Category Archives: Labor Unions

How to Rebuild the Labor Movement, State by State – What progressives can learn from conservative anti-union advocacy

Source: Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, American Prospect, Spring 2019

Last year’s strikes and direct action by workers, especially red-state public school teachers, have rightly been celebrated for injecting new energy into the American labor movement. Yet these mobilizations should not distract progressives from the magnitude of the challenges facing unions and their supporters in the Democratic Party. The next time Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House, they will need to put major reforms of federal labor law front and center. In the meantime, they ought to learn from conservative anti-union efforts about pursuing change through the states and developing a politically minded strategy for labor reform.

In particular, Democrats need to think about labor law reform not just as yet another area of public policy, but rather as conservatives do: as a set of reforms that can build durable political power that enables further policy wins on other issues. Before spelling out the specific lessons that the left can take from the right’s victories, it is helpful to step back to see just how differently Democrats and Republicans think about unions.

All-Out Republican Opposition versus Democratic Ambivalence

Over the past four decades, conservative political activists and donors, often bolstered by private-sector businesses, have fruitfully used public policy as a political weapon to weaken unions, especially public-sector unions. Crucially, these cross-state conservative coalitions, above all the conservative “troika” of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the State Policy Network, and Americans for Prosperity, have never seen their anti-labor efforts as simply an end in themselves. Instead, right-wing advocacy against unions recognizes the inherently political role that the labor movement plays—and thus that efforts to weaken unions will eventually redound to conservatives’ long-term political victories. …..

Building a New Generation of Women Labor Leaders

Source: Lane Windham, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 16 no. 2, May 2019
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From the abstract:
Anyone who glimpsed the diverse group of young women intently conferencing at Georgetown University might have mistaken them for diligent students. In fact, they were the inaugural apprenticeship class of the WILL Empower initiative that is designed to identify, nurture, and train a new generation of women labor leaders. The Apprenticeship Program is one of four interwoven programs spearheaded by WILL Empower (Women Innovating Labor Leadership), jointly founded in 2017 by Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and Rutgers University’s Center for Innovation in Worker Organization. By focusing on building women’s leadership for a broad range of worker-based economic justice organizations, WILL Empower is breaking fresh ground even as the nation’s political economy remains stubbornly stacked against working people.

Three big ideas undergird WILL Empower’s unique approach to building a successful twenty-first-century labor movement: (1) women must lead at a whole new level, especially women of color; (2) traditional labor unions and new forms of worker organizations constitute a single movement; (3) a multilayered partnership can model the sort of innovative approach that the movement needs……

State Collective Bargaining Laws and Public-Sector Pay

Source: Eric J. Brunner, Andrew Ju, ILR Review, Vol. 72 no. 2, March 2019
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From the abstract:
Using the Public Use Microdata Sample from the 2005 to 2015 American Community Survey, the authors provide new evidence on how state collective bargaining laws affect public-sector wages. To isolate the causal effect of bargaining laws on public-sector pay, they examine wage differentials between otherwise similar public- and private-sector employees located in the same local labor market. They estimate difference-in-differences (DD) models that exploit two sources of plausibly exogenous variation: 1) policy discontinuities along state borders and 2) variation within states in collective bargaining laws in states where the majority of public workers are without collective bargaining rights. Findings show that mandatory collective bargaining laws increase public-sector wages by approximately 5 to 8 percentage points. Results therefore suggest that mandatory collective bargaining laws provide a formal mechanism through which public-sector workers are able to bargain for increased compensation.

What do government unions do? Public sector unions and nonunion wages, 1977–2015

Source: Jake Rosenfeld, Patrick Denice, Social Science Research, Volume 78, February 2019
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From the abstract:
In this article we investigate the connection between public sector union memberships and nonunion worker pay. We leverage nearly four decades of Current Population Survey (CPS) data on millions of U.S. workers to test whether public sector union density, measured at the state-level, is associated with higher average wages among unorganized workers. We find stable and substantively large positive effects of state-level public sector union strength on nonunion public sector workers’ wages. These results are robust to the inclusion of a range of state-level controls, including GDP, average educational attainment, public sector size, and the strength of private sector unions. Analyses of public sector unions and nonunion private sector pay reveal a robust positive relationship – but one limited to women, revealing how occupational segregation interacts with pay-setting institutions to influence wage outcomes.

The Future of Unions Is White-Collar

Source: Bret Schulte, Atlantic, April 12, 2019

Blue-collar jobs are disappearing. But a powerful new wave of organized labor is taking its place. ….

…. At the University of Arkansas, where I work and serve as president of AFSCME Local 965, union membership has about doubled in recent years. Although the local was started by the university’s maintenance crew in the 1960s, nearly every new member has been a professor or professional employee. Their concerns: campus safety, a living wage for all employees, collective bargaining rights, and gaining more influence over campus policies. ….

…. One reason for the shift is the evolution of the American economy. Manufacturing jobs have disappeared as service jobs have increased. That means fewer opportunities for blue-collar workers to join unions if they wanted to. (And employers don’t want them to.)

The professional class is by no means offsetting the country’s net loss of union members, but how the newbies are behaving shows they understand exactly how collective action is supposed to work: They’re leaving their manners at home and making demands. It was kindly teachers in rural West Virginia who flexed their muscle in a strike that put the country on notice—kind of like the textile workers in 1912, but without smashing any windows. ….

Forget Your Middle-Class Dreams

Source: Alex N. Press, Jacobin, March 29, 2019

When it comes to workplace organizing, there’s no such thing as a “privileged” worker. You’re either with your coworkers or you’re against them. …..

….. Although the argument — unions are good, but they’re not for us, and, somehow, us unionizing undermines unions — is unusually explicit, it’s not an unheard-of objection in white-collar organizing drives. During such campaigns, this concern is sometimes voiced by well-meaning people — those earnestly raising it do so because they believe the conditions of life at the bottom of society are unacceptable. But unions, so the thinking goes in this country where caricatures of the working class run rampant, are for those at the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder — they’re for factory workers; for manual laborers; maybe they’re for low-wage service workers. But teachers, engineers, graduate students, journalists? Those are middle-class jobs. Surely, such workers should be grateful not to be down there, in the muck of poverty. In fact, it’d be greedy to want more than they have. Who are they to claim the mantle of working class? Unfortunately, this perspective has one, and only one, practical effect: keeping people from throwing their cards in with the working class, from demanding better lives and a seat at the table. …..