Category Archives: Organizing

Understanding How Employees’ Rights to Organize Under the NLRA Have Been Limited: The Case of Brown University

Source: Ellen Dannin, American Constitution Society Issue Brief, August 20, 2008

From the abstract:
The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB’s) 2004 Brown University decision held that graduate student teaching and research assistants were not employees, and therefore, were not protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Deciding whether individuals are employees as defined by the NLRA is critical to labor law, as it determines whether individuals have a protected right to engage in freedom of association, self-organization, collective bargaining, and acts of mutual aid or protection. This article explains and critiques the Brown decision as a departure both from precedent as well as from the central purposes of the NLRA. It also examines how Brown University “foreshadowed other cases in which the Board would ignore precedent and the policies underlying the NLRA.” The piece advises readers about the importance of precision in criticizing such decisions, because “if that criticism is not targeted to the specific wrong, it can do damage.” It further cautions that, while criticizing specific failures to enforce NLRA rights is essential, it is important to not wholly abandon the NLRA as a vehicle for protecting such rights, stating “We must insist that the promise of the NLRA to actively promote freedom of association in order to create equality of bargaining power between employers and employees . . . is kept.”

A Legal Pluralist Model of Labor Organizing: Evidence from the Anti-Sweatshop Movement

Source: Scott Cummings, UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 08-27, August, 14 2008

From the abstract:
The field of labor organizing — once a site of progressive disenchantment with law — has now become a crucial locus of law’s resurgence. There is mounting evidence that legal innovation is contributing to a new dynamism within the labor movement as immigrant worker centers, community-labor coalitions, and other grassroots alliances creatively use law to mobilize low-wage workers. These efforts suggest that a reorientation is under way within the labor movement, with activists adopting a legal pluralist approach to organizing that takes strategic advantage of the multiple and intersecting ways in which both employee and employer activities are legally regulated to leverage the power of law to advance labor goals.

Low-Wage Women Workers: A Profile

Source: Stephanie Luce and Eve Weinbaum, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Summer 2008

The labor movement’s future success depends on its ability to organize increasing numbers of workers of color and women workers who are concentrated in low-wage jobs. Scholars and activists have focused on questions of how to organize these workers, how to promote women’s activism and develop leadership, and how to diversify union staff and leaders to better represent the workers they are organizing. If organizing low-wage women workers is essential, then we need a better understanding of who these women workers are, and what they are doing. Who makes up this low-wage workforce? Where do they work? How do we define low wages? What has worked to raise wages and improve working conditions for these women–job training, career mobility, organizing? And what are unions doing to address the needs of this group of workers?

Labor on the Home Front: Unionizing Home-Based Care Workers

Source: Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Summer 2008

Once known as “the invisible workforce,” the nation’s 1.4 million home health care aides and 1.8 million home child care providers are changing the face of organized labor. These frontline caregivers meet the personal needs of those requiring assistance, from children, to the elderly, to the disabled. Disproportionately African American, Latina, and immigrant women, these low-waged workers seized national attention in 1999 when 74,000 Los Angeles home health care aides voted to enter the SEIU, pulling off the largest successful union drive since the sit-down strikes of the Great Depression. Six years later, nearly 50,000 Illinois home child care providers followed in their footsteps. In less than a decade, hundreds of thousands of home-based care workers have entered into coalitions with parents, senior citizens, and disability activists. They poured into SEIU, AFSCME, and AFT, but also responded to community organizing efforts of ACORN, local grassroots groups, such as Brooklyn’s Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, and occupational associations, such as Milwaukee’s Providers Taking Action.

New Report Highlights the Trouble with Smithfield

Source: Food & Water Watch

A new report by consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch arms consumers with the facts about a major player in the meat business, Smithfield Foods. The group’s new report, The Trouble With Smithfield: A Corporate Profile, details the damage the world’s largest pork producer has caused to the environment, animal welfare, public health, family farmers, and workers around the world.

The company’s opportunistic acquisitions and the failure of the federal government to enforce anti-trust laws have allowed Smithfield to dominate almost all aspects of pork production and processing.

The factory farms that the company owns or controls cram hundreds or thousands of pigs into long, warehouse-like barns. And all those hogs generate lots of waste. In 1997, the company received one of the largest Clean Water Act fines in history for failing to install adequate pollution control equipment.

In addition to environmental damage, Smithfield operations threaten the health of people living nearby who suffer from a wide range of ailments, including asthma, allergies, eye irritation, compromised immune function, depression and other disorders.

The Trouble With Smithfield: A Corporate Profile

Full Report (PDF; 1.2 MB)

Neutrality Agreements: Innovative, Controversial, and Labor’s Hope for the Future

Source: Richard W. Hurd, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17 no. 1, Spring 2008

Over the past ten years there has been a notable shift in union organizing strategies. Once the exception, organizing conducted under the umbrella of negotiated neutrality agreements has become the preferred method in the drive to reverse decline and build union density.

Race, Gender, and the Rebirth of Trade Unionism

Source: New Labor Forum, Fall 2007
By Kate Bronfenbrenner and Dorian T. Warren

The future of the U.S. labor movement hinges on unions’ ability to organize workers of color, women, and most especially, women of color. The majority of existing union members, and for at least the last two decades, the majority of new workers organized, are women and workers of color. Yet, with the exception of just a handful of unions, the labor movement has been slow to realize that its survival and revitalization is fundamentally intertwined with unions’ ability to recognize and build on this trend.

Results from a Survey of Medical Residents’ Attitudes about Unions

Source: Labor Studies Journal, December 2007
By Jonathan L. Kaplan, et al.

A study was conducted to evaluate medical residents’ attitudes toward unionization and to measure issues a residency union might pursue. Medical residents are in a transitory state between graduate student and working professional, giving them little voice in the workplace. It is possible that medical residents could be the next “niche” area for unions seeking to grow their membership. A Web-based survey was e-mailed to residents throughout the country. There were 578 responses, with residents strongly desiring health and malpractice insurance as well as free parking. The results also showed that although 82 percent would consider joining a union, only a third would help organize and form that union. Given these conflicting results, the unionization of medical residents would require new organizing techniques geared specifically for these employees.

Organizing across Difference and across Campus: Cross-class Coalition and Worker Mobilization in a Living Wage Campaign

Source: Labor Studies Journal, December 2007
By Jennifer Bickham Mendez and James O’Neil Spady

The authors analyze the practices and internal dynamics of a living wage campaign (LWC) at a liberal arts university to evaluate its implications for low-wage workers’ social and economic justice struggles. A vibrant coalition among faculty members, students, and staff members demonstrated the complexities of organizing across racial, class, and status differences when participants hold different stakes. The campaign’s diverse membership was its greatest strength and challenge, as campaigners brought with them key resources but also divergent understandings of the LWC’s meaning and ultimate goals. Although the LWC’s efforts at engaging in participative decision making, building relationships, and developing compatible frameworks of meaning created a culture of solidarity that invigorated the movement despite multiple obstacles, they were not sustainable. The campaign’s dissolution and ultimate reformation as a union with a very different culture and practice raises questions about the strengths and limitations of LWCs and their implications for a revitalized labor movement.