Category Archives: Organizing

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.

The Medium and the Anti-Union Message: Forced Listening and Captive Audience Meetings

Source: Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal (via SSRN)

Employer captive audience meetings (CAMs) are a rare example in which people in a democratic society are forced to listen to opinions of others with which they may strongly disagree. Employees are not chained to a post, but they are nevertheless economically compelled to listen to their employer’s anti-union opinions. The uniqueness of being compelled to listen makes the CAM a powerful signaling device through which the message of economic vulnerability is transmitted to employees. The medium (CAMs) is its own message, and it should be regulated as such. The author explores the extent to which this approach is reflected in current labor law, and finds that the principle approach to CAMs in Canadian labor law is to treat CAMs as “message neutral” event that can “color” the content of the speech made in the meeting. He argues for an approach that treats the CAM as an independent signaling device. This approach would refocus the labor boards’ attention on the question of whether CAMs interfere with the formation of unions, and whether permitting employer CAMs advance sound labor policies that are consistent with the values underling the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Union Busting Confidential: To keep out organized labor, you need the union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis

Source: Art Levine, In These Times, Vol. 31 no. 10, October 2007

“If you thought the union movement was in decline–Think Again!” So read an online ad for a recent seminar in Las Vegas that promised to help me remain union-free. Actually, I had thought the union movement was in decline, but I’m an open-minded sort, so I was willing to be persuaded otherwise. I paid my $1,595 and signed up. Organized by seminar-specialty firm Executive Enterprises, it would be led by attorneys from Jackson Lewis, one of the leading law firms in the field of union-busting, which has become a multibillion-dollar industry encompassing more than 2,500 lawyers and consultants offering their services. The classes would take place in the Las Vegas Westin Casuarina, which promises its guests “a sanctuary in the midst of bustling excitement” as well as craps, blackjack and three-card poker. I booked a room.

Campaign to Organize Federal Transportation Security Officers: A Model of Open Source Unionism

Source: Sharon Pinnock, WorkingUSA, Vol. 10 no. 3, September 2007
(subscription required)

All discussions with people on the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE) campaign to organize federalized airport screeners–reclassified in 2006 as “Transportation Security Officers” (TSA), ultimately end with the adage that the mobilization effort is righteous. The author, who has organized over fifty organizing campaigns in nearly thirty years as a labor organizer, has never before worked on a unionization drive that feels as righteous as that to organize TSA workers.

Organizing and Involving Young Workers: What Does It Take?

Source: Tiffany Ten Eyck, Labor Notes, no. 340, July 2007

Young people aren’t entering the labor movement in large numbers these days. In 2005, less than five percent of workers aged 16-24 were in unions, while workers 65 and older enjoyed the highest increase in unionization. At Labor Notes’ recent San Jose Troublemakers School, young workers and longtime union members got together to talk about how to overcome the obstacles preventing the labor movement from reaching young workers.

Fishing in Different Ponds: Union Organizing Across Industries

Source: Timothy D. Chandler and Rafael Gely, Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, Vol. 10 no. 2, June 2007
(subscription required)

A major complaint of the Change to Win Coalition (“Coalition”) is the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations’ failure to “follow the work” and allocate sufficient resources to organizing, particularly in industries experiencing job growth. Our article uses industry-level data from National Labor Relations Board-supervised elections from 1970 to 2000 to evaluate the validity of this criticism. We find support for the Coalition’s claim. Most industrial groups faired better than manufacturing in election outcomes. Yet union organizing activity was lower in other industries. Moreover, declining organizing activity within manufacturing suggests that other industries, most notably services, account for an even greater share of new entrants into the labor movement.

Social Isolation and American Workers: Employee Blogging and Legal Reform

Source: Rafael Gely and Leonard Bierman, Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 20 no. 2, Spring 2007

Times have changed. Americans, and particularly American workers, live in a much more socially isolated world than they did in the past. Union halls and employee group bowling are rare these days. In some respects, the Internet and today’s “virtual world” have contributed to these developments. For example, when employees are telecommuting or working “virtually” off-site, developing a strong sense of community with their colleagues is far more difficult. But while the Internet may be part of the problem, it also has the potential to be part of the solution.