Unions Facing the Future: Questions and Possibilities

Source: Peter Fairbrother, Glynne Williams, Ruth Barton, Enrico Gibellieri, and Andrea Tropeoli, Labor Studies Journal, Winter 2007, Volume 31, no. 4

The current circumstances of trade unions are subject to extensive debate. As a contribution to these debates, three sets of issues are addressed: how unions organize and operate in relation to members, how unions reposition and rebuild themselves against changing forms of ownership and different managerial practices, and how unions attempt to face the challenges of multinational capital. Unions have sought to renew and revitalize themselves by changing organizational practices or changing aims and ambitions, as well as by recomposing past relationships, especially between unions and state bodies. These themes are addressed via three case studies chosen to exemplify particular aspects of union organization and activity. The study concludes with a comparative evaluation of the three cases in terms of the principles of union renewal.

Why We Should Support the Employee Free Choice Act

Source: Julie Martínez Ortega, Labor Studies Journal, Winter 2007, Volume 31, no. 4

….The proposed legislation, if enacted, would make a real impact on workers trying to form unions and bargain collectively. It would also provide a vehicle for educating the public and elected leaders about the obstacles that workers face when they try to organize. We agree with Professor Adams that workers’ rights are under attack both in the United States and abroad. However, we disagree with his critique of EFCA. We believe it to be a critical part of the strategy to achieve workplace democracy.

Adam’s critique of EFCA centers on three main points. He argues that it would not significantly advance the ability if U.S. workers to organize, that an international human rights approach would be better that altering U.S. labor law, and that real change in labor law will not happen without a broad social movement.

Why the Employee Free Choice Act Deserves Support: Response to Adams

Source: Sheldon Friedman, Labor Studies Journal, Winter 2007, Volume 31, no. 4

As Roy Adams correctly notes, the workplace rights crisis in the United States is so dire that it demands urgent attention from every thinking person who cares about democracy, human rights, and social and economic justice. Of the sixty million nonunion workers who tell pollsters that they want a union in their workplace, last year fewer than seventy thousand – a proportion so small as to be almost insignificant –succeeded in forming one via the NLRB process.

Of these, many will never attain an initial collective bargaining agreement and fewer still will forge an enduring collective bargaining relationship with their employer. …. In at least a quarter of these NLRB organizing campaigns, one or more of the union supporters was illegally fired, and in more than half, the workers faced direct or thinly veiled threats that their workplace would close or move if they formed a union (Bronfenbrenner 2000; Mehta and Theodore 2005). Illegal firings and threats of workplace closure, moreover, were just the tip of the iceberg of the employer campaigns that these workers were forced to endure (Logan 2002)…

…Many more workers than that tiny few did form unions and win initial contracts last year, but they did it in spite of the Board’s stacked-deck process by circumventing it via successful campaigns for card check and employer neutrality.

The Employee Free Choice Act: A Skeptical View and Alternative

Source: Roy Adams, Labor Studies Journal, Winter 2007, Volume 31, no. 4

The AFL-CIO, along with its ally American Rights at Work, has invested a great deal of time, energy, and money in promoting passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Those of us who believe in collective representation hope that this initiative will fulfill the hopes of its promoters and produce a major advance in the number of workers with a collective voice at work. However, with Republicans in continuing control of Congress and the White House, the odds against passage if the Act would seem to be high. However, there are reasons to believe that, even if the Act should pass, the results will, unfortunately, fall short of expectations.

Among the key elements of the Free Choice Act that are intended to spark new organizing are card check certification, first contract arbitration, and stiffer penalties for employers who offend the law. Since employers commonly commit unfair labor practices during certification election campaigns and stonewall during the negotiation of first contracts, American unionists believe that the establishment of procedures designed to counter those practices will significantly improve the labor movement’s organizing prospects.

Moving Beyond Political Deadlock: Health Reform Initiatives in States

Source: Rachel Degolia, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 2

The Massachusetts health reforms approved in April 2006 are indicative of a larger trend among states, in the absence of federal action, states—on the front lines of dealing with the nation’s health care crisis—have begun to take the lead on comprehensive health care reforms.

