Category Archives: Organizing

Rational Choice and Voter Turnout: Evidence from Union Representation Elections

Source: Henry S. Farber, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. w16160, July 2010
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The standard theoretical solution to the observation of substantial turnout in large elections is that individuals receive utility from the act of voting. However, this leaves open the question of whether or not there is a significant margin on which individuals consider the effect of their vote on the outcome in deciding whether or not to vote. In order to address this issue, I study turnout in union representation elections in the U.S. (government supervised secret ballot elections, generally held at the workplace, on the question of whether the workers would like to be represented by a union). These elections provide a particularly good laboratory to study voter behavior because many of the elections have sufficiently few eligible voters that individuals can have a substantial probability of being pivotal. I develop a rational choice model of turnout in these elections, and I implement this model empirically using data on over 75,000 of these elections held from 1972-2009. The results suggest that most individuals (over 80 percent) vote in these elections independent of consideration of the likelihood that they will be pivotal. Among the remainder, the probability of voting is related to variables that influence the probability of a vote being pivotal (election size and expected closeness of the election). These findings are consistent with the standard rational choice model.

Fear of Reprisal for Disclosing Union Interest: Assessing the Effectiveness of Perceived Anti-Unionism

Source: Steven Mellor and Lisa M. Kath, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, published online: 16 July 2010
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
We modeled a macro-level relationship at a micro-level level to examine the effectiveness of anti-unionism in psychological terms. We reasoned that fear of reprisal for disclosing union interest in the work environment was an affective response to perceived anti-unionism and hypothesized that fear of reprisal would disrupt the prediction of expression of this interest among nonunion employees (N = 1,010). With financial strain as a predictor of interest and fear of reprisal as a moderator, disruption was found. The results of the model are discussed in terms of the unintended consequences of anti-unionism, which, we argue, can include stress effects among employees and healthcare cost effects among employers.

Stepping Up, Stepping Back: Women Activists ‘Talk Union’ Across Generations

Source: Berger-Marks Foundation, 2010

In March 2010, the Berger-Marks Foundation invited 30 women activists to New Orleans for a candid conversation across generations about how unions can attract young workers, especially women, and support them in key leadership roles.

Out of frank discussions over two days comes this report, “Stepping Up, Stepping Back: Women Activists ‘Talk Union’ Across Generations” by Linda Foley, Foundation president. In it, problems are faced openly and solutions are suggested. Its content comes from work done in small groups, which separated into three age clusters, and plenary sessions. As Foundation trustees, we took notes as silent observers. We hope that unions will find this report useful and that it will contribute to academic research on intergenerational activism
See also:

Getting Organized: Unionizing Home-Based Child Care Providers 2010 Update,

Source: Helen Blank, Nancy Duff Campbell, and Joan Entmacher, National Women’s Law Center, June 2010

From the summary:
Getting Organized: Unionizing Home-Based Child Care Providers 2010 Update, provides the latest in unionization developments for home-based child care providers across the country.

Every day, millions of working parents rely on home-based child care arrangements. Unionizing home-based child care providers, a poorly paid and overwhelmingly female workforce, is a promising strategy for improving the treatment of these providers and for increasing overall investments in child care.

Online Social Networking And Trade Union Membership: What The Facebook Phenomenon Truly Means For Labor Organizers

Source: Alex Bryson, Rafael Gomez, Paul Willman, Labor History, Vol. 51 no. 1, February 2010
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Union membership has declined precipitously in a number of countries, including in the United States, over the past fifty years. Can anything be done to stem this decline? This article argues that union voice is a positive attribute (among others) of union membership that is experiential in nature and that, unlike the costs of unionization, can be discerned only after exposure to a union. This makes the act of ‘selling’ unionism to workers (and to some extent firms as well) difficult. Supportive social trends and social customs are required in order to make unionization’s hard-to-observe benefits easier to discern. Most membership-based institutions face the same dilemma. However, recent social networking organizations such as Facebook have been rather successful in attracting millions of active members in a relatively short period of time. The question of whether the union movement can appropriate some of these lessons is discussed with reference to historical and contemporary examples.

Labor Pains?

