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.

After the Strike: The Lasting Impact of Hiring Striker Replacements

Source: Julius Getman, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 1

… Despite the positive role large unionized companies play in American society, a fundamental conflict exists between the short-term financial focus of many in the investment and management communities and the longer-term focus of others, including employees who value job security and long-term investors who seek consistent growth. Conflicts over corporate control revolve around this tension. From a strategic union perspective, developing an action plan around making large companies more accountable to employees and other stakeholders, including long-term shareholders, must involve a number of new approaches.

Given the track record of labor’s success in trying new approaches, we have our work cut out for us. Still, unions represent employees in nearly 80 percent of the largest publicly traded companies in the United States. Perhaps more significant is the fact that nearly half the assets in American equity markets are held by the pension funds and savings plans of organized workers and union-represented employers. Taken together, unions have the potential to exert considerable leverage on capital markets.

Layoffs and Organized Resilience: Lessons for Workers, Managers, and Investors

Source: Jody Hoffer Gittell, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 1

Layoffs often make sense from a traditional management perspective as a way to weather the storm by adjusting supply to demand. When demand drops, managers often reduce supply and lay off excess workers to avoid paying them when revenues are insufficient to cover costs.

Another perspective, however, stresses that high-performance work systems (which produce value for workers, managers, and investors) require loyalty and commitment in order to work effectively. According to this view, managers should seek to avoid layoffs when demand falls. Furthermore, if relationships help individuals and organizations bounce back from a crisis, then it is important to avoid harming relationships at such a critical time. From this perspective, layoffs are a problem, not a solution.

Conflicts Over Corporate Control: The Role of Labor and Employment Relations

Source: Stephen R. Sleigh, Perspectives on Work, Summer 2006, Volume 10, no. 1

The theme of LERA’s Annual Meeting in 2006 was “Labor and Capital in the Twenty-First Century: Human, Social, and Financial Contributions to Creating Wealth.” In a wide variety of settings— including formal sessions and informal discussions in the hallways—lively debate was the order of the day….

… Despite the positive role large unionized companies play in American society, a fundamental conflict exists between the short-term financial focus of many in the investment and management communities and the longer-term focus of others, including employees who value job security and long-term investors who seek consistent growth. Conflicts over corporate control revolve around this tension. From a strategic union perspective, developing an action plan around making large companies more accountable to employees and other stakeholders, including long-term shareholders, must involve a number of new approaches.

Given the track record of labor’s success in trying new approaches, we have our work cut out for us. Still, unions represent employees in nearly 80 percent of the largest publicly traded companies in the United States. Perhaps more significant is the fact that nearly half the assets in American equity markets are held by the pension funds and savings plans of organized workers and union-represented employers. Taken together, unions have the potential to exert considerable leverage on capital markets.

Labor’s Critical Role in Workplace Health and Safety in California and Beyond—As Labor Shifts Priorities, Where Will Health and Safety Sit?

Source: Marianne P. Brown, NEW SOLUTIONS: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Volume 16 no. 3, 2006

Organized labor has been largely responsible for the health and safety protections many U.S. workers take for granted. This article provides a brief history of labor’s influence on California’s health and safety policies—sometimes with ripple effects beyond its borders. Six cases where various successful strategies were used are examined. These gains were achieved with strong support from international health and safety staff, and, on some issues, support from the state labor federation. But in most cases local union staff involvement was key. Now that labor mobilizes to build its shrinking membership—with only 1 out of 12 workers in the private sector organized—resources are being re-directed toward organizing. Understandably, health and safety advocates have expressed concern that worker protections may suffer. Time will tell, but there is evidence that health and safety demands are front and center in a number of current and upcoming organizing campaigns. Now more than ever, it is in health and safety professionals’ interest to tie their research and clinical work into these emerging campaigns.

The High Concentration of U.S. Health Care Expenditures

Source: Mark W. Stanton, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Research in Action, Issue 19, AHRQ Pub. No.06-0060, June 2006

Half of the population spends little or nothing on health care, while 5 percent of the population spends almost half of the total amount. Examining the distribution of health care expenses among the U.S. population sheds light on areas where changes in policy might bring about the greatest savings.

Building A Movement For Health Care: Key To Organizing The Unorganized?

Source: Wayne Nealis, WorkingUSA, Volume 9, Issue 1, March 2006
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
History shows that labor union membership increased rapidly in the United States in the last century only during periods when broad movements for social justice also existed. One of these movements was the fight for basic social benefits during the Great Depression; the other was the struggle to secure democratic rights and dignity for African-Americans during the Civil Rights movement. This article presents an argument as to why labor should join in leading an offensive for single-payer national health insurance (NHI), not only to win health care for all, but to help jump start a broader social and economic justice movement that could create a socio-political climate that is more conducive to organizing the unorganized.

The Next Stage in Employee Involvement: Partnership for Strategic Planning and Management

Source: Carrie G. Donald, Thomas S. Lyons, Rebecca C. Tribbey, University of Louisville, Labor-Management Center, April 2000

From the abstract:
Programs for employee involvement in management decision-making have evolved through numerous stages. Many of these programs, once implemented, did not last. However, an avenue that currently holds particular promise is that of joint strategic planning efforts. Strategic planning and its corollary, strategic management, contain advantages for lasting labor-management partnerships in areas where previous involvement efforts have been deficient. By its nature, strategic planning requires an organization to articulate and assess its most basic activities and values. Strategic planning, instead of imposing a new program on top of an existing structure, has the potential to reconstruct an organization. Often, for employee participation or a labor-management partnership to work, such fundamental change is needed. Successful implementation of strategic goals requires the understanding and support of the people most often expected to carry out those goals–the employees. In a unionized setting, joint strategic planning holds great potential for the union to form its own goals and make sure these are incorporated into an overarching plan for labor and management. In this paper, we present specific cases where strategic planning has been used to form labor-management partnerships. We attempt to show how decision-making patterns can be fundamentally changed through the experience of joint strategic planning. The ultimate goal is a lasting labor-management partnership. In this case, strategic planning and management can be instrumental in producing a sustained commitment and enhanced labor-management relations.

International Labor Solidarity: The New Frontier by Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith

Once employers were mostly local; so were unions. When local companies became national corporations, unions too had to go national. Now capital has gone global. Unions have made intermittent efforts at international cooperation, but the obstacles are considerable. To overcome them, bridge building and information sharing across borders need to start long before individual campaigns begin, cementing relationships, fostering solidarity, and developing enough strategic knowledge for unions to provide mutual aid in the global arena.

New Labor Forum
Vol. 15, no. 1, Spring 2006