Category Archives: Organizing

Metropolitan Coalitions: Creating Opportunities for Worker Organizing

Source: Ben Beach and Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel, Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

From the summary:
Today, the ever-more-attenuated relationship between workers and companies with economic power over their jobs creates obstacles for those who wish to expand opportunities for worker organizing, especially among low-wage workers. The ever more distant nature of the relationship between unions and communities makes those obstacles harder to surmount.

Changing this landscape will require new strategies. Major cities are the place to start, as they are where capital wants to be, where favorable politics and constituencies are concentrated, and where government has the power to shape regional economies for the better. In the last several years, community-labor coalitions working in cities have demonstrated what is possible. Working in permanent coalition, they are winning campaigns that push cities to transform local sectors of the economy, raising standards for all workers and creating better conditions for organizing. Their campaigns have focused on, among other things, community benefits at major development projects, real construction careers for excluded communities, and a waste and recycling sector that respects workers, the environment, and local communities. Those interested in expanding opportunities for worker organizing should invest in such strategies.

Labor Standards and Worker Organization Strategy

Source: Michael J. Piore and David W. Skinner, Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

From the summary:
This paper explores a new strategy for workplace-based worker organizations. The strategy is suggested by the contrast between the U.S. system of work regulation, in which regulations are administered by a number of different agencies, each with a relatively narrow jurisdiction, and the system prevailing in Southern Europe and Latin America, where a single agency administers the whole of the labor code. The latter system is particularly effective where, as is generally the case, the work practices of a company are interrelated and “patterned.” The patterns typically reflect the company’s production practices and business strategy; these are the ultimate determinant of work practices and need to be adjusted if violations are to be remedied. The Franco-Latin approach encourages the regulatory agency to recognize these patterns, and then to look for remedies that address the root causes.

Workplace-based worker organizations could simulate the Franco-Latin approach by identifying violations, bringing complaints simultaneously to all the different agencies that have jurisdiction over them, and pressuring those agencies and employers involved to work together with the worker organization to identify the underlying causes of the problems and develop appropriate remedies. This strategy could be developed by a local organization operating on its own or in coordination with other organizations at the local, state, or national level on the model of the recent campaigns to raise the minimum wage.

Union Organizing in National Labor Relations Board Elections

Source: Dorian Warren, Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

From the summary:
Is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) broken? Yes. But does that mean it is irrelevant for workers attempting to organize? No. As data in this paper shows, particularly when focused on certain demographic groups, labor unions are still using the NLRB, and in many cases, very effectively.

This paper examines the use of the NLRB election process since 2000, and especially from 2008 to 2012. The author finds that while the majority of new private sector union members have not gained recognition through the broken NLRB election process, the data show a significant number of workers who do in fact gain representation through NLRB elections. The data also show a notable decline in the numbers of workers gaining unionization through the NLRB, though at the same time, the “win” rates of workers who do use the process have increased over the last decade.

Based on analysis of original data on the demographics of those organized using the NLRB process, the win rates for workers in NLRB elections increases with the diversity of the workplace. specifically, workers of color, women, and especially women of color overwhelmingly vote in favor of unionization through the NLRB election process.

Defining Peaceably: Policing the Line between Constitutionally Protected Protest and Unlawful Assembly

Source: Tabatha Abu El-Haj, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law Research Paper No. 2015-A-03, July 30, 2015

From the abstract:
The Black Lives Matter movement provides a unique opportunity to revisit the First Amendment’s protection of a “right of the people to peaceably assemble.” Even more than the Occupy movement, the recent protests against the frequency with which unarmed African Americans die as a result of police officers’ actions illustrate the serious consequences that flow from the Supreme Court’s failure to appreciate that the First Amendment identifies a particular form of conduct – public assembly – for separate constitutional protection. The fact that the Black Lives Matter protests often bear little resemblance to our idealized conceptions of public discourse – as reasoned disquisitions on difficult choices of public policy – underscores why the Founders recognized the need for a separate clause to protect assembly and the process of redressing grievances. It thereby illustrates why the Supreme Court’s contemporary jurisprudence, which collapses the right of assembly into the freedom of speech, is thoroughly misguided – leaving protestors feeling that First Amendment protections are weak and lower courts confused about how to decide how much disruption officials constitutionally ought to be required to tolerate. In sum, this essay uses the recent protests as an opportunity to consider why outdoor assembly remains a valuable form of political participation, even in the digital age, and why it deserves more robust constitutional protections.

Union Organizing Decisions in a Deteriorating Environment: The Composition of Representation Elections and the Decline in Turnout

Source: Henry Farber, ILR Review, Vol. 68 no. 5, October 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
It is well known that the organizing environment for labor unions in the United States has deteriorated dramatically over a long period of time, a situation that has contributed to the sharp decline in the private-sector union membership rate and resulted in many fewer representation elections. What is less well known is that since the late 1990s, average turnout in the representation elections that are held has dropped substantially. These facts are related. The author develops a model of how unions select targets for organizing through the NLRB election process that clearly implies that a deteriorating organizing environment will lead to systematic change in the composition of elections held. The model implies that a deteriorating environment will lead unions not only to contest fewer elections but also to focus on larger potential bargaining units and on elections where they have a larger probability of winning. A standard rational-voter model implies that these changes in composition will lead to lower turnout. The author investigates the implications of these models empirically, using data on turnout in more than 140,000 NLRB certification elections held between 1973 and 2009. The results are consistent with the model and suggest that changes in composition account for about one-fifth of the decline in turnout between 1999 and 2009.

