Category Archives: Labor Unions

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Neutrality Agreements

Source: Jenny Brown, Labor Notes, November 13, 2013

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether “neutrality agreements” are really just a bribe from the employer, and therefore illegal.
See also:
Scalia’s chance to smash unions: The huge under-the-radar case A Supreme Court case being argued Wednesday could take away a tactic that’s kept unions alive
Josh Eidelson, Salon, November 13, 2013

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on an under-the-radar case that could deal a major blow to already embattled U.S. unions. As Harvard labor law professor Benjamin Sachs told the New York Times, the case now facing Antonin Scalia and company could be “the most significant labor case in a generation.” The case, Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall, involves the constitutionality of “card check neutrality agreements” between unions and companies they’re trying to organize. ….. “Because essentially all successful union organizing campaigns today are conducted” under “alternative ground rules,” professor Sachs wrote Tuesday, “the case could effectively outlaw union organizing (at, at least, outlaw effective union organizing).”

Supreme Court Enters the Union Battles
Source: Noah Feldman, Bloomberg, November 12, 2013

Fights over forming unions are hardball — which is why the decision process is more heavily regulated than almost any other act of association in American life. One popular technique favored by unions is to promise management something in exchange for a promise to stay neutral and even allow organizers access to the workplace. Now a federal appeals court has essentially banned these neutrality agreements, and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments to decide whether a side deal between a union and management is a form of illegal bribery or just part of the game. …But even if neutrality agreements are not an option, unions won’t simply go away. Instead, they’ll employ the pressure tactics legally available to them, including picketing. In short, unions will try to impose costs on management in the hopes of coercing employers to back down. The two sides just won’t be able to negotiate a deal ex ante — before the unionization fight takes place. Some employers might therefore actually prefer to have the option of signing a neutrality agreement that would spare them the cost of union efforts and buy them something in return, such as Unite Here’s support of a gambling initiative. The case can’t really be resolved on legal language alone. Sure, a neutrality agreement has “value” to the union — that’s why it’s part of the negotiation. So the company probably wins on literal meaning divorced from context. And yes, the Taft-Hartley Act probably had in mind more ordinary forms of bribery, like Cadillac cars, when it prohibited “delivery” of “a thing of value.” So the union should win on original legislative intent. Each side therefore has a plausible statutory argument. …

City of the Future: Who Holds the Keys?

Source: In These Times, Vol. 37 no. 10, October 2013

Articles include:

A Company Town Becomes Our Town
By Rebecca Burns
How a town shadowed by Chevron built a vibrant movement to challenge corporate power.

A Union-Remade City
By Jake Blumgart
Labor is taking back New Haven. But can it put people back to work?

5 Cities in a Neoliberal Takeover; 5 Cities in a Progressive Boom
By In These Times Editors
Who holds the keys to the city of the future?

A Top-Down Urban Revolution
By Amy Dean
Will working people have any say in the new neoliberal city?

The 40-Year Slump

Source: Harold Meyerson, American Prospect, Vol. 24 no. 5, September/October 2013

From 1954 thought 1974, American workers brought home most of the wealth that they produced. Since 1974, they’ve steadily lost power—and they’re getting just a fraction of the wealth they produce today….What no one grasped at the time was that this wasn’t a one-year anomaly, that 1974 would mark a fundamental breakpoint in American economic history. In the years since, the tide has continued to rise, but a growing number of boats have been chained to the bottom. Productivity has increased by 80 percent, but median compensation (that’s wages plus benefits) has risen by just 11 percent during that time. The middle-income jobs of the nation’s postwar boom years have disproportionately vanished. Low-wage jobs have disproportionately burgeoned. Employment has become less secure. Benefits have been cut. The dictionary definition of “layoff” has changed, from denoting a temporary severance from one’s job to denoting a permanent severance….

Trust Your Boss or Listen to the Union? Information, Social Identification, Trust, and Strike Participation

Source: Marieke J. Born, Agnes Akkerman, and Rene Torenvlied, Mobilization, Volume 18 No. 2, June 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
We investigate two questions regarding the effect of information on participation in labor strikes: First, how are social identification and trust used as filters for information? Second, we investigate how cross-pressures affect the willingness to participate. Using a dataset of 468 union members, we test hypotheses about the relationships between between information, identification, trust, and participation with structural equation modeling. Specifically, we find that information from and identification with the union are highly important determinants for participation. Regarding information from management, trust is the most important determinant for preventing workers from participation. We also find a difference between workers who have previous strike experience and those who have do not. These findings indicate that workers use different mechanisms for filtering information, depending on the source of information. This is a new discovery in mobilization research.

