Category Archives: Labor Unions

Organized Labor Should Spend the Rest of 2015 Training Workers How to Fight

Source: David Goodner, In These Times, Working In These Times blog, May 1, 2015

…..In the long run, labor would be better off scaling back its electoral work and instead double down on new and internal organizing, with a special emphasis on bringing back the widespread and prolific use of the strike—a weapon that, unlike the campaign contribution, actually has the power to change the political calculus on the job and in Washington.

Popularizing the use of the strike as a tactic again (which in some ways is already happening, just not widely enough or quickly enough) could not only lead to more victories on the job; it could also help grow the confidence of the working class as a whole to take on bigger political challenges and see the value in joining mass movements for transformational social change.

Unions should start making this transition now and use the rest of the year to accomplish an ambitious goal to train its members, in every bargaining unit across the country, in how to organize and implement a successful strike campaign.

Organized workers going on strike to win better wages, hours and working conditions may sound like common sense—“bread and butter” unionism. But decades of sustained defeats at the hands of corporate power—combined with the dominant business unionism model that eschews worker militancy, shop floor struggle and open confrontation in favor of backroom deal-making and so-called “labor-management partnerships”—has created an environment where all too many labor unions have forgotten their true source of power and how to effectively use it.

Luckily, a group of innovative democratic union reformers at SEIU Local 1021 in California have developed a new training curriculum called the Strike School that could serve as a nationwide model for action and be easily adapted to fit local needs by action committees made up of union stewards, shop floor leaders, rank and file workers and organizing staff.

Local 1021’s model Strike School, which In These Times has obtained and posted online (links below) as an open source document, is designed to educate workers about the true nature of class politics and class conflict, the power of the strike, how to organize and win a strike and how to use the strike as part of a larger social movement. It is divided into three modules: “Economic Power,” “Striking for Our Communities,” and “Strategic Planning,” and uses the 1937 sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan, as well as the 2012 Port of Oakland and Chicago Teachers strikes as case studies. PowerPoints, video documentaries, guided discussions, mock scenarios and worker role-plays are all part of the curriculum……

The “Strike School” materials can be found below:
Module 1: Economic Power
Module 2: Strategic Planning
Module 3: Striking for Our Communities
Additional handouts

The Union Card: A Ticket Into Middle Class Stability

Source: Hugh Mackenzie, Richard Shillington, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 2015

From the abstract:
This report examines 30 years of unionization and income data to examine the impact of union decline on the mobility of Canada’s middle class. The resulting findings contribute a new addition to our understanding of middle class economics, and reveal that unionization is not just about a wage premium — it affects workers’ location along the middle spectrum of the income ladder.

middle class squeeze

Guest Post: Will Governor Rauner’s New Bankruptcy Proposal Break Chicago’s Pension Obligations?

Source: Michelle Wilde Anderson, OnLabor blog, May 1, 2015

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has decided that allowing his state’s municipalities to declare bankruptcy is an important arrow in his quiver to break “the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers”—namely union influence and membership rates in Illinois. ….

…. So the recent big city Chapter 9’s eliminated costly health care benefits and deeply discounted capital market creditors’ debts, but nonetheless preserved most of their pension payments. Why they struck that balance is critical for Illinois voters and politicians to understand. Rationales in each city varied, but two main themes emerged.

First, the plan authors in Detroit saw that cutting their retirees’ benefits would sink many retirees below the poverty line in the city and the region. This was a painful humanitarian reality, but so too was it an economic one: a municipal debtor has to be stable enough to pay its obligations under its bankruptcy plan. More concentrated local poverty does not help. A second main argument against cutting pension benefits showed up in Stockton. Officials determined that cutting benefits and thereby being excluded from the state pension system would make the city uncompetitive for public employees, especially police. That was a hard pill to swallow for a city with a spiking homicide rate and no cash to spare on competitive wages. Many other concerns surfaced in both cities as well, but they amounted to a bottom line determination that there were vanishingly few fat cat pensioners to be found, and the municipalities would be even worse off—as a debtor, as a city—if they cut into their retirees’ payments. (Because these big cases and others have effectively settled, the legal fairness of the decision not to cut pension payments has never been tested by a higher court, but there are compelling arguments that these decisions are consistent with Chapter 9.) …..

Even Conservative Millennials Support Unions

Source: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, New Republic, May 1, 2015

….The Pew Research Center on Monday released a report detailing the American public’s outlook on labor unions. There were a few surprises. First, young people of both parties are more amenable to labor unions than their older peers. Fifty-five percent of people between 18 and 29 view unions favorably, while only 29 percent view them unfavorably. Younger self-identified Republicans are evenly split on labor: 45 percent of them 18 to 34 view unions positively, and 44 percent negatively. Move up to the 35-to-49 Republican age bracket, and a mere 31 percent view unions favorably against 51 percent who view them unfavorably…..

#BlackWorkersMatter

Source: Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Linda Burnham, Steven Pitts, Marc Bayard, Algernon Austin, Discount Foundation and the Neighborhood Funders Group, May 2015

From the summary:
…. #BlackWorkersMatter comprises six sections. The first and longest report focuses on black worker organizing, its history, and the challenges it faces, relying heavily on interviews from activists and leaders prominent in the worker organizing field. It is followed by four reports that address various aspects of the black jobs crisis, its causes, its effects, and the potential for black worker organizing to provide a path to its resolution. These reports, while they stand as powerful individual pieces, together offer a comprehensive picture of the status of both black workers and the struggle for economic opportunity for African Americans. The final section of #BlackWorkersMatter is a recommendations section. …..

