Category Archives: Labor Unions

The Capitalist Machine: Computerization, Workers’ Power, and the Decline in Labor’s Share within U.S. Industries

Source: Tali Kristal, American Sociological Review, Vol. 78 no. 3, June 2013

From a press release:
A new study suggests that the decline of labor unions, partly as an outcome of computerization, is the main reason why U.S. corporate profits have surged as a share of national income while workers’ wages and other compensation have declined. …The study, “The Capitalist Machine: Computerization, Workers’ Power, and the Decline in Labor’s Share within U.S. Industries,” which appears in the June issue of the American Sociological Review, explores an important dimension of economic inequality that has been largely overlooked in research and the national discourse….”It was highly unionized industries — construction, manufacturing, and transportation — that saw a large decline in labor’s share of income,” Kristal said. “By contrast, in the lightly unionized industries of trade, finance, and services, workers’ share stayed relatively constant or even increased. So, what we have is a large decrease in labor’s share of income and a significant increase in capitalists’ share in industries where unionization declined, and hardly any change in industries where unions never had much of a presence. This suggests that waning unionization, which led to the erosion of rank-and file workers’ bargaining power, was the main force behind the decline in labor’s share of national income.” In addition to the erosion of labor unions, Kristal found that rising unemployment as well as increasing imports from less-developed countries contributed to the decline in labor’s share….

Interstate Variations in Private Sector Union Density in the U.S.

Source: Behroz Baraghoshi, Cihan Bilginsoy, Journal of Labor Research, Volume 34, Issue 2, June 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This paper uses union density variations across state and state-industry cells in 1985, 1995, and 2005 to examine the factors that contributed to the decline in private sector unionization in the U.S. In addition to the conventional variables, it develops two measures to gauge the effects of union-management strife. Estimations indicate that union density varied directly with union organizing efforts and inversely with the employer opposition to unionization. Decomposition analysis reveals, however, that these variables do not explain why union density declined because changes in their marginal effects were favorable to unionization. Declining union density instead is attributable mostly to the shift factors subsumed under the intercept term over 1985–1995, and shift factors cum negative changes in sensitivity of unionization to workforce characteristics over 1995–2005.

Differences in union and nonunion compensation, 2001–2011

Source: George I. Long, Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 136, No. 4, April 2013

From the abstract:
Union workers continue to receive higher wages than nonunion workers and have greater access to most employer-sponsored employee benefits; during the 2001–2011 period, the differences between union and nonunion benefit cost levels appear to have widened

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that, on average, union workers receive larger wage increases than those of nonunion workers and generally earn higher wages and have greater access to most of the common employer-sponsored benefits as well. These trends appear to persist despite declining union membership. The National Compensation Survey (NCS) measures compensation levels and benefit provisions for many worker and industry characteristics. This article uses NCS data to examine some of the similarities and differences between union and nonunion compensation during the period from 2001 to 2011.

Mass Incarceration and Working Class Interests: Which Side Are the Unions On?

Source: James Kilgore, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 37 no. 4, December 2012
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Since the early 1980s mass incarceration has become a critical fixture on the U.S. social landscape. Prison and jail populations have increased almost fivefold since 1980 with similar increments in the ranks of those under parole and probation. Historically many labor analysts and unions have regarded incarcerated people as an aberrant sector of the working class. Labels such as “lumpen proletariat,” “criminals,” and the “undeserving poor” have often been applied. In some instances, people doing poorly paid production work while incarcerated have been categorized as “scabs” who undermine hard won union gains. Such thinking is at odds with current realities, if it ever was appropriate. The recent patterns of criminalization have led to the imprisonment of significant swaths of working class people of color, largely the targets of the War on Drugs or anti-immigrant repression. Despite the fact that this racialized roundup now holds millions of workers captive, the process remains largely outside the scope of those concerned with labor and working class organization. Old stereotypes still keep “ex-convicts” and “felons” at the margins of labor organization and analysis. This article argues that unions and labor-oriented organizations need to oppose mass incarceration and adopt new strategies to incorporate a broad working class perspective in their approach to the criminal justice system. The author emphasizes that such an approach would compel unions to act in the interests of the broad working class, which at time may even be in conflict with the immediate interests of their members.

The Strike: A Contemporary Lesson from Labor History or a Historical Artifact?

Source: Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 37 no. 4, December 2012
(subscription required)

Articles include:

Labor’s Economic Weapons: Learning from Labor History by Joe Burns
This article argues that trade unionism has deviated from fundamentals of trade union economics. For the first 150 years of trade unionism in the United States, union strategy centered on two objectives: (1) standardizing wages across entire labor and/or product markets and (2) developing a strike capable of halting production or otherwise impacting the operations of the employers…

It’s Not Whether to Strike, It’s How to Win a Strike by Steven Ashby
The author addresses the big question labor continues to debate: how can the labor movement resist the corporate onslaught?… The author suggests that only one ingredient is missing. Striking, we are told, will put labor back on the path to victory. Labor used to know this, we hear, as the strike was labor’s primary weapon in its “first 150 years.” There are several problems with this thesis..

