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.

The Sound and the Fury: Did the Split in the Labor Movement Signify Anything?

Source: New Labor Forum, Fall 2007
By Jake Metzger

Not a whole lot has changed since seven unions established the Change to Win (CtW) labor federation in the summer of 2005 to rival the AFL-CIO. As one who had more fears than hopes for the split, I take some comfort in that. I expected much worse… That the worst hasn’t happened is a testament, I think, to the good sense and commitment of local leaders and staff who seem to have successfully ignored the rivalries of top leaders and gone about their business, for good or for ill, as if “all that” didn’t matter. … Could child care workers be the equivalent in our time of the 1930s auto workers (or rubber workers)? I haven’t heard anybody m ake that claim, probably because it isn’t clear how much of a difference unions can actually make in these workers’ wages and conditions or in their form of organization. But they’re off to a good start in making a real difference, according to a 2007 study by the National Women’s law Center. And if there is to be one spark that sets off a fire of organizing, ti could be this low-wage, overwhelmingly female, multicolored workforce that requires a combination fo political, community, and labor organizing of a thoroughly nontraditional kind.

The Health Care for America Plan

Source: New Labor Forum, Fall 2007
By Jacob Hacker

America’s $2.2-trillion-a-year medical complex is enormously wasteful, ill-targeted, inefficient, and unfair. The best medical care is extremely good, but the Rube Goldberg system through which that care is financed is extremely bad–and crumbling. One out of three non-elderly Americans spend some time without health insurance every two years, and the majority of those remain uninsured for more than nine months. Meanwhile, runaway health costs have become an increasingly grave threat, not just to the security of family finances, but also to corporate America’s bottom line. The United States spends much more as a share of its economy on health care than any other nation, and yet all this spending has failed to buy Americans the one thing that health insurance is supposed to provide: health security.

Labor’s Political Options in the Presidential Elections

Source: New Labor Forum, Fall 2007
By David Moberg

With last year’s Democratic takeover of Congress, and growing public support for both the Democrats and for progressive ideas, the odds are looking good for a Democratic victory sweep next year. After two terms of Bush, the labor movement can at least breathe a sigh of relief at that prospect. But the labor movement needs more than such a victory. It needs to create a social movement that can turn this opportunity into a long-term campaign to give working people more power, more security, more opportunities to realize their potential, and a greater share of the nation’s prosperity.

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.

What Makes for Effective Labor Representation on Pension Boards?

Source: Labor Studies Journal, December 2007
By Johanna Weststar and Anil Verma

This article examines the efficacy of labor representation on pension boards. Using existing literature and interviews with labor trustees, this article develops a model where a more formal approach to recruitment and selection, skill acquisition, and accountability is hypothesized to aid labor trustees in achieving effective integration and representation on pension boards. Data indicate that labor trustees are placed in a challenging environment with insufficient support from their union, other trustees, or the board. These findings have important implications for the selection, training, and integration of labor trustees and the success of a labor agenda on pension issues.

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.

Private Pensions: Low Defined Contribution Plan Savings May Pose Challenges to Retirement Security, Especially for Many Low-Income Workers

Source: Government Accountability Office

Over the last 25 years, pension coverage has shifted primarily from “traditional” defined benefit (DB) plans, in which workers accrue benefits based on years of service and earnings, toward defined contribution (DC) plans, in which participants accumulate retirement balances in individual accounts. DC plans provide greater portability of benefits, but shift the responsibility of saving for retirement from employers to employees. This report addresses the following issues: (1) What percentage of workers participate in DC plans, and how much have they saved in them? (2) How much are workers likely to have saved in DC plans over their careers and to what degree do key individual decisions and plan features affect plan saving? (3) What options have been recently proposed to increase DC plan coverage, participation, and savings? GAO analyzed data from the Federal Reserve Board’s 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), the latest available, utilized a computer simulation model to project DC plan balances at retirement, reviewed academic studies, and interviewed experts.

Full report

Teacher Salary Lags Behind Inflation

Source: National Education Association

Despite the value of education to Americans, the National Education Association published figures today showing that investments in America’s public schools remain stagnant, as the average increase in teacher salary continues to trail behind the rate of inflation for 2005-06. No state has achieved adequate and equitable funding despite years of court cases and education reform proposals.

According to NEA’s publication, Rankings and Estimates: Rankings of the States 2006 and Estimates of School Statistics 2007, the average one-year increase in public schoolteacher salaries was 2.9 percent, while inflation escalated 3.9 percent. Over the past 10 years, the average salary for public schoolteachers increased only 1.3 percent after adjusting for inflation. Because of inflation and other economic factors, teachers have not been able to keep pace with basic household expenses.

Full report (PDF; 1.4 MB)

Economic Outlook 2008: Growth Slows in First Half, Picks up in Second

Source: Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s Economic Advisory Roundtable

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s (SIFMA) Economic Advisory Roundtable today unveiled its predictions for 2008, forecasting that the pace of U.S. economic growth would slow in the first half of the year, but accelerate in the second half. In the year-end survey, the median forecast anticipates GDP to grow but at a below-trend pace of 2.1 percent in 2008 as the economy works through the housing sector contraction and the effect of credit market turbulence.

The Roundtable also expects the Federal Open Market Committee to reduce the target Fed funds rate by 25 basis points to 4.25 percent at the upcoming December 11 meeting. The consensus view among the Roundtable members was that the accompanying FOMC statement will emphasize risks to economic growth.

Full report (PDF; 98 KB)