Source: Gregg Blesch, Modern Healthcare, Vol. 40 no. 16, April 19, 2010
(subscription required)

Repeatedly during the yearlong debate that led to last month’s landmark healthcare reform law, President Barack Obama and others praised health systems that employ physicians and embrace their leadership and cooperation in giving patients coordinated, efficient care.

…But as more organizations look to emulate those successes… is it possible that executives will find themselves late one night staring across a table at their physician-employees in collective bargaining?

Is There a Woman’s Way of Organizing? Gender, Unions, and Effective Organizing

Source: Cornell University, 2010

From the summary:
As traditional industries decline, people are hiring into “informal and low-wage sectors” where turnover is high, legal protections are scarce, unions are rare, and workers tend to be immigrant women of color. Organizing such jobs is especially hard, because many people work in their homes or their employer’s home, with no central workplace, and worry about their status in the U.S. Researchers used ideas from other Berger-Marks reports as the jumping-off point for a series of focus groups and roundtable discussions in 2008 and 2009, where workers and organizers, most of them women, talked about how they mobilized diverse and fragmented workforces, and the experiences of women in unions. The Berger-Marks Foundation funded the project.

Enabling Employee Choice: A Structural Approach to the Rules of Union Organizing

Source: Ben Sachs, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 123, 2010

From the abstract:
The proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has led to fierce debate over how best to ensure employees a choice on the question of unionization. The debate goes to the core of our federal system of labor law. Each of the potential legislative designs under consideration — including both “card check” and “rapid elections” — aims to enhance employee choice by minimizing or eliminating managerial involvement in the unionization process. The central question raised by EFCA, therefore, is whether enabling employees to limit or avoid managerial intervention in union campaigns is an appropriate goal for federal law.

This Article answers this foundational question in the affirmative. It reaches this conclusion by conceptualizing federal labor law in terms of legal default rules, drawing in particular on the preference-eliciting default theory of statutory interpretation and the reversible default theory from corporate law. Doing so leads to the argument that card check, rapid elections, and similar mechanisms are best understood as “asymmetry-correcting altering rules” — means of mitigating the impediments that block departure from the nonunion default. Understanding EFCA in this way also requires that we ask how such an altering rule should be constructed. This Article addresses this institutional design question by arguing that card check’s open decisionmaking process is flawed and that rapid elections, while an improvement over the status quo, are an insufficient method of mitigating the relevant impediments to employee choice. Accordingly, this Article offers two new designs — alternatives to both card check and rapid elections — that would accomplish the legitimate function of minimizing managerial intervention while at the same time preserving secrecy in decisionmaking.

How to Succeed after Failing: Teamsters Victory at Continental Airline

Source: Carl Finamore, Talking Union Blog, February 13, 2010

There are lots of colorful self-help gurus making a pretty good living preaching their gospel of new-age techniques that just might turn around even our worst failures. But the Teamsters Union February 12 election victory to represent 7600 ground workers at Continental Airlines shows that good old-fashioned hard work might be making a comeback.

Several hundred union organizers fanned out across the country and knocked on doors in 24 cities in preparation for the vote. This time, Teamster volunteers did not limit themselves to the large Continental hubs in Cleveland, Houston and Newark as other unions had done in failed organizing efforts over the last 12 years.

Lessons Organizers Can Learn From the Military

Source: Matt Ewing, Journal of New Organizing, December 16, 2009

Regardless of your opinion on war, peace and various types of industrial complexes, there is a lot organizers can learn from the military. After all, these are people who spend every waking hour trying to figure out how to coordinate and lead huge numbers of folks through life-and-death situations.

One of the staples of the Army’s management approach is the troop leadership procedure. They basically boiled down the best practices in creating and implementing tactical plans to 8 relatively simple steps. …. From an organizing and supervising perspective, here are a few of the key lessons:

Share New Information Quickly
Too often we wait until we know all the answers before we tell our team about a new project or strategy. This can be a genuine attempt to manage information well, but too often it is because of fear or getting caught up in the moment. We worry that announcing a new strategy internally, before it is mapped out, could lead some staff to move too fast, and those efforts will have to shifted or restarted later. Or others might take your lack of certainty as a sign of disorganization. But, most of the time we don’t tell everyone on our team about changes because we immediately start trying to create the plan.
Often this delay results in inefficiency and disgruntled teammates who feel out of the loop. So, the smart cookies who designed the protocol established two things principles:
First, they required that commanders tell their troops about new orders immediately. Before you start any planning or preparation, you must share the news with your team.
Then, they created shared assumptions about the nature of these early warnings. Everyone who knows the protocol knows that the early warning order is based on incomplete knowledge, and thus they shouldn’t immediately begin trying to enact it. But, for this shared assumption to work troop leaders must be consistent in how and when they issue these orders.