Context Matters More: A Response to Joe Burns by Joseph A. McCartin
…While other labor analysts focus on declining union density figures, the spread of right-to-work laws, the failure of labor law reform, or the rollback of public-sector collective bargaining in states like Michigan as the most revealing measures of labor’s current weakness, Burns puts his finger on a deeper problem. Organized labor’s very survival depends on coming to terms with the trends he outlines here….Arguably, the difficulties unions face in organizing workers today stem more from their inability to strike and bargain effectively than from increased employer opposition to organizing….

Response: Confronting Unjust Labor Law is Key by Joe Burns
Joseph McCartin makes an important point in noting that legal restrictions are not the main determinant of the level of strike activity. McCartin’s points on the other factors leading to the decline of strike activity are well taken. However, for reasons explained below, that does not mean that legal rules do not matter…

#1u Digital Training Series

Source: AFL-CIO, 2013

Are you interested in digital, but don’t understand how it connects to your campaign work? Want to know more about the nitty gritty of digital organizing? Maybe you’re a comms person who needs to brush up on your digital skills. #1u Digital is a training program of the AFL-CIO intended to certify you to be a labor digital ninja! Spearheaded by the AFL-CIO, it’s open to anyone in the labor movement who wants to organize workers online with excellence.

Forum: Can Global Brands Create Just Supply Chains?

Source: Boston Review, May/June 2013

Responses include:

Richard M. Locke:
Companies such as Nike and Apple have invested a lot in private programs to improve working conditions in their suppliers’ factories. Do the programs work? Not really.

Isaac Shapiro
Apple’s recent supplier-responsibility report is silent on changes to its purchasing practices.

Tim Bartley:
Even firms praised for responsibility flee countries where reforms are underway.

Jodi L. Short and Michael W. Toffel:
Codes of conduct can support the political action necessary to improve conditions.

Gary Gereffi:
Governments in big emerging economies can pressure foreign companies.

Hannah Jones:
When human capital is valued, labor rights are not far behind.

Pamela Passman:
Corruption and intellectual property theft also pose ethical challenges in global supply chains.

Drusilla Brown
The threat of trade sanctions improved labor conditions a century ago, and it can again today.

Aseem Prakash:
We need to know more about what kinds of private regulation work best.

Layna Mosley
Companies should press host-country governments to enable freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Richard M. Locke replies:
Until the costs and benefits of doing business are shared among everyone involved, innovation will produce at best limited results.

Can Co-ops Save Unions?

Source: Rebecca Burns, In These Times, April 25, 2013

Labor-cooperative partnerships may herald a new strategy for labor–if they can get off the ground….The labor movement at large hasn’t reprised the 1930s-era tactic of occupying factories in order to regain a foothold in existing workplaces. But a growing number of unions, led by the United Steelworkers (USW), are exploring creation of new worker-owned cooperatives as a strategy for contending with the offshoring of U.S. jobs. Like the workers who formed New Era Windows, USW began experimenting with cooperatives partly out of necessity—as job losses mounted amidst the financial crisis, “there seemed to be an opening to consider how we might create a better model, because everything was falling apart,” says Rob Witherell, USW’s cooperative strategist. USW decided to partner with Mondragon, Spain’s famous group of cooperatives, to create a template for union co-ops. Now, USW is helping launch several pilot projects, including a green laundry in Pittsburgh that could replace some of the 100-plus jobs lost when an industrial laundry in the area closed several years ago. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers are currently employed in an urban farming cooperative in Cincinnati, with more projects planned under the behest of the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative….
Can Unions and Cooperatives Join Forces? An Interview With United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard
Source: Amy B. Dean, Talking Union blog, June 3, 2013
United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard talks to Amy Dean about the challenges and opportunities of a new labor model: the union co-op.

Top 6 Policies to Help the Middle Class that Won’t Cost Taxpayers a Penny

Source: David Madland and Karla Walter, Center for American Progress, April 24, 2013

…Rather than make excessive short-term budget cuts as we are currently doing, we can and should make needed investments in the middle class, such as expanding access to preschool and child care, as part of a package that reduces the deficit over the longer term, as CAP has proposed on many occasions. Furthermore, there are a number of things that policymakers can do that won’t require any additional expenditures.

To help remind politicians that they have lots of room to act, we have compiled a list of the top six policies that would help the middle class without costing taxpayers a penny. Together, these policies will boost the incomes of millions of hardworking Americans; put families on a path to a sustainable retirement; ensure that workers don’t have to choose between staying home while sick or losing their job; allow struggling homeowners to stay in their homes; and empower students with valuable information on college quality.

While these policies would not address all of the challenges faced by the middle class, they would make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of working Americans….

1. Increase the minimum wage…
2. Make saving for retirement easier, cheaper, and more secure…
3. Lower monthly housing costs by providing homeowners with principal forgiveness…
4. Let all workers earn paid sick days…
5. Ensure that workers who want to form a union are able to do so…
6. Require colleges to provide consumer information via college scorecards…