Category Archives: Labor Unions

Public Sector Unions Promote Economic Security and Equality for Women

Source: Andrea Johnson, Katherine Gallagher Robbins, National Women’s Law Center, November 2015

From the blog post:
At a time when women make up two-thirds of the low-wage workforce and the gender wage gap refuses to die, public sector unions are a beacon of hope for working women. As our new analysis, “Public Sector Unions Promote Economic Security and Equality for Women,” reveals, public sector unions provide much-needed economic security and equality for working women.

Women make up a majority of the public sector workforce, which includes nurses, first responders, teachers, and many other employees whose work is crucial to the health, safety, and prosperity of our communities. Women also make up a majority of union-represented public sector workers. We show that these union-represented women have higher wages and increased participation in employer-based health insurance plans, compared to their non-union-represented counterparts. These women also experience greater equality in wages and health benefits with their male counterparts.

On Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

Source: Jeffrey Keefe, Economic Policy Institute, EPI Briefing Paper #411, November 2, 2015

From the summary:
The inextricable links between exclusive representation, agency fees, and the duty of fair representation. … The U.S. Supreme Court in its current session will consider Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that may require all states to enforce public-sector open-shop laws. Specifically a question before the court is whether to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977) and find public-sector agency-shop clauses unconstitutional. Agency-shop clauses allow unions to collect agency fees (also called fair-share fees) from employees who are not union members but whom the union is legally required to represent. The fees are calculated as a percent of union dues. The Court in Abood upheld the constitutionality of agency-shop clauses, provided that the agency service charges are used to finance collective-bargaining, contract-administration, and grievance processes, but not for political or ideological purposes. Since World War II, 25 states have enacted so-called right-to-work (RTW) laws prohibiting the enforcement of agency-shop provisions in the private sector, and then they extended these laws to their public-sector employees. These laws create “open shops,” where all workers, union and nonunion alike, have the right to union representation but are not required to pay the union fees for that representation. If the Supreme Court overturns Abood and eliminates agency fees, it would essentially make all states right-to-work states (also known as “no-fair-share” states) in the public sector.

This briefing paper responds to a claim by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in its amicus curiae brief, that there is not an inextricable link between exclusive representation and the agency fees that allow public-sector unions to fulfill their duty of fair representation for all bargaining unit members. “Unions are in fact able to fulfill the duty of fair representation despite whatever incentive workers might have to ‘free ride’ on the union when they do not face any agency fees,” the brief states (Mackinac Center 2015)…. Simply put, this briefing paper asks whether agency clauses, which eliminate free-riders, are needed so that unions can carry out their obligations to serve all members of a bargaining unit. It finds that agency clauses are needed because free-riding reduces resources and thus undermines the ability of a union to serve all workers in the bargaining unit. Having fewer resources, for example, likely makes it harder for the union to pay the costs of an arbitration, which could include the costs of investigation, lawyers’ fees, the arbitrator’s fee, and staff time…..

Press Release

Labor Protest Under the New First Amendment

Source: Catherine Fisk and Jessica Rutter, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 36 no. 2, 2015

Low-wage workers across the country have recently gripped the nation’s attention with public demonstrations calling for workplace fairness. But as these workers and the unions supporting them employ new and innovative strategies to organize their workplaces and improve their working conditions, employers and the National Labor Relations Board have charged them with violating section 8(b)(7) of the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits peaceful picketing to organize workers or gain employer recognition of a union. This article analyzes the history and impact of labor picketing restrictions in light of the Supreme Court’s recent First Amendment jurisprudence. We demonstrate that the National Labor Relations Board, its enforcement officials, and the courts can no longer apply old law prohibiting picketing for recognitional and organizational objects. The NLRA’s prohibitions on labor unions picketing to obtain recognition or get workers to join them are unconstitutional speaker-based and content-based discrimination. We describe how the Board and the courts can adopt narrower interpretations of labor picketing that accord with the Supreme Court’s recent First Amendment cases. Specifically, we advance three proposals to bring the Board’s interpretation and enforcement practices into compliance with the Constitution, and a fourth approach that might at least partially address the constitutional infirmities of the Board’s current approach. All of these proposals aim to ensure that section 8(b)(7) will be violated only by conduct that actually or imminently coerces employees or companies in the selection of a bargaining representative through methods other than peaceful persuasion of consumers or employees to cease doing business with the firm.

