Category Archives: Labor Unions

Revitalizing Unions, Rebuilding Labor Studies – book review

Source: Stephanie Luce, Work and Occupations, Published online before print April 2, 2015
(subscription required)

Adler, L. H., Tapia, M., & Turner, L. (Eds.). (2014). Mobilizing Against Inequality: Unions, Immigrant Workers, and the Crisis of Capitalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 210 pp. $21.95 (paper).

From the abstract:
Mobilizing Against Inequality: Unions, Immigrant Workers, and the Crisis of Capitalism is an edited volume that provides case studies of unions organizing immigrant workers in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany. The book, edited by Lee H. Adler, Maite Tapia, and Lowell Turner, contains details of cases where unions have allied with community organizations and other social movement partners to expand union access or political rights to immigrant workers. The authors draw lessons from the best case scenarios. This book also serves as an example of the kind of work labor studies scholars and institutes are pursuing.

The Benefits of Collective Bargaining: An Antidote to Wage Decline and Inequality

Source: Economic Policy Institute, Fact Sheet, March 17, 2015

Wages have been stagnant for a generation despite sizable increases in overall productivity, incomes, and wealth. For instance, our nation’s output of goods and services per hour worked (productivity, net of depreciation) grew 64 percent from 1979 to 2014, while the inflation-adjusted hourly wage of the typical worker rose by just 6 percent. The single largest factor suppressing wage growth for middle-wage workers has been the erosion of collective bargaining.
– The decline of collective bargaining has affected nonunion workers in industries or occupations that previously had extensive collective bargaining because their employers no longer raise wages toward the union-set standard as union membership rates decline.
– The decline of collective bargaining through its impact on union and nonunion workers can explain one-third of the rise of wage inequality among men since 1979, and one-fifth among women…..

U.S. Labor: Satisfying Foreign Investors’ Needs

Source: Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble, Area Development, Location USA, 2015

Although the labor environment varies from state to state, foreign companies choosing a U.S. location are finding competitive wage rates, quality training resources, and workers eager to join their labor forces….

… Unionization and Right-to-Work Laws
That understanding begins with the acknowledgment that the United States is a collection of 50 states, with widely varying characteristics and regulatory environments. That’s not a bad thing, of course, because global site selectors have just as widely varying requirements. Consider the subject of unionization. “Some want to have an open shop, some like to have unions, and some are neutral and have to bring that neutrality here,” Thuston says….

….“Right-to-work” laws tend to drive down unionization rates, which may in turn lead to lower wage rates. Be that as it may, cheaper labor isn’t everything, he says. “What companies are looking for is not necessarily the lowest labor cost, but dependability and the capability of delivering quality.”
Lewin adds that while many companies — including many of the non-U.S. automakers that have sought U.S. sites in recent years — instinctively seek to avoid unionization, others feel less threatened by organized labor. “You can run a unionized operation and do very well in business. In some industries the highest-performing companies are highly unionized.” …

Organizing the Unorganizable

Source: E. Tammy Kim, Dissent, Vol. 62 no. 2, Spring 2015

…To understand how a once marginal coterie of low-wage immigrant workers came to be courted by mainstream unions, one must go back to the adolescence of our globalized, outsourced, service economy. In the 1990s, a wave of small nonprofits opened, first in New York then across the country. They were called worker centers—community groups that organized underclass laborers, often of the same ethnic background, and with a focus on particular industries or neighborhoods. These groups tended to be far left and non-hierarchical, turned off by the bureaucratic bloat and corruption of large unions….

Symposium Issue – Reimagining Labor Law

Source: UC Irvine Law Review, Volume 4: Issue No. 2, May 2014

Articles include:
Reimagining Collective Rights in the Workplace
Catherine L. Fisk
…. A group of eminent and rising scholars were invited to address fundamental questions: What are the alternatives to the Wagner Act model of majority unions, workplace collective bargaining, and the current regime of social welfare provision on which it depends? What institutional structures could be created to provide dignity, opportunity, and protection to work? Rather than focusing on the current regime, the authors were challenged to explore alternatives and not to take anything for granted, including the existing divisions between or structures of labor law and employment law.

The articles explore a variety of alternative legal and social regimes based in existing practice in the United States—including the hybrid union-community worker organizations like Our Walmart and Fast Food Forward, sector-based worker groups like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Occupy initiatives, workers’ centers, national progressive organizations like the National Employment Law Project, and community organizations like the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. Some are based on comparative studies, examining possibilities of creating in the United States institutional structures that show promise elsewhere in the world. Some generalize from careful studies of particular campaigns or organizations, with an eye toward scaling up successful efforts. Some examine different legal regimes—the First Amendment freedom of assembly clause, for example—and some examine different forms of representation and institutional structures, including worker centers. Some explore feasible legal strategies to address the marginalization of unauthorized migrant workers. Others propose legal reforms to invigorate private membership organizations that protect the interests of people at work, such as by reducing restrictions on the collection of voluntary political contributions through payroll deduction and liberating unions from some of the restrictions imposed by state right-to-work legislation. …

….The articles in this symposium collectively argue three important propositions. First, collective activism will be crucial to any revitalization of labor. Labor law reform should aspire to enable the organizing that is essential to effective collective activism. Each of the papers proposes a different way that law can either facilitate such organizing and activism or avoid thwarting it. Second, and related, institutional design matters a great deal to whether worker activism will occur and, if it does occur, whether it will be effective in improving working conditions. Third, legal rules should be crafted to facilitate collective worker action by making worker collectives sustainable and scalable institutions; by giving them crucial roles in existing legal regimes to empower worker voice in many important legal and political forums; by leveraging power at the local, state, and national level; and by thwarting efforts to use legal doctrines like preemption or legal bureaucracies like criminal justice to eviscerate organizing gains.