The state experiments bubbling up around the country illustrate not only the potential for real progress, but also the problems and pitfalls of state-based health care reform. As a result of state-level health policy developments, reform advocates must grapple with new challenges. These include the need to anticipate and address the political and social consequences of state mandates and to help states devise strategies for curtailing rapidly rising health care costs.

The Hidden Cost of Jobs without Health Care Benefits

Source: Ken Jacobs, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 2

In the last half of the twentieth century American health care financing emerged as a dual system: private, employer-sponsored care for most people was supplemented by public care for the poor and elderly. Today, however, rising health insurance premiums, shifting industrial composition, increased use of temporary and part-time workers, and a weakened bargaining position of workers in the labor market are factors leading to a marked shift in the nature of health care coverage for American workers.

Declining job-based coverage affects not only health care access and quality for those who are not covered; it also creates hidden costs for employers providing coverage and for taxpayers. Even worse; companies that pare down health benefits or adopt changes that make coverage unaffordable for workers undermine the market position of competitors, forcing them to follow suit as well. These, too, are hidden costs of non benefited jobs. Lawmakers at all levels in the United States are concerned about these issues and are looking for innovative solutions.

Resolving Workplace Conflict: The Alternative Dispute Resolution Revolution and Some Lessons We Have Learned

Source: David B. Lipsky, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 2

The U.S. industrial relations system has undergone a historic transformation over the past three decades. One of the most significant features of that transformation has been the dramatic rise of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as a means of addressing workplace conflict. ADR can be defined as the use of arbitration, mediation, and other third-party techniques instead of litigation to resolve workplace disputes. In the view of some experts, the rapid diffusion of ADR in employment relations, especially in the non-union sector, has represented nothing less than a revolution in dispute resolution. The ADR revolution has spread to so many other types of disputes, including family, consumer, construction, and financial disputes. In many ways, transferring the resolution of workplace disputes from public to private forums constitutes the de facto privatization of the American system of justice.

Striker Replacement: A Human Rights Perspective

Source: Lance Compa, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 1

United States labor law on workers’ right to strike meets international human rights standards—up to a point. The law does not ban strikes in the private sector. Unlike many countries that nominally allow strikes but create onerous procedural obstacles (Mexico is a prime example), the United States, aside from modest notice requirements, lets workers decide to strike. In a handful of states, public-sector workers can strike.

So far, so good. But beyond this point, U.S. labor law and practice deviate from international standards. In the public sector, most strikes are prohibited even with no threat to public health or safety (the main proviso developed by the International Labor Organization). In the private sector, employers’ power to permanently replace workers who exercise the right to strike effectively nullifies that right.

The Campaign to Save Labor’s ‘Only True Weapon’

Source: John Logan, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 1

In 1990, the AFL-CIO started a campaign to reform the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to ban permanent striker replacements, hoping to set the stage for more comprehensive revision of the NLRA. Ultimately, however, the campaign served only to illustrate organized labor’s inability to win labor law reform over the opposition of the business community. Campaigns such as that for striker replacement legislation—in which the AFL-CIO spent tens of millions of dollars on a Washington-based campaign focused on a handful of “swing” legislators and ended up with absolutely nothing to show for it—are precisely the type of campaigns that the dissident Change to Win unions have criticized as a waste of union finances that would be better spent on organizing.

PATCO, Permanent Replacement, and the Loss of Labor’s Strike Weapon

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 1

August 3, 2006, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of an event that many in organized labor would prefer to forget. On that date in 1981, more than 12,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) walked off their jobs with the Federal Aviation Administration. When 11,325 of them refused to heed a back-to-work order issued by President Ronald Reagan and end their illegal walkout within forty-eight hours, they were discharged and permanently replaced.

In the immediate aftermath of the PATCO strike, many commentators predicted it would mark a turning point in the history of U.S. labor relations. A quarter century later, the strike’s importance is even easier to grasp. Just as the infamous Homestead strike set the tone for labor-capital conflict at the end of the nineteenth century, the PATCO strike helped establish the pattern for labor relations in the late twentieth century. Since that ill-fated walkout, organized labor has been in a state of continuous decline.