Allies, Targets, and the Effectiveness of Coalition Protest: A Comparative Analysis of Labor Unrest in the U.S. South

Source: Marc Dixon, William F. Danaher, and Ben Lennox Kail, Volume 18 No. 3, September 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Social movement scholars suggest that coalitions comprise a significant and growing portion of all protest mobilizations. Such organizational collaboration is of great practical importance to the labor movement in particular, as unions struggle to succeed on their own in a difficult economic and political environment. Yet surprisingly little is known about the factors underlying the development and success of coalitions. In this article we advance literature on labor and social movement coalitions, bringing a comparative historical approach to bear on the problem and examining two influential and far-reaching labor campaigns that occurred in the U.S. South. Our argument and findings demonstrate the importance of the relative fit amongst coalition members, the vulnerabilities of collective action targets, and their interplay for coalition outcomes. We conclude by discussing the implications of the findings for labor and social movement challenges more generally.

‘Labor is back?’: The AFL-CIO during the presidency of John J. Sweeney, 1995–2009

Source: Timothy J. Minchina, Labor History, Volume 54, Issue 4, 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article assesses the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) during the presidency of John J. Sweeney, which lasted from 1995 until 2009. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including press accounts and the AFL-CIO’s own papers, it provides one of the first scholarly assessments of the entire Sweeney presidency. Sweeney won office in the first contested election in the AFL-CIO’s history, and he came into power promising to revitalize the Federation, which is the largest labor federation in the Western world. Under Sweeney, the AFL-CIO invested an unprecedented amount of resources into both organizing and political mobilization, two key areas. In the early years of his presidency, Sweeney oversaw some important gains, particularly in the organizing arena, but the 2000 presidential election proved to be a turning point. After 2000, Sweeney’s reforms were undermined primarily by external factors, particularly mounting corporate opposition, deindustrialization, and a hostile political climate, although internal resistance and division also played a role. As a result, a major campaign to secure labor law reform fell short, and union density continued to decline, yet the rate of decline was slower than it had been in the 1980s and early 1990s. Overall, although the results of Sweeney’s efforts were mixed, the important role that the AFL-CIO played in electing Barack Obama partly justified Sweeney’s emphasis on political mobilization.

We need a war on poverty, not teachers

Source: David Sirota, Salon, November 7, 2013

The right loves to demonize unions, but economic factors are much more important to success in the classroom…

…So what is the problem? That brings us to the new study from the Southern Education Foundation. Cross-referencing education data, researchers found that a majority of all public school students in one-third of America’s states now come from low-income families.

How much does this have to do with educational outcomes? A lot. Social science research over the last few decades has shown that two-thirds of student achievement is a product of out-of-school factors — and among the most powerful of those is economic status. That’s hardly shocking: Kids who experience destitution and all the problems that come with it have enough trouble just surviving, much less succeeding in school.

All of this leads to an obvious conclusion: If America were serious about fixing the troubled parts of its education system, then we would be having a fundamentally different conversation….

Pittsburghers Try a Community Union

Source: Margot Nikitas, Labor Notes, October 30, 2013

In the face of an awful economic climate and labor laws that too often favor employers, Pittsburghers are trying out a new organizing model: a rank-and-file community union.

The fledgling group brings union and non-union workers together to fight side by side on social justice issues and to seed workplace organizing committees through a Pittsburgh-flavored campaign called “Is Your Boss a Jagoff?”

Fight Back Pittsburgh, formed in January 2013, is an associate membership program of Steelworkers Local 3657, which represents staff at the international union. Already it has more than 250 dues-paying members. Some come from various other unions and community groups; some are otherwise unaffiliated with the labor movement.

Fight Back Pittsburgh operates similarly to a local union, with bylaws and an elected executive board. Members are active in six committees: communications, civil and human rights, fight back at work, membership, neighborhood action, and rapid response.

Dues are calculated as one quarter of one percent of each member’s self-reported monthly income, or members may do one hour of phonebanking per month instead. No expenditures can be made without membership approval. …

The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012

Source: Gordon Lafer, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #364, October 31, 2013

From the summary:
Over the past two years, state legislators across the country have launched an unprecedented series of initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards, weakening unions, and eroding workplace protections for both union and non-union workers. This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage.

This report provides a broad overview of the attack on wages, labor standards, and workplace protections as it has been advanced in state legislatures across the country. Specifically, the report seeks to illuminate the agenda to undermine wages and labor standards being advanced for non-union Americans in order to understand how this fits with the far better-publicized assaults on the rights of unionized employees. By documenting the similarities in how analogous bills have been advanced in multiple states, the report establishes the extent to which legislation emanates not from state officials responding to local economic conditions, but from an economic and policy agenda fueled by national corporate lobbies that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country….

What happened to workers in 2011 and 2012