Category Archives: Labor Unions

Teachers on the Offensive: A Strategy for Transforming the Educational Reform Debate

Source: Amy B. Dean, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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Public school teachers are under attack. The assault being waged by the so-called education reform movement—embraced by both millionaire conservatives and neoliberal Democrats—is more than a skirmish affecting a single profession. Rather, it is a struggle with great consequences for the survival of the U.S. labor movement, the future of the middle class, and the fate of American democracy—a system that relies on quality public schools for its sustenance….

…The bigger issue for teachers is the need to showcase their vision. Whatever tactics they embrace at a given time, the goals must be clear. And, to take the offensive in the education debate, three goals are essential: first, repositioning teachers as champions of quality public education; second, reclaiming the right of teachers to define and maintain standards of excellence for their profession; and third, breaking with the traditional labor movement approach to politics, both locally and nationally.

The point in exploring a strategy built around these three objectives is not to second-guess those who have persevered amid austerity budgets and well-funded ideological campaigns against teachers’ unions. Rather, it is to hold up some of the best practices from around the country—cases in which unions have been able to reshape discussions of both classroom standards and public policy—and to suggest that they can be brought together as a comprehensive framework for guiding action. …

The Light and the Dark: Taking Stock of the Year in Labor

Source: Ari Paul, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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…It is all but certain that traditional labor is in store for more pain, whether it comes in the form of new antiunion legislation at the state level or simply a widening of the gap between what corporations and unions can spend to influence electoral politics.

But the lessons from the fast food strikers or the Chicago teachers is not so much how a union can campaign against an employer, but how it can promote broad political demands for this economic landscape, demands that may include universal basic income or real health care reform, as well as demands to restrain the financial sector, like reviving the Glass–Steagall Act, which would separate commercial and investment banking. It should not be that only marginal institutions like the Industrial Workers of the World are campaigning for a shortened workday, something that has not happened in more than a century.

Standing in the way of this is an unwillingness to change and the provincialism of specialized unions. At a meeting of labor journalists in New York this spring, in response to the question of why unions have been unable to fund new think tanks or media organizations to counter antiunion institutions, several people responded that labor leaders “don’t speak the same language”; they are constrained by serving their members directly and thus unable to settle on any kind of grander agenda. The building trades, retail, and public sectors are just too different from each other, the logic went, so they are unable to put aside differences and collaborate on long-term projects.

To put it bluntly, this is nothing more than the narcissism of small differences. The reluctance of older labor leaders, lulled into complacency by their hefty salaries and access to Democratic Party officials, to break from tradition will only make next year’s report card for labor more dismal than this year’s. Or, hopefully, the energy and imagination on display in Chicago and elsewhere spreads. …

Public Sector Unionism Under Assault: How to Combat the Scapegoating of Organized Labor

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
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…The antiunion victories in Wisconsin and Michigan have lent momentum to efforts in other states where Republicans control the governorship and the statehouse. Not content with the range of antilabor legislation already on the books in their state, North Carolina’s Republican legislators recently moved toward adding a “right-to-work” provision to the state constitution. Kansas’ legislators, meanwhile, have been working to eliminate dues check-off for teachers unions. “Right to work” advocates continue to advance their cause in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and other states. Meanwhile, federal “sequestration” has further weakened public sector unions by causing layoffs and furloughs. Altogether, these initiatives suggest a dark future for public sector labor.

We have seemingly reached a watershed moment when two conclusions appear to be indisputable. First, a vibrant public sector labor movement will not be sustainable indefinitely with less than 7 percent of private sector workers organized. The fate of government workers’ unions increasingly hinges on whether labor can engineer a private sector union revival. Second, if public sector unions do not start defending themselves more effectively than they did in Wisconsin and Michigan, they will likely suffer more such defeats in the years ahead. …

The Economic Effects Of Adopting A Right-To-Work Law: Implications For Illinois

Source: Frank Manzo IV, Roland Zullo, Robert Bruno, Alison Dickson Quesada, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, School of Labor and Employment Relations, Labor Education Program, Policy Brief, October 7, 2013

….Since the 2010 elections, initiatives to include RTW laws in a state’s legislative agenda have begun in at least 10 other collective bargaining (CB) states, including Illinois. Recently, the governor of Missouri pledged at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference that a right-to-work measure would be put on the ballot in 2014. If voters passed the law Missouri would become the 25th state to adopt the anti-union law. While considerable efforts have been made by legislators and political organizations to pass RTW laws in states across the country, the empirical evidence on the effect of adopting a RTW law on labor market outcomes and state budgets is both varied and mixed. If the adoption of a RTW law is to be in the policy discussion for another state, the state’s voters, residents, workers, and policymakers deserve information on the probable impact of such action. This policy brief provides a forecast on the effect of RTW laws on important labor market outcomes– including earnings, employment, unionization, and inequality. The paper also investigates RTW’s impacts on two particularly affected industries (manufacturing and construction) and three demographic groups (African-American, Latino/a, and female workers). The findings are subsequently applied to the State of Illinois to project the potential law’s impact on Illinois workers and on the state’s tax revenues….

