Category Archives: Labor Unions

The Blue Eagle Has Landed – The Paradigm Shift from Majority Rule to Members-Only Representation

Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Freedom Initiative, April 2014

From the introduction:
…One of the most recent efforts embraced by traditional labor unions to reverse their decline has been to promote and embrace so-called worker centers. The worker center model of representation differs significantly from that envisioned under U.S. labor laws. Specifically, worker centers seek to negotiate with employers on behalf of employees whom they may not actually represent. In fact, many of the recent protests promoted by worker centers are conducted with the support of, at most, a handful of employees. There is no evidence that a majority of workers wants these groups to advocate or negotiate for them….

…At the same time worker centers have become an increasingly important part of the union strategy for renewal, the institutions charged with administering the nation’s labor laws have started to subtly accommodate or even promote members-only representation.

The principal actors include the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB, or “Board”) and the United States Department of Labor (DOL). These agencies have taken positions and issued decisions that, when viewed as a whole, have advanced a members-only model of representation. For example, the NLRB has issued several decisions that empower small groups of workers and enhance their ability to influence employers. A number of key prosecutorial decisions also appear to favor members-only representation. Similarly, the DOL has taken measures to empower worker centers by funding them with grants and according them a special role as advocates for workers.

This shift toward a members-only model could represent the leading edge of a significant change in labor law — with far-reaching effects. Not only would a members-only system empower and embolden groups that have not been selected by a majority of employees to speak on its behalf, but it would also enable traditional labor unions to organize and begin collecting dues from small pockets of workers recruited through worker centers.

Such a system would be fundamentally at odds with the principles of workplace democracy as we have known them for decades. It would also undermine the intent of the NLRA, which was to strike a balance between the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and the free flow of commerce. Unless Congress changes the law to offer an alternative structure, the agencies responsible for administering that law should stay true to that mandate.

This article will address this subject in three sections. The first will cover the legal theories behind the viability of members-only representation. The second will address how that theory is inconsistent with the basic principles of U.S. labor laws. The third will survey how organized labor, the NLRB, and the DOL have begun to effectuate the paradigm shift toward members-only representation….
U.S. Chamber of commerce predicts Members-Only collective bargaining
Source: Charles J. Morris on Labor Relations blog, May 1, 2014

…Although the title and central focus of the Chamber’s report concern members-only minority-union collective bargaining, its featured complaint concerns the establishment and role of worker centers, which it views as forerunners of minority bargaining— notwithstanding the absence of any evidence tying those two concepts together. My concern here, however, is not with what it asserts about worker centers and their effect, but with the major falsehoods that it asserts about members-only bargaining, of which it disapproves. I leave to others the task of correcting misconceptions about worker centers. …

What’s a Union For?

Source: Carla Murphy, Colorlines, April 16, 2014

Labor unions in the U.S. are at a crossroads and workers of color—particularly women, and immigrants— figure prominently in how well they move forward. Big labor, now down to representing only about one in every 10 American workers, knows this. But incorporating immigrants and non-union and unemployed workers will also mean addressing their community issues, too—like mass incarceration and immigration reform. And for many young workers facing a bleaker present and future than many current pensioners, advancing non-workplace issues affecting low-income and working class people of color makes the difference between joining up or observing from a distance. Some unions get that. And that’s all some young workers are demanding…. How unions use (or, don’t use) their organizing power was a key theme among young workers of color and young whites, too, at a recent Chicago labor conference attended by 3,000 rank-and-file members from around the country. In an era of cutbacks in jobs, public services, wages and, until recently, healthcare, a union’s willingness to represent the hard issues facing their generation and all working communities appears to matter even more. It is not enough to work for members’ on-the-job concerns, only….

Who Rules America Today? The Triumph of the Corporate Rich

Source: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Barbara Mellichamp Global Studies Lecture, January 23 , 2014

Whether we look at the rising income of the top 1%, the decline in union density, the decline in the purchasing power of the minimum wage since 1968, or the fate of a wide range of legislation, the corporate rich have triumphed over their adversaries in the liberal-labor-environmental coalition. This talk explains that triumph through an archival and interview study of the corporate community’s string of successes beginning in the late 1930s as seen through the eyes of two corporate policy-discussion groups, the Committee for Economic Development and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Sure, Bigwigs Want Labor Rights—But Only for Themselves

Source: David Sirota, In These Times, April 24, 2014

What do Apple, the NCAA and Tennessee Republicans all have in common? …

….Taken together, the argument seems to be that the rich and politically powerful should be permitted to collude to preserve their wealth and power. Meanwhile, the less rich and less politically powerful must be prevented from exercising their most basic rights to collective action.

The problems with such a twisted ideology should be obvious. For one thing, there’s the sheer hypocrisy of insinuating that the ruling class has a right to stand in solidarity with each other, but everyone else should be prevented from exercising similar rights. Additionally, the argument posits that the real problem in an America plagued by economic inequality is that workers have too much power and the ruling class has too little—not vice versa.