Who’s Behind Friedrichs?

Source: Adele M. Stan, American Prospect, October 29, 2015

The right-wing one-percenters who are funding a mega-attack on unions.

…The right of unions to collect fair share fees was settled by the court’s unanimous decision in 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In her dissenting opinion in Harris, Justice Elena Kagan noted that the fair-share issues Alito brought up were not even before the court in Harris. Alito’s questioning of the Abood precedent, however, signaled an inclination by the conservative majority to revisit it.

Alito’s invitation to reconsider Abood helped ensure that Friedrichs tore through the legal system at high speed. But the real force propelling Friedrichs’ gallop through the courts was the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), the right-wing pro-bono law group that is representing teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs: At each stage in the legal process, CIR attorneys asked the courts to rule against their own clients, with the apparent interest of moving the case up to the Supreme Court as quickly as possible…..

….Since its founding, the Center for Individual Rights has maintained a special focus on challenging civil-rights measures, especially affirmative action….. The list of foundations and donor-advised funds supporting the Center for Individual Rights reads like a who’s who of the right’s organized opposition to labor. …. According to journalist Laura Flanders, earlier in its history CIR also enjoyed the support of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist organization devoted to the promotion of eugenics. Flanders, writing in The Nation in 1999, found through an examination of the group’s tax records that the Pioneer Fund had made three separate grants to CIR. While the involvement of the Pioneer Fund in CIR may seem unrelated to the law group’s anti-union work, it is not uncommon for organizations opposed to the interests of labor to also have histories of antipathy to other forms of civil rights…..

The Union of the Future

Source: Michelle Miller, Roosevelt Institute, Thought Brief, Next American Economy Convening, July 6, 2015

Michelle Miller, co-founder of, asks what the union of the future will look like. … As remote work has become easier, so too has the transition to the use of independent contractors instead of full-time employees. …. In essence, we have an entire government and union structure designed to ensure economic stability for workers—but one that no longer matches the situation in which many people actually work. …. The union of the future will be structured radically differently to meet the needs of workers in the emerging platform-based economy. It will transition from focusing solely on generating and supporting collective bargaining agreements to providing a variety of services to these workers. It will only thrive in a federal policy environment that is willing to reimagine its own definitions of work. The union of the future will combine elements of platform-based global networks of employees, facilitated mutual aid, and revamped trade unions. ….

Widening the Scope of Worker Organizing: Legal Reforms to Facilitate Multi-Employer Organizing, Bargaining, and Striking

Source: Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

From the summary:
For legal, social, and economic reasons, it is difficult for worker organizations to organize, bargain, and strike across entire contractual supply-chains, networks, industries, occupations, or regions.

This paper proposes four large-scale reforms to diminish these difficulties and actively facilitate organizing and striking across multiple employers:

First, an entity should be deemed an “indirect” employer of multiple “direct” employers’ workforces if it has “sufficient bargaining power” to determine the standards of all the employees in question, even if the entity is not currently exercising such power. By organizing and bargaining with that single entity, a worker organization would effectively organize and bargain with what is currently deemed a multi- employer association.

Second, the law should authorize worker organizations to unilaterally choose multi-employer units. And, if a government agency is called upon to select among differing units chosen by different worker organizations, the agency should define units based on the criterion of “maximum potential worker empowerment.”

Third, legal reform should authorize bargaining units that are defined not only by employer boundaries but also by such categories as geographic region, production-and-distribution network, occupation, or industry.

Fourth, bargaining rights or the substantive terms of collective agreements should extend across multiple employers even if only a minority of unit workers have affirmatively shown their support for the organization.

Each of these reforms would require large-scale legislative transformation and zealous enforcement that are only imaginable in the event of deep progressive renewal in our politics. The four reforms could be enacted separately but would, if concurrently implemented, be mutually reinforcing.