Create Systems to Effectively Communicate Strategy
Strategies are only useful if everyone using them really understands why they are doing what they’re doing. This procedure is built around several systems to ensure the team leader fully understands the strategy and communicates it effectively to his or her team. Here are three key systems:
1. Understand intent—two levels up
One of the first steps troop leaders must take is understanding their commander’s intent—and their commander’s commander’s intent. This ensures that they understand why the order was issued, and are able to keep the bigger picture in mind as they adapt to changing circumstances.
2. Uniformly well-structured orders
Every order is issued in a 5-paragraph format, covering situation, mission, execution, support, communication protocols. This means that every order gives the bigger picture on the mission, by explaining the situation, while also methodically walking through the finer level details. From the recipient’s perspective, this uniform structure provides a consistent, actionable context for absorbing the order.
3. Aggressive use of “brief backs”
After a troop leader issues new orders, they are expected to ask members of their unit to turn around and give them the briefing. This helps test whether everyone heard and understood the entire mission, not just parts of it, and they understand it well enough to teach it.

Know Your First Plan is a Rough Draft
Anyone who has ever created a plan knows that the real world has this annoying, habit of not working the way you expected (as the old military saying goes: No plan survives first contact with the enemy). Still, too many of us create plans on paper, and then get thrown off when things don’t go the way we expected.

The procedure addresses this reality by creating two distinct planning phases. Before anyone begins moving, the commander is expected to create a tentative plan. This plan is based on the orders received, and best guesses using the available information. Yet the strong assumption is that the first plan is just a starting point. Once this plan is created, the commander checks assumptions through reconnaissance and practice. Based on new information that turns up, the troop leader creates a final draft of the plan.

Plus, all the work that went into communicating strategy pays off when things don’t go as planned. If your team understands why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’re able to adjust and still fulfill the mission’s objective. If they only know what they’re supposed to be doing, they’ll be unable to react intelligently when something unexpected happens.
The 8 Steps
Here’s an example of how using the 8 step troop leadership procedure could work in the progressive organizing space.
Let’s say you’re an organizer working on health care and your DC office just told you that a new vote in the Senate is coming up and you’ve got to pressure the swing Senator in your state. Here’s what you’d do, using this procedure:
* Receive the order: Take a minute to make sure you ask yourself a few questions: What does your boss want to happen? What does your boss’s boss want to happen? What are the explicit and implicit tasks are they asking you to do?
* Issue a warning order: Tell your team (volunteer leaders, coalition partners, etc.) that there is a new vote coming up and you’ll all need to swing into action asap.
* Create a tentative plan: Think through the different ways you could put pressure on your Senator. Weigh them and then decide on what seems like the best option.
* Initiate necessary movement: Start moving on the things that will need to be done regardless of the plan: reserve a conference room for your meeting, get a slot in the email schedule, etc.
* Conduct reconnaissance: Make sure you understand the lay of land by reaching out to the key coalition partners and your volunteers leaders. How do they feel about the legislation? Check to see how early local media coverage is shaping up.
* Complete the plan: Update your plan of action based on any new information and then finalize it.
* Issue the order: Call together a meeting of your folks where you walk them through the plan. Use “brief backs” to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
* Supervise: Have team leaders walk through their individual plans (phone bank captain: How many callers are you going to get? Where are they going to sit? What do they need?). Check in with each to make sure their plans are tight and they’ve thought through the details.
No system is perfect of course. For me the biggest missing piece in this protocol is feedback loops. A systematic feedback loop allows you to create better plans by using information gained from multiple vantage points—plus it creates better buy-in.

Army Study Guide – Troop leading procedures
Source: QuinStreet, Inc.