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

Bringing the State’s Workers in: Time to Rectify an Imbalanced US Labor Historiography by Joseph A. McCArtin

This article considers the reasons why labor historians have continued to neglect the history of workers and unions in the US public sector. It argues that the most compelling explanation for hisotrians’ failure to examine the history of public sector unions is that conducting such an examination would challenge a number of deeply rooted preconceptions regarding the history of American labor since World War II. The article goes on to suggest what we might learn if US labor historians began to probe the experience of public sector workers more fully.

Labor History
Vol. 47, No. 1, February 2006

From Districts to Schools: The Distribution of Resources Across Schools in Big City School Districts

Source: Amy Ellen Schwartz, Leanna Stiefel, Ross Rubenstein, Symposium on Education Finance and Organization Structure in NYS Schools, Albany, NY, March 2004
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This paper explores the determinants of resource allocation across schools in large districts and examines options for improving resource distribution patterns. Previous research on intra-district allocations consistently reveals resource disparities across schools within districts, particularly in the distribution of teachers. While overall expenditures are sometimes related to the characteristics of students in schools, the ratio of teachers per pupil is consistently larger in high poverty, high-minority and low-performing schools. These teachers, though, generally have lower experience and education levels — and consequently, lower salaries — as compared to teachers in more advantaged schools. We explore these patterns in New York City, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio by estimating de facto expenditure equations relating resource measures to school and student characteristics. Consistent with previous research, we find schools that have higher percentages of poor pupils receive more money and have more teachers per pupil, but the teachers tend to be less educated and less well paid, with a particularly consistent pattern in New York City schools. The paper concludes with policy options for changing intra-district resource distributions in order to promote more efficient, more equitable or more effective use of resources. These options include allocating dollars rather than teacher positions to schools, providing teacher pay differentials in hard-to-staff schools and subjects, and adapting current district-based funding formulas to the school (and student) level.