Metropolitan Coalitions: Creating Opportunities for Worker Organizing

Source: Ben Beach and Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel, Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

From the summary:
Today, the ever-more-attenuated relationship between workers and companies with economic power over their jobs creates obstacles for those who wish to expand opportunities for worker organizing, especially among low-wage workers. The ever more distant nature of the relationship between unions and communities makes those obstacles harder to surmount.

Changing this landscape will require new strategies. Major cities are the place to start, as they are where capital wants to be, where favorable politics and constituencies are concentrated, and where government has the power to shape regional economies for the better. In the last several years, community-labor coalitions working in cities have demonstrated what is possible. Working in permanent coalition, they are winning campaigns that push cities to transform local sectors of the economy, raising standards for all workers and creating better conditions for organizing. Their campaigns have focused on, among other things, community benefits at major development projects, real construction careers for excluded communities, and a waste and recycling sector that respects workers, the environment, and local communities. Those interested in expanding opportunities for worker organizing should invest in such strategies.

Labor Standards and Worker Organization Strategy

Source: Michael J. Piore and David W. Skinner, Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

From the summary:
This paper explores a new strategy for workplace-based worker organizations. The strategy is suggested by the contrast between the U.S. system of work regulation, in which regulations are administered by a number of different agencies, each with a relatively narrow jurisdiction, and the system prevailing in Southern Europe and Latin America, where a single agency administers the whole of the labor code. The latter system is particularly effective where, as is generally the case, the work practices of a company are interrelated and “patterned.” The patterns typically reflect the company’s production practices and business strategy; these are the ultimate determinant of work practices and need to be adjusted if violations are to be remedied. The Franco-Latin approach encourages the regulatory agency to recognize these patterns, and then to look for remedies that address the root causes.

Workplace-based worker organizations could simulate the Franco-Latin approach by identifying violations, bringing complaints simultaneously to all the different agencies that have jurisdiction over them, and pressuring those agencies and employers involved to work together with the worker organization to identify the underlying causes of the problems and develop appropriate remedies. This strategy could be developed by a local organization operating on its own or in coordination with other organizations at the local, state, or national level on the model of the recent campaigns to raise the minimum wage.

Tackling Workplace Segregation Through Collective Bargaining: The Case of UNITE-HERE and the Hotel Industry

Source: Dorian Warren and Virginia Parks, Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

From the summary:
More than 50 years since passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, the little progress we have made as a country in ending job segregation by race and gender has stalled. As women and people of color make up a growing majority of America’s workforce, we must find new and innovative solutions to ending workplace segregation and promoting equal opportunity for all. This case study of UNITE-HERE’s work in the hotel industry demonstrates one effective solution in light of the inadequacy of the Civil Rights Act: collective bargaining.

We identify direct ways in which UNITE-HERE, through the collective bargaining process, influenced the racial and ethnic division of labor beyond network recruitment among individual members. We show how outside of apprenticeship programs, unions may directly influence racial, ethnic, and gender representation by legislating hiring practices through specific contract language, such as mandating diversity commitments from employers, implementing stronger nondiscrimination practices, and requiring direct outreach to underrepresented applicants.

Union Organizing in National Labor Relations Board Elections

Source: Dorian Warren, Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

From the summary:
Is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) broken? Yes. But does that mean it is irrelevant for workers attempting to organize? No. As data in this paper shows, particularly when focused on certain demographic groups, labor unions are still using the NLRB, and in many cases, very effectively.

This paper examines the use of the NLRB election process since 2000, and especially from 2008 to 2012. The author finds that while the majority of new private sector union members have not gained recognition through the broken NLRB election process, the data show a significant number of workers who do in fact gain representation through NLRB elections. The data also show a notable decline in the numbers of workers gaining unionization through the NLRB, though at the same time, the “win” rates of workers who do use the process have increased over the last decade.

Based on analysis of original data on the demographics of those organized using the NLRB process, the win rates for workers in NLRB elections increases with the diversity of the workplace. specifically, workers of color, women, and especially women of color overwhelmingly vote in favor of unionization through the NLRB election process.