But perhaps worst of all is what all this says about the most basic notions of how our market economy now operates. ….

Our Inequality: An Introduction

Source: Colin Gordon, Dissent, March 6, 2014

This series is adapted from Growing Apart: A Political History of American Inequality, a resource developed for the Project on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies and It is presented in nine parts. This introduction lays out the basic dimensions of American inequality and interrogates the usual explanatory suspects. The next eight parts will develop a political explanation for American inequality, looking in turn at labor relations, the minimum wage and labor standards, job-based benefits, social policy, taxes, financialization, executive pay, and macroeconomic policy.

Articles include:
· The Union Difference: Labor and American Inequality
· The Bare Minimum: Labor Standards and American Inequality
· The Perils of Private Welfare: Job-Based Benefits and American Inequality
· A Tattered Safety Net: Social Policy and American Inequality

The Union Difference: Labor and American Inequality

Source: Colin Gordon, Dissent, March 13, 2014

The decline of the American labor movement is—for a number of reasons—a pretty good marker for the broader dismantling of the New Deal and, therefore, for the political roots of inequality in the United States. Union losses, as we shall see, account in no small part for rising inequality, especially for men and especially in the 1970s and ’80s. These losses, in turn, have shaped the political environment: midcentury unions, representing a third of the private workforce, fought and won battles over trade, workplace safety, social policy, and civil rights; with union membership at 6.7 percent in the private labor force (2013), those battles (let alone any victories) are growing rarer and rarer.

Union decline has also fed inequality because, in the American context, so much is at stake at the bargaining table. In settings where union coverage is even and expansive, and where workers (and employers) can count on a decent minimum wage and universal health and retirement benefits, the stakes of collective bargaining in the private sector are relatively low. In the United States, by contrast, economic security is shackled to private job-based benefits, and uneven patterns of union coverage have always made it harder to organize bottom-feeding regions and firms. Employer and political opposition, in this respect, is fierce not because the labor movement is strong, but because it has never been strong enough to to socialize job-based benefits or to take wages out of competition…..

Captive Audience Meetings: A Backgrounder

Source: Jessica Harris, On Labor blog, April 2, 2014

A video produced by Target for use during captive audience meetings was leaked last month. The video warns employees, “If Target faced rigid union contracts like some of our competitors, our ability to serve our guests could suffer dramatically – and with fewer guests, what happens to our team?” It added that if a union were elected, “chances are [it] would change our fast, fun and friendly culture, with their way of doing business.” The video closes with the words: “Refuse to sign, and keep Target union free.”

While the publicity the Target video has received is unusual, the content of the video is not. A 2009 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that employers held captive audience meetings in 89% of union election campaigns between 1999 and 2003. The average employer held 10.4 meetings during the course of an election campaign. Moreover, the effect of the meetings was not negligible. Whereas the union win rate in elections in which captive audience meetings were not utilized was 73%, that figure dropped to 47% when management employed mandatory meetings.

This backgrounder explores the legal context in which these meetings are held and discusses some recent proposals to ban captive audience meetings.

How Unions Fight for the Economic Security of Nonmembers

Source: Jake Rosenfeld, On Labor blog, April 1, 2014

A common narrative of organized labor portrays unions as self-interested organizations focused solely on preserving their members’ prerogatives. Such a perspective ignores the various ways in which unions have fought and continue to fight for the economic security of nonmembers, as well as members. For example, unions have provided the organizational and financial resources behind the numerous minimum wage campaigns, fast food worker actions, and other high-profile battles to raise the living standards of low-wage workers in the U.S. These efforts follow decades of other political and economic fights by unions to reduce poverty in the U.S. Historically, unions have played a vital role in supporting the most vulnerable, despite the fact that very few union members were then, or are now, themselves poor.

Yet even as organizations acting in their own self-interest, unions can still benefit non-members. How so? By the late 1940s, the labor movement had organized roughly a third of all nonfarm workers in the U.S., including such major industries as auto and steel. With that high level of density, many industry leaders were organized companies. What that meant was that many non-union firms matched the pay scales and benefit packages of their unionized competitors. …

…. the channels through which unions influenced non-union workers’ pay – either by establishing general wage norms mimicked by non-union competitors, or through the threat of unionization – have been nearly shut. It used to be different. A powerful labor movement operating in its own self-interest once restrained inequality and provided for broad-based prosperity simply by fulfilling its core mission: providing for its members. ….

Teachers Unions and Management Partnerships – How Working Together Improves Student Achievement

Source: Saul A. Rubinstein and John E. McCarthy, Center for American Progress, March 2014

From the summary:
….Yet within some districts and schools, union leaders and school administrators have found an alternate path to reform—one that is based on building strong relationships that facilitate collaboration among educators and is focused on teaching quality and educational improvement for students. This report explores the impact of school-level, union-management, institutional partnerships on teacher collaboration and student performance. Moreover, it offers strong evidence for this alternative direction to the policy debate on public school reform by analyzing the role of union-management relations in educational quality…..