Category Archives: Strikes

Defending Public Education: An Interview with Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union

Source: Josh Eidelson and Sarah Jaffe, Dissent, Vol. 60 no. 3, (whole no. 252), Summer 2013
(subscription required)

In 2010, a slate led by Karen Lewis ousted the incumbent leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, promising deeper community engagement and a more aggressive defense of teachers and public education. In 2012, with Lewis as president, CTU mounted the city’s first teachers’ strike in a quarter-century, and the most dramatic recent challenge to the bipartisan education reform consensus. For the inaugural episode of Dissent magazine’s podcast series, labor journalists Josh Eidelson and Sarah Jaffe sat down with Lewis to discuss teaching and gender discrimination, professionalism and solidarity, unions and the Democratic Party. An edited version of the transcript appears below. The full interview can be heard on the Dissent website. The interview was conducted in April, before the Board of Education voted to close fifty public schools in Chicago.
Related:
Belabored Podcast, Episode 1: “We will shut down your city”
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Lechmere: The Employer’s “Right” to Keep Employees Isolated and Uninformed

Source: Ellen Dannin and Ann C Hodges, Truthout, June 27, 2013

There was a time when slaves and indentured servants in America were owned and rented. Slavery was eventually abolished by the 13th amendment to the Constitution, and in 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gave workers rights to join together to bargain about their working conditions. But what if an employer could block its employees from hearing about the advantages of collective bargaining?

The 1991 Lechmere case allowed employers to do just that by judicially amending the NLRA to make it impossible for employees to learn about the advantages of joining a union….

This is the eleventh article in the Judicial Amendment Project series on the history of the National Labor Relations Act. The stories in the series to date include:

1. Why Today the National Labor Relations Act Is a Weak Law – and How We Can Restore its Power 28 March 2013

2. Judicial Amendments and the Attack on Worker Rights 4 April 2013

3. Solidarity NOT Forever: How the Supreme Court Kicked Retirees Into the Gutter 11 April 2013

4. Strike and You’re Out: The Supreme Court’s Destruction of the Right to Strike

5. A Strike Is a Strike and Only a Strike

6. At an Impasse: Collective Bargaining Under the Judicial Amendments

7. The Supreme Court Empowers Employers to Lock Out Workers

8. The Judicial Amendments’ 1-2-3-4 Punch to Collective Bargaining

9. Extra! Extra! Rich Corp Execs Shut Down the NLRB! Then and Now

10. The Dues and Don’ts of Union Dues

11. How Conservative Interest Groups Are Reducing Unions’ Financial Resources

Silicon Valley’s Anti-Unionism, Now With a Side of Class Warfare

Source: Kevin Roose, New York Magazine, July 11, 2013

..But the shock at anti-union sentiments expressed by the tech elite, mine included, obscured one salient point: Namely, Silicon Valley’s hostility to organized labor is nothing new…

…The mystique of the entrepreneur, more than overt union-busting techniques of corporate managers, is the reason why Silicon Valley’s tech industry has never had a successful large-scale labor organization, according to Berlin. Simply put: Tech workers have been so coddled that they simply don’t feel the need to unionize….

…Anti-union views aren’t unique to Silicon Valley gazillionaires — they’re shared by free-market boosters everywhere. But comments like Lacy’s and White’s in response to the BART strike revealed something new. Namely, portions of the tech community are not only observing the destruction of unions as a long-term sociopolitical trend, but actively cheering it on as an example of an intellectual “maker” class beating out working-class “takers.” The old Silicon Valley anti-unionism came from narrow corporate self-interest; the new seems more broadly ideological.

“The notion that ‘These workers are expendable’ is a fundamentally different attitude toward workers than ‘Let’s make sure they have these benefits so they don’t want to unionize,'” Berlin said.

In other words, it’s not Silicon Valley’s rejection of organized labor that should surprise us. It’s the class hostility that now often rides along with it….
Related:
BART strike reveals tech, transit worker divide
Krissy Clark, Marketplace Morning Report, July 4, 2013

Testing the Effects of Striker Replacement and Employer Implementation of Final Offers on Employer and Union Bargaining Power

Source: Ellen Dannin, Terry Wagar, Gangaram Singh and Michelle Dean, WorkingUSA, Volume 16, Issue 2, June 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Some important issues affecting the workplace cannot be studied directly for a number of reasons. For example, they may subject humans to unacceptable risks; theories may be tested before investing the time and money required for a full study; or funding may be more readily available for a novel investigation after investigators can show that an issue merits study. Simulations were used to compress time and collect enough data to permit robust statistical analysis. In this case, simulations were used to compress time and collect enough data to. Simulations are not without problems, the most important of which is how accurately they capture the collective bargaining issues being studied. This article examines whether the views and actions of the participants in our bargaining simulations reasonably reflect the conduct of actual bargainers. It finds that the participants in the simulation did take on their assigned roles. As a result, not only can this method be useful in exploring issues such as collective bargaining, but it can also potentially be useful for other social science issues.

The Judicial Amendments’ 1-2-3-4 Punch to Collective Bargaining

Source: Ellen Dannin and Ann C Hodges, Truthout, May 30, 2013

…So far, we have looked at judicial amendments one at a time. But in the real world of unions and collective bargaining, judicial amendments work together to weaken the employee rights Congress created…. But instead of equality of bargaining power, the judicial amendments of lockouts, striker replacement, and employer implementation of workplace terms have increased employer power while weakening union bargaining power. A study that looked at the effects of striker replacement and implementation upon impasse shows that employers have roughly twice the bargaining power that unions have when employers have both these weapons….