The third step of the argument is where the authors strike out on four different but intersecting paths. The paths are: (1) empowering collectives, especially at the local level; (2) creating mechanisms to enhance leverage through local, national, and international frameworks; (3) improving access to information to enhance worker power; and (4) strengthening the institutional power of unions by protecting the ability of unions and worker collectives to fund their operations. The first two of these offer macro perspectives on how law facilitates and thwarts worker activism. The third and fourth examine the ways that law creates (or destroys) the institutional frameworks that empower workers to act collectively in organizing, in negotiating and administering agreements over conditions of employment, and in political action. ….

Latin America’s “Third Left” Meets the U.S. Workplace: A Promising Direction for Worker Protection?
Chris Tilly & Marie Kennedy

Beyond Unions, Notwithstanding Labor Law

Marion Crain & Ken Matheny

Not Dead Yet: Preserving Labor Law Strengths While Exploring New Labor Law Strategies
Lance Compa

Riding the Wave: Uplifting Labor Organizations Through Immigration Reform
Jayesh M. Rathod

Policing Wage Theft in the Day Labor Market
Stephen Lee

Productive Unionism
Matthew Dimick

Organizing with International Framework Agreements: An Exploratory Study
César F. Rosado Marzán

Extending the Case for Workplace Transparency to Information About Pay
Cynthia Estlund

Automatic Elections
Michael M. Oswalt

Restoring Equity in Right-to-Work Law
Catherine L. Fisk & Benjamin I. Sachs

Paycheck Protection or Paycheck Deception? When Government “Subsidies” Silence Political Speech
Brian Olney

Unions still matter

Source: Sean McElwee, Al Jazeera America, April 15, 2015

New evidence suggests that unions may be more important than Democrats in reducing inequality. … With the enemies at the gate, the liberal elite seems to have finally learned to love unions. … But it may be too little, too late. Democrats did little to defend unions when it counted. …To be fair, some of these pressures came from global trends, but public policy played a key role in tilting the field against labor. Now Republicans are fighting to drive a final spike in the heart of the most effective anti-inequality movement in history. If liberals do nothing to shore up unions, their decline will only continue. That will have important implications for inequality….

Guest Post: Do Arguments Against Fair Share Fees Make it Harder for the Government to Privatize Services?

Source: Andrew Strom, OnLabor blog, April 14, 2015

….So far, those who advocate for overturning Abood haven’t spent much time addressing whether employment should be treated differently from other benefits or opportunities provided by the government. But, if the Court accepts the argument that the government may never condition the granting of a benefit on providing financial support to an entity that engages in expressive activity that an individual finds objectionable, then a decision overturning Abood could have unexpected and wide-ranging implications. For instance, consider the question of access to national parks. If you want to visit Alcatraz Island, you must pay $30.00 to Alcatraz Cruises, a private ferry service. It’s not clear where the money goes, but according to a sustainability report issued by the company in 2012, some of that money went to the purchase of renewable energy credits and other money went toward the production of on-site renewable energy. Surely not everyone who visits Alcatraz supports these initiatives. If people can’t be required to pay fair share fees to a union in order to have access to public employment, then it is not clear how they could be required to pay fees to Alcatraz Cruises in order to visit a national park.

The same argument applies whenever the government requires individuals to pay money to a private vendor in order to take advantage of government services. Consider the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, known as Part D. According to a 2011 Congressional Budget Office report, beneficiaries receive a federal subsidy of about three quarters of the costs of the basic benefit, but in order to access these benefits, they must pay private insurance companies the remaining twenty-five percent of the premium. These insurance companies obviously engage in a great deal of free speech activity on important and potentially controversial issues. If an individual objects to the speech engaged in by the insurance company providing their Part D benefit, does that raise a serious First Amendment issue?….

Balancing Efficiency, Equity and Voice: The Impact of Unions and High Involvement Work Practices on Work Outcomes

Source: Dionne M. Pohler, Andrew A. Luchak, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 67 No. 4, October 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Theory and research surrounding employee voice in organizations have often treated high-involvement work practices (HIWPs) as substitutes for unions. Drawing on recent theoretical developments in the field of industrial relations, specifically the collective voice/institutional response model of union impact and research on HIWPs in organizations, the authors propose that these institutions are better seen as complements whereby greater balance is achieved between efficiency, equity, and voice when HIWPs are implemented in the presence of unions. Based on a national sample of Canadian organizations, they find employees covered by a union experience fewer intensification pressures under higher levels of diffusion of HIWPs such that they work less unpaid overtime, have fewer grievances, and take fewer paid sick days. Job satisfaction is maximized under the combination of unions and HIWPs.