was sidelined in favor of health care reform, and the Republicans rolled up big electoral wins at all levels in 2010 and 2014. Despite widespread popular anger at the multi-trillion-dollar bank bailouts, the financial sector has come out of the crisis stronger, and corporate profits are at record levels. Economic inequality has continued its upward path. …. But what if the labor movement gave up on the practice of exclusive representation and embraced members-only unionism, as was common through the 1940s? What if it scrapped the winner-take-all approach and organized workers even when they didn’t have majority support? Doing so would relieve unions of the requirement to represent everybody and allow them to bargain for only those workers who voluntarily chose to be members…..

Introduction to The Workplace Constitution from the New Deal to the New Right

Source: Sophia Z. Lee, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-37, 2014

From the abstract:
Today, most American workers do not have constitutional rights on the job. As The Workplace Constitution shows, this outcome was far from inevitable. Instead, American workers have a long history of fighting for such rights. Beginning in the 1930s, civil rights advocates sought constitutional protections against racial discrimination by employers and unions. At the same time, a conservative right-to-work movement argued that the Constitution protected workers from having to join or support unions. Those two movements, with their shared aim of extending constitutional protections to American workers, were a potentially powerful combination. But they sought to use those protections to quite different ends: African Americans wanted access to unions, while right-to-work litigants wanted to be free of them. Although the civil rights movement went on to dismantle Jim Crow laws, and the right-to-work movement had the support of some of the nation’s most prominent politicians and opinion makers, their conflicting purposes sapped support for the workplace Constitution and ultimately led to its collapse.

The Workplace Constitution tells for the first time the story of anti-New Deal conservatives’ legal campaigns, recovers overlooked civil rights and labor advocacy, and moves constitutional history into little-explored venues such as administrative agencies. In recounting the civil rights and right-to-work movements’ surprising successes and explaining their ultimate failure, the book provides a fresh perspective on postwar conservatism and liberalism, emphasizing how law intertwined their fates and how that entanglement in turn shaped the law. Those interested in the history of the United States’ conservative, labor, and civil rights movements; its Constitution and political institutions; and the legal rights of its workers will find much of interest here. In the twenty-first century, the workplace Constitution has all but vanished. This book illuminates what has been gained and lost in its demise, both in the workplace and beyond.