Careful What You Wish For: A Critical Appraisal of Proposals to Rebuild the Labor Movement

Source: Lance Compa, New Labor Forum, Vol. 24 no. 3, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Alarmed at declining union density and frustrated with the National Labor Relations Act, many worker advocates want to ditch the NLRA, forsake traditional unions, and start the labor movement afresh. Ideas include making “Alt-labor” a new launching pad; replacing face-to-face union building with high-volume digital organizing; applying the Civil Rights Act to union activity; adopting “members-only” bargaining alongside majority rule and exclusive representation; letting unions make non-members pay for handling their grievances; and even conceding a national “right-to-work” law so unions will try harder to win workers’ support.

Social movements should always examine new strategies. But they should not let novelty overwhelm judgment. Many of these new ideas are clever in theory, but in practice would undermine unions and shift more power to employers and anti-union political forces.

Organizing Low-Wage Workers and Low-Income Communities–Digital Tools & Tactics

Source: Social Movement Technologies, 2014

From the summary:
The top 9 digital tools & tactics that unions and other organizing groups are using to combine online and offline organizing in low-income/low-wage communities. Online isn’t just a communications tool, it can also be a way to further your organizing campaigns.

Developing online worker centered strategies utilizing online tools is an opportunity to connect with low-wage workers and communities. However it’s important to ensure your strategy works in coordination with your offline organizing. A number of unions and community organizations have worked to develop thoughtful approaches using online tools.
This webinar recording provides:
– specifics on how to identify the online tools those you are organizing use so you can reach them
– text messaging strategies to reach workers and residents in low-income communities
– Facebook strategies that go beyond posting to your page or promoting your posts
– examples of online strategies that can reach similar goals as offline but with far fewer resources
– suggestions for how to ID workers and residents online

We will share specific experiences from ongoing campaigns such as Walmart and fast food. A document with all the notes and links from slides is also provided.
Top 14 digital tools
Source: Social Movement Technologies, 2013

Notes & links
Is your labor or community organizing campaign using today’s most powerful tools to win? Whether you are a complete digital novice, or advanced, make sure you aren’t missing out on key digital tools and tactics, hear what other organizers are doing to win, and learn how to do it with limited time and money. …. This is part of a series of digital organizing webinars—developed by organizers for organizers, especially focused on meeting the needs of unions and small social change groups, many without the resources to hire full-time digital organizing staff. The webinar covers a range of key tools and tactics, including for example, how to quickly identify your most social media-influential members and what to do with them, how to identify your targets’ soft social media spots and build your strategy around them, and exciting ways to use twitter and free and low-cost texting to expand visibility and pressure targets. Movement examples are used throughout.

Labor Needs New Ideas

Source: Rich Yeselson, Dissent, Vol. 62 no. 4, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

Labor needs ideas, so it should incubate them in theory and practice. It needs (notwithstanding arguments to the contrary) the support of sympathetic state actors, so it must leverage both local and the federal government to its advantage. It needs to pay much closer attention to its existing membership, and galvanize those members to defend themselves and to increase their ranks. And it needs a continuing presence within the one domestic sector of the globalized economy that can enable it to exert immense pressure on economic and political elites—transportation. Let us consider these suggestions in turn. ….

Collective Bargaining 3.0

Source: Erica Smiley, Dissent, Vol. 62 no. 4, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

The first lesson network leaders learn in the Jobs With Justice training is never give your power away. While easier said in a workshop than in the North Carolina General Assembly, it does compel us to remember how change happens. While we need labor law reform, we should not wait for it to build a movement to expand the scale and scope of collective bargaining. Early industrial unions were bargaining long before the Wagner Act codified the practice, leveraging their ability to halt production when necessary. Only through exercising their power, and even breaking some rules, were they able to win the legal protections to back up workers’ ability to bargain equally with employers. ….

… In a recent article for the American Prospect, Lane Windham of Penn State University adds, “in depending on unions to do the negotiating for a social wage, the U.S. had inadvertently given employers in the U.S. a higher incentive than employers in other nations to fight union organizing.”

And fight they have! The corporate class attacked the very power that makes workers equal at the bargaining table—regardless of whether they are attacking a union or a worker center. The Taft-Hartley Act was the first well-known blow, prohibiting jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, and more. States could pass right-to-work laws, gutting union membership first in the South, and later throughout the country. Riding this legacy, Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers would have us believe collective bargaining is in its final death throes.

In its current form, it may be…..

What Should Unions Do Now?

Source: Craig Becker, Dissent, Vol. 62 no. 4, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

….The labor movement should seize the opportunity of the present moment to persuade people of good faith that raising the minimum wage is not enough, vibrant organizations of working people, that is, unions, are critical to the economy and to a democratic polity. Making the case that unions are a vital part of fixing what is troubling working people requires both unity and focus. The solution is not strengthening any single union but revitalizing the movement as a whole. Yet, the organized labor movement has been fractured at the national level since 2005 when six unions representing over a third of the AFL-CIO left the federation…. When effective local labor movements build out from key cities and meet a unified national movement, it may be possible not only to convince people that vibrant unions are part of the solution to what troubles working America, but to actually make good on that promise. …