When Unionization Disappears: State-Level Unionization and Working Poverty in the United States

Source: David Brady, Regina S. Baker, and Ryan Finnigan, American Sociological Review, Vol. 78 no. 5, October 2013
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From the abstract:
Although the working poor are a much larger population than the unemployed poor, U.S. poverty research devotes much more attention to joblessness than to working poverty. Research that does exist on working poverty concentrates on demographics and economic performance and neglects institutions. Building on literatures on comparative institutions, unionization, and states as polities, we examine the influence of a potentially important labor market institution for working poverty: the level of unionization in a state. Using the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) for the United States, we estimate (1) multi-level logit models of poverty among employed households in 2010; and (2) two-way fixed-effects models of working poverty across seven waves of data from 1991 to 2010. Further, we replicate the analyses with the Current Population Survey while controlling for household unionization, and assess unionization’s potential influence on selection into employment. Across all models, state-level unionization is robustly significantly negative for working poverty. The effects of unionization are larger than the effects of states’ economic performance and social policies. Unionization reduces working poverty for both unionized and non-union households and does not appear to discourage employment. We conclude that U.S. poverty research can advance by devoting greater attention to working poverty, and by incorporating insights from the comparative literature on institutions.

Middle Classes Are Stronger in States with Greater Union Membership

Source: David Madland and Keith Miller, Center for American Progress, September 20, 2013

Data on state household incomes released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau illustrate once again just how critical unions are in building a strong middle class, as states with greater union membership continued to have more robust middle classes than those with lower union membership in 2012.

Maintaining a strong and vibrant middle class is essential for all states, as prosperous middle-class households are among the most powerful drivers of economic growth and among the most critical contributors to economic mobility.

Labor unions strengthen the middle class by advocating for workers’ interests both in the workplace and in the political arena. By fighting for fair wages and basic benefits, as well as defending programs such as Social Security and the minimum wage, organized labor helps promote upward mobility for all workers and ensures that our democracy works for the middle class. As today’s data make clear, unions fulfill this essential role not only at the national level but at the state level as well.

This fact becomes readily apparent when comparing the strengths of middle classes in states with higher and lower unionization rates in 2012. To measure this strength, we look at the percentage of aggregate state income taken home by the middle 60 percent of households last year—essentially, the share of a state’s economic pie that went to families in the middle class. Of the five states with the lowest unionization rates in 2012—North Carolina, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia—all had middle classes of below-average strength. On the other end of the spectrum, four of the top five union states—Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and Rhode Island—had middle classes of above-average strength….

Comparison of Student Views on Minimum Wage, Unions, Income Inequality at York & Cornell

Source: David Doorey and Wilma Liebman, Doorey’s Law of Work blog, September 26, 2013

How do undergraduate business students in Canada and the United States feel about employment regulation, unions and collective bargaining, and income inequality? Do they see the world of work law differently?…

…We both distributed an anonymous, 5 question survey at the beginning of the term, before we had started teaching any substantive material on the law. Therefore, we were interested in the student opinions that they bring to the class. The survey asked about three substantive areas: (1) the appropriateness of minimum wage regulation; (2) the value (or lack thereof) of unions and collective bargaining; and (3) whether income inequality in the two countries is a cause for concern necessitating a legal response.

Here is the survey, with the comparative results from the students in the two countries. Obviously the sample size is too small to draw any big conclusions, but the results are nevertheless interesting. …

House of Labor Needs Repairs, Not Just New Roommates

Source: Steve Early, Labor Notes, September 16, 2013

…Who wouldn’t like to believe that a more exciting convention format prefigures a turning point for labor? Unfortunately, greater inclusiveness, closer ties with non-labor allies, and the adoption of pleasingly progressive resolutions only begin to address the real organizing challenges facing labor, whether “alt” or traditional.

Missing from the festivities were strategies for defending and re-energizing labor’s existing members.

Given the extreme attacks both union and non-union workers are suffering, the convention’s heavy emphasis on conventional political strategies and growth through diluted forms of membership was not “transformative” enough to meet the challenges of the day….

Organizing for the Long Haul: Colonizing to the Rescue?

Source: Steve Early, WorkingUSA, Volume 16, Issue 3, September 2013
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From the abstract:
In the U.S. labor movement, politically committed young people have chosen to work in the service, retail, hospitality, and telecom sectors to aid union recruitment drives from the inside. Known as “colonizers” in the past, they are now commonly referred to as “salts.” Their organizing experience, in unorganized workplaces, is different from that of full-time union staff members assisting unionization efforts from the outside. The union that recruits, trains, deploys, and supports “salts” gains adherents who help launch and sustain strategic organizing efforts measured in years, not weeks or months. This account of inside organizing experiences in several different industries illustrates the importance of building workplace committees strong enough to survive antiunion campaigning by private sector management. Several of these case studies also reveal the tensions that can arise between the goals and directives of organizing unions, and the priorities of rank-and-file workers, some who may not even know that a fellow organizing committee member is acting, undercover, as a union agent.

The State of the Unions 2013: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State, and the United States

Source: Ruth Milkman, Stephanie Luce, Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies and the Center for Urban Research, CUNY, September 2013

The fourth in an annual series of reports on trends in organized labor, the 2013 report highlights its declining presence in the private sector in New York City and the growing gap between private and public sector unionization rates. Among the report’s most interesting findings is the distinctive profile of New York City’s union members, who are more likely to be Black, Latino, or female than is the case elsewhere in the nation. Although the popular stereotype of a union member is a white male wearing a hardhat, in the city only 18 percent of all union members are white men. Fully 60 percent of union members in New York City are Black or Latino, much higher than in the rest of New York State, where the figure is only 16 percent, and also in contrast to the nation as a whole, where it is 27 percent.