Category Archives: Labor Unions

Regulation of Public Sector Collective Bargaining in the States

Source: Milla Sanes and John Schmitt, Center for Economic and Policy Research, March 2014

From the abstract:
While the unionization of most private-sector workers is governed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the legal scope of collective bargaining for state and local public-sector workers is the domain of states and, where states allow it, local authorities. This hodge-podge of state-and-local legal frameworks is complicated enough, but recent efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and other states have left the legal rights of public-sector workers even less transparent.

In this report, we review the legal rights and limitations on public-sector bargaining in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as of January 2014. Given the legal complexities, we focus on three sets of workers who make up almost half of all unionized public-sector workers: teachers, police, and firefighters, with some observations, where possible, on other state-and-local workers. For each group of workers, we examine whether public-sector workers have the right to bargain collectively; whether that right includes the ability to bargain over wages; and whether public-sector workers have the right to strike.

The Continuing Vitality of Unions

Source: New York University Annual Survey of American Law, 2014

The title of the NYU Annual Survey of American Law’s annual symposium on February 21 might well have ended with a question mark: “The Continuing Vitality of Unions.” In the event’s keynote, Professor Benjamin Sachs of Harvard Law School acknowledged the beleaguered condition of organized labor in the US, with ever-dwindling membership numbers and the passage of laws across the country hostile to unionization. Sachs stressed the importance of vital unions both economically and politically. “Unions are an essential contributor to economic equality,” he said. “Across time and across countries, the higher the level of union density, the more economically equal a society is likely to be.”…

Keynote: Benjamin Sachs

The Future of the NLRB

* Deborah Malamud (moderator) – AnBryce Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Wilma B. Liebman – Former Chairman and Member, National Labor Relations Board; Visiting Lecturer, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Cornell University Law School
* Kent Y. Hirozawa ‘82 – Member, National Labor Relations Board
* James J. Brudney – Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law
* Zachary D. Fasman – Partner, Proskauer Rose LLP

Unions in the Public Eye

* Cynthia Estlund (moderator) – Catherine A. Rein Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Randel K. Johnson – Senior Vice President, Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
* Thomas A. Kochan – George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management
* Steven Greenhouse ’82 – Labor and Workplace Correspondent, The New York Times

Unions in the Political Process

* Samuel Estreicher (moderator) – Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
* Trevor Burrus – Research Fellow, Cato Institute Center for Constitutional Studies
* Michael A. Podhorzer – Political Director, AFL-CIO
* Raymond J. LaJeunesse, Jr. – Vice President and Legal Director, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
* Laurence E. Gold – Of Counsel, Bredhoff & Kaiser, PLLC

Organizing immigrants: meaning generation in the community

Source: Kyoung-Hee Yu, Work, Employment & Society, Published online before print October 21, 2013
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From the abstract:
This article examines the role of community organizations in generating meaning during a campaign to organize Haitian nursing assistants in Boston, USA. There is by now a sizeable literature on labour-community coalition formation, yet it is not understood how repertoires are generated in the community and how they are translated into the realm of employment relations. This study examines how meanings generated in three community organizations, churches, ethnic media and hometown associations were transferred into the organizing process. Findings indicate that collective identities and political selves constructed through experiences in the community can help low-wage immigrant workers overcome the sense of powerlessness that they often experience at work. Contributions to scholarship on community unionism and mobilization theory are discussed.

Re-conceptualizing member participation: informal activist careers in unions

Source: Kyoung-Hee Yu, Work Employment & Society, Vol. 28 no. 1, February 2014
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From the abstract:
Extant theories of member participation in unions have sought mainly to explain spot decisions to participate in collective action and therefore are limited in explaining how members can have an impact on union governance. This article conceptualizes life-long activism as informal careers that begin with politicizing life experiences, are nurtured through the fulfilment of organizational roles and develop by gaining status and skills both within the union and in the members’ community. Data are reported from the Los Angeles Justice for Janitors campaign two decades after initial mobilization occurred there. Existing literature has depicted activism as a response to calculus and stimulus rather than as a search for meaningful work. An alternative perspective is advanced where the force of a calling acts as the main driver of activism in which the union is seen as a vehicle for the pursuit of social justice.

Explaining Pay Disparities between Top Executives and Nonexecutive Employees: A Relative Bargaining Power Approach

Source: Taekjin Shin, Social Forces, Advance Access, First published online: February 23, 2014

From the abstract:
The widening pay gap between corporate executives and rank-and-file workers has attracted much attention in the United States, but the sources of the pay gap have not been systematically examined. In this paper, I use a relative bargaining power approach to explore the sources of pay disparity between executives and nonexecutive employees in the United States. I argue that the bargaining power of labor affects executive compensation, nonexecutive compensation, and the executive-worker pay gap and that this effect is moderated by the characteristics of the chief executive officers (CEOs) who implement organizational policies. An analysis of 185 US firms provides evidence that labor’s bargaining power reduces the pay gap between executives and nonexecutive employees. This effect is mainly through the unions’ impact on executive compensation. The results also suggest that labor’s effect of narrowing the gap becomes weaker when the CEO has a finance background or when the CEO was recruited from outside the company rather than being promoted from within. These findings shed new light on our understanding of the linkage between firm-level dynamics and the rise in income inequality.