Introduction: Employment Law and the Evolving Organization of Work – A Commentary

Source: Emily A. Spieler, Northeastern University Law Journal, Vol. 6 No. 2, 2014

From the abstract:
In 2013, Northeastern University Law Journal hosted a symposium, titled “Employed or Just Working?,” to address issues of legal protections for workers in the United States, regardless of their official classifications.

This article introduces the symposium’s resultant articles. It places the specific topics addressed by issue contributors in the context of the history of workers’ rights being defined and redefined as courts and legislatures responded to complex social, political and economic forces.

This contextualization touches on several periods: the post-Lochner depression era; the era of civil rights activism that gave rise to basic notions of dignity and rejected discrimination based on status; and the emergence of concern in the 1970s regarding the status of at-will employees when their claims collided with matters of public concern – resulting in various anti-retaliation provisions both under the common law and under a myriad of whistleblower statutes. Reflecting an assumption that the employee-employer relationship was amenable to simple analysis and definition, none of the 20th century federal statutes attempted to include even a reasonably useful definition of the key terms of “employee” or “employer.” In fact, the statutory definitions are tautological: employees are individuals employed by employers; employers are entities that employ employees. Despite this statutory assumption, the courts have repeatedly been called upon to apply each statute to nonstandard employment relationships. The definitional problems have never been solved, as the articles in this symposium illustrate.

The author finds that the four contributed articles draw a troubling picture, reminding us that there are inadequate legal protections for misclassified workers and workers in nonstandard and evolving work arrangements.

The Bloody Story of How May Day Became a Holiday for Workers

Source: Lily Rothman, Time, May 1, 2015

….The May 1, 1886, labor action wasn’t just any strike—it was part of what became known as the Haymarket affair. On May 1 of that year, Chicago (along with other cities) was the site of a major union demonstration in support of the eight-hour workday. The Chicago protests were meant to be part of several days of action. On May 3, a strike at the McCormick Reaper plant in the city turned violent; the next day, a peaceful meeting at Haymarket Square became even more so. …

In Major Anti-Labor Case, Union-busters No Longer Even Pretend Unions Don’t Benefit Workers

Source: Moshe Z. Marvit, In These Times, Working In These Times blog, April 29, 2015

…To object and become a non-member, Bain would simply have to write to her union during an open window and state her desire to quit the union. However, if she did so, she would not receive liability insurance, which is a benefit of union membership, or have the right to vote in union elections. Therefore, with the backing of education reformer and former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s anti-teachers union group StudentsFirst, Bain and several other teachers have filed a federal lawsuit against the California Teachers Association, the National Education Association, the California Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers, United Teachers Los Angeles, United Teachers of Richmond and various school superintendents. Through that suit, Bain seeks to accrue all the benefits of union membership while paying a reduced dues rate and becoming a non-member. Bain v. California Teachers Association is in some ways little more than a rehash of previous attacks on labor, but it repackages those attacks’ allegations with a pro-union façade. In doing so, this case represents the high-water mark of perverting the First Amendment as a tool against labor…. At issue in Bain is not that teachers may choose to opt out of membership with their union and pay a reduced dues rate while still receiving all the benefits of the contract. Those fair share fee cases, such as the seminal Beck v. Communication Workers of America, focus on the process of opting out of membership and the types of fees that would be refundable. At issue are those teachers who choose not to be members of the union and do not receive the members’ benefits from the union, such as being able to vote in union elections and access to any union-sponsored insurance programs. Bain and other teachers in the suit argue that it is unfair and unconstitutional for them to be denied any benefits of membership as a result of their decision to opt out of membership and pay a reduced amount in union dues. They want to be able to both opt out of membership in the union and a significant portion of union dues, but to still be able to vote for union officers and direct the union (which they’ve chosen not to join). In other words, they want the full benefits of a union without having to pay for them. And they are asking the federal courts to intercede and say that the First Amendment guarantees them that right….

Militant partnership: a radical pluralist analysis of workforce dialectics

Source: Tony Dundon, Tony Dobbins, Work Employment & Society, Published online before print March 9, 2015

From the abstract:
The sociological understandings of both cooperation and resistance at work are complex. This article contributes to knowledge about dialectic tensions concerning both collaborative and conflictual workforce orientations in the context of a ‘pre-arranged’ union-management partnership agreement. It reports unofficial workforce militancy in opposition to both management and union policy regarding a socially constructed cooperative work regime. The article advances a ‘radical pluralist’ analysis to understand the formation of worker interests and attendant workforce orientations within capitalism.

Roll Back Low Wages – Nine Stories of New Labor Organizing in the United States

Source: Sarah Jaffe, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, March 2015

From the summary:
In this study, labor journalist Sarah Jaffe, whose writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Nation, and In These Times and who works as co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast, examines this series of low-wage workers’ movements that has gained strength in recent years. Including fast food strikes and the fight for a $15 minimum wage; retail, grocery store, restaurant, and taxi workers; Carwasheros, domestic and home care workers, and those living in the U.S. under guestworker visas; Jaffe explores how these movements overlap and connect. She also analyzes their flaws and setbacks in order to better appreciate and learn how to reproduce their often-unreported victories. While, because of Washington gridlock, it might be a while before these campaigns impact federal legislation, they are already having a notable impact on policy in municipalities across the country: winning minimum wage increases; helping to pass employment-specific regulations and ordinances in cities and states that require businesses to give workers paid sick days; and forming legally recognized collective bargaining units and winning concessions from employers through direct action.

Perhaps more importantly, low-wage workers’ movements are playing a crucial role in revitalizing labor, and indeed much of the left, creating alliances and waging offensive battles at a time when too much of the progressive community has been stuck playing defense. They are doing everything they can to ensure that the defeat of precarity, and not its continuance, will be the most important trend in the U.S economy in the years to come.
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