This is the eighth article in the Judicial Amendment Project on the history of the NLRA. The stories in the series to date include:

1. Why Today the National Labor Relations Act Is a Weak Law – and How We Can Restore its Power 28 March 2013

2. Judicial Amendments and the Attack on Worker Rights 4 April 2013

3. Solidarity NOT Forever: How the Supreme Court Kicked Retirees Into the Gutter 11 April 2013

4. Strike and You’re Out: The Supreme Court’s Destruction of the Right to Strike

5. A Strike Is a Strike and Only a Strike

6. At an Impasse: Collective Bargaining Under the Judicial Amendments

7. The Supreme Court Empowers Employers to Lock Out Workers

The Strike: A Contemporary Lesson from Labor History or a Historical Artifact?

Source: Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 37 no. 4, December 2012
(subscription required)

Articles include:

Labor’s Economic Weapons: Learning from Labor History by Joe Burns
This article argues that trade unionism has deviated from fundamentals of trade union economics. For the first 150 years of trade unionism in the United States, union strategy centered on two objectives: (1) standardizing wages across entire labor and/or product markets and (2) developing a strike capable of halting production or otherwise impacting the operations of the employers…

It’s Not Whether to Strike, It’s How to Win a Strike by Steven Ashby
The author addresses the big question labor continues to debate: how can the labor movement resist the corporate onslaught?… The author suggests that only one ingredient is missing. Striking, we are told, will put labor back on the path to victory. Labor used to know this, we hear, as the strike was labor’s primary weapon in its “first 150 years.” There are several problems with this thesis..

Context Matters More: A Response to Joe Burns by Joseph A. McCartin
…While other labor analysts focus on declining union density figures, the spread of right-to-work laws, the failure of labor law reform, or the rollback of public-sector collective bargaining in states like Michigan as the most revealing measures of labor’s current weakness, Burns puts his finger on a deeper problem. Organized labor’s very survival depends on coming to terms with the trends he outlines here….Arguably, the difficulties unions face in organizing workers today stem more from their inability to strike and bargain effectively than from increased employer opposition to organizing….

Response: Confronting Unjust Labor Law is Key by Joe Burns
Joseph McCartin makes an important point in noting that legal restrictions are not the main determinant of the level of strike activity. McCartin’s points on the other factors leading to the decline of strike activity are well taken. However, for reasons explained below, that does not mean that legal rules do not matter…

Viewpoint: A Strategy Based on Strikes Means Breaking the Law

Source: Joe Burns, Labor Notes, April 16, 2013

It was a welcome arrival on the labor scene late last year: an organizing strategy centered on workplace activism and strikes. Unions set their sights high, taking on the fast food industry in New York, massive warehouse complexes near Chicago and Los Angeles, and even the nation’s largest employer, Walmart.

The strategy focuses on building organization inside the workplace, rather than on a rigged National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process. By strategically striking, a group of activists can convince their co-workers that fighting back is possible, raise publicity for their struggle, and pressure employers into granting concessions.

It’s a very traditional strategy, reaching back to a time when a union meant people coming together. With the advantages of a fresh perspective and strong community ties, these emerging forms of worker organization represent new hope for the labor movement.

In the long run, however, it is hard to envision this strategy succeeding unless workers challenge and, if necessary, violate labor law…

Working without a Contract: A Strategy Whose Time Has Come?

Source: Robert M. Schwartz, Labor Notes, February 11, 2013

When a contract expires with no prospect of a settlement, the union has three choices:
– Agree with the employer to extend the contract for a fixed or an indefinite period
– Strike
– Work without a contract.

For many years, unions mostly stuck to the first two options. Working without a contract was considered a hazardous move that could cut off dues and leave the union open to decertification.

But recently, unions have been taking a closer look at the work-without-a-contract strategy. Some have changed their mantra from “no contract, no work” to “no contract, no peace.” With a helpful December 2012 Labor Board (NLRB) ruling (see below), this trend is likely to gain momentum….

Major Work Stoppages in 2012

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, News Release, USDL-13-0193, February 8, 2013

In 2012, there were 19 major strikes and lockouts involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting at least one shift, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The 19 major work stoppages beginning in 2012 equaled the total from 2011. Major work stoppages beginning in 2012 idled 148,000 workers, higher than 2011 with 113,000 idled workers. In 2012, there were 1.13 million days idle from major work stoppages in effect, also higher than 2011 with 1.02 million days idle. (See charts 1 and 2, and table 1.) Over 40 percent (8 of 19) of major work stoppages beginning in 2012 occurred in November and December. …

Alt-Labor

Source: Josh Eidelson, American Prospect, January 29, 2013

Nonunion workers’ groups are gathering strength across the country. But will they ever make the kind of impact that traditional labor once did? … His fellow demonstrators—a few co-workers and a couple of dozen staffers and activists from the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC)—picked up the chant, Occupy-style.…. The ROC is a labor group. But it’s not a union. It represents a new face of the U.S. labor movement—an often-ignored, little-understood array of groups organizing workers without the union label. … Why are alt-labor groups like the ROC proliferating? To begin with, unions are in crisis. Over the past 20 years, private-sector unionization has plummeted to just 7 percent. … There’s another reason for the rise of alt-labor: For an increasing number of U.S. workers, unions are not even an option. Labor law denies union rights to increasingly significant sectors of the workforce, including so-called independent contractors and domestic workers, whose numbers are expected to double as baby boomers enter elder care. …The question, as alt-workers’ groups further expand their efforts outside of labor-friendly cities like New York, is how much they can accomplish for American workers. If unions continue to decline, can these groups ever hope to accomplish what old labor once did—substantially improving working conditions on a mass scale and helping to build a new middle class? …
Related:
After spontaneous strike to protest wage issues, Latino textile workers’ partnership with community organization and union leads to victory
Source: Arise Chicage, Talking Union blog, Posted on February 2, 2013