Why Workers Still Need a Collective Voice in the Era of Norms and Mandates

Source: Cynthia L. Estlund, New York University School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 13-79, December 3, 2013

From the abstract:
The drastic decline of union representation in the U.S. has opened up a large and by now familiar ‘representation gap’ in the workplace. Different workers prefer different forms of representation: Many want independent union representation, a choice that is formally available but difficult to secure in the face of management opposition; others want a more cooperative form of collective representation that is unlawful under federal labor law. But the vast majority of workers wants some form of collective representation, and does not have it. On some accounts, workers no longer need collective representation because their interests are adequately protected by a combination of legally-enforceable mandates and self-enforcing norms. This chapter argues that these accounts are wrong and workers are right: Most workers not only want but need some form of collective representation in order to enforce the mix of legal mandates and informal norms by which they are currently governed at work. But both the nature of the collective representation that workers need and the path by which they might achieve it differs for workers at the top and the bottom of the labor market.

This chapter, part of an edited volume on the economics of labor and employment law, maps the current regime of individual contract and employment mandates by which the overwhelming majority of private sector employees are governed nowadays, and the widely divergent results of that regime for workers at the top and the bottom of the labor market. It proposes a two-track approach to workplace governance reform, and to labor law reform, that responds to both the shared need and desire for collective representation and the distinct barriers and opportunities that workers face at the top and the bottom of the labor market.

ALT-Labor, Secondary Boycotts, and Toward a Labor Organization Bargain

Source: Michael C. Duff, Catholic University Law Review, Summer 2014 (Forthcoming)

From the abstract:
Recently, workers led by non-union labor advocacy groups, popularly labelled “ALT-Labor,” have been staging strikes and other job actions across the low wage economy. Some observers see this activity as the harbinger of a reinvigorated labor movement or, more generally, as audacious dissent by low wage workers with nothing to lose. Others view the activity cynically as an exercise in futility, a struggle against inexorable market forces that refuse to pay $15 per hour to a fast food or big box retail worker. This article takes a different tack, presuming (implicitly using history as its guide) that employers will respond to ALT-Labor in a historically typical manner — by seeking labor injunctions and civil damages in courts.

Labor injunctions are available under certain sections of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) when “labor organizations” violate those sections. This article specifically considers whether ALT-Labor groups, though not unions in the traditional sense, are nevertheless “labor organizations” under the LMRA capable of violating the secondary boycott provisions of the statute. If ALT-Labor groups have the requisite status to commit these violations, they may be subject to federal court injunction and civil damages under the LMRA.

The article concludes that ALT-Labor’s labor organization status is uncertain and will turn on a given group’s explicit statement of a “labor organization-like” purpose, and on whether it behaves like a statutory labor organization. Litigation premised on the labor organization status of an ALT-Labor group therefore poses risk for both sides, business and ALT-Labor.

The article accordingly proposes that unions and business strike a deal by agreeing to narrow the labor organization definition. Employers have wanted to narrow the definition for decades in order to establish workplace committees that have consistently been found presumptively unlawful. Unions, on the other hand, have historically resisted a narrowing of the definition because of the 1930s historical specter of the “company union”: “fake” unions set up by employers to confuse workers into thinking they have real representation when they do not. However, the article contends that the companies in which fake unions were once a concern are vanishing artifacts, and that unions should therefore compromise on the labor organization definition to protect a dynamic, emerging new type of workforce from labor law used as a sword.

Why Teachers Unions Make Such Useful Scapegoats

Source: Rebecca Kolins Givan, New Labor Forum, Vol. 23 no. 1, Winter 2014
(subscription required)

In the last several election cycles, it has become de rigueur for right-wing candidates to express their anger at teachers and their unions, blaming them for any and all ills of public education, and characterizing them as resistant to change. These attacks have metastasized: formerly the rhetoric of conservatives who one might expect to hate unions, “taking on” teachers unions has become a popular activity for a number of prominent Democrats. At a time when education reform and health care reform are at the center of our national policy agenda, it is curious that there is so much blame and animosity focused on teachers unions, while nursing and other health care unions continue their work relatively unmolested by mainstream politicians. …

The Mounting Guerilla War against the Reign of Walmart

Source: John Logan, New Labor Forum, Vol. 23 no. 1, Winter 2014
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The year 2012-2013 was a big year for Walmart workers and their allies fighting for better labor standards and an end to management retaliation. It saw the first-ever strikes in the history of the company, as well as the first strikes by warehouse workers contracted with Walmart; a campaign against abuses among Walmart suppliers and logistics chains; policy initiatives targeting the high cost to the public of the company’s poverty wages and benefits; and a vigorous international campaign for better standards at Walmart. These imaginative actions have ratcheted up the pressure on the company—which has become the poster child for the immiseration of workers in the first world and the exploitation of workers in developing countries—and laid the basis for further intensification in 2013-2014. ….

The Changing Size Distribution of U.S. Trade Unions and Its Description by Pareto’s Distribution

Source: John Pencavel, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 67 No. 1, January 2014
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From the abstract:
The size distribution of trade unions in the United States and changes in this distribution are documented. Because the most profound changes are taking place among very large unions, these are subject to special analysis by invoking Pareto’s distribution–a new application of this distribution. Extensions to trade union wealth and to Britain are broached. The role of the public sector in these changes receives particular attention. A simple model helps account both for the logarithmic distribution of union membership and for the contrasting experiences of public- and private-sector unions since the 1970s.