Category Archives: Labor Unions

The enormous impact of eroded collective bargaining on wages

Source: Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute, April 8, 2021

From the summary:
A major factor depressing wage growth for middle earners and driving the growth of wage inequality over the last four decades has been the erosion of collective bargaining. Indeed, the only factor more responsible for weak wage growth for the typical worker is the excessive unemployment perpetrated by central bank policymakers’ high interest rate policies and fiscal austerity. The share of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement fell from 27.0% in 1979 to just 11.6% in 2019 (Hirsch and Macpherson 2020). The erosion of collective bargaining has been especially harmful to men’s wages because men were far more likely than women to be unionized in 1979 (when 31.5% of men were covered by collective bargaining versus 18.8% of women). Thus men had more to lose from the subsequent attack on unions and collective bargaining.3 Rebuilding collective bargaining is a necessary component of any policy agenda to reestablish robust wage growth for the vast majority of workers in the United States, and broader unionization would lessen racial inequities and benefit women at least as much as men.

Public Sector Unions Mean Middle-Class Jobs for Black Workers

Source: Hayley Brown, Dean Baker, CEPR, February 25, 2021

Government jobs have been an important source of economic mobility for Black workers and their families for many years. The federal government was an early adopter of anti-discrimination provisions, and today about a fifth of federal workers are Black. This includes those employed by the United States Postal Service, which provided well-paying jobs and career pathways to formerly enslaved people well before the rest of government, and in 2020 employed just under a fifth of Black federal workers. State and local governments have similarly emerged as wellsprings of relatively stable and well-paying employment for Black workers and pensions for Black retirees. The public sector’s legacy as a path to the middle class for the Black community persists today; government workers are disproportionately Black, and the pay gap between Black workers and white workers is smaller in the public sector than in the private sector.

The public sector is also an important source of union jobs for Black workers. Our analysis of 2020 data from the Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group indicates that the unionization rate for Black workers in the public sector is quadruple the unionization rate for Black workers in the private sector, and unionized public sector workers account for a larger share of the Black workforce than they do of the white workforce. This matters because research has shown that Black workers who are members of a union or covered by a union contract enjoy considerable earnings and benefit advantages compared to their nonunion counterparts.

Bargaining for Better Labor Journalism: How The Wave of Unionizing In Media Transforms How Unions Are Covered

Source: Hannah Finnie, OnLabor blog, February 26, 2021

…While not every person in digital media who’s experienced unionizing becomes, like Kelly, a labor reporter overnight, it’s hard to imagine that the effects of being in a union have no impact on their work. After all, while unions are about benefits and wages, they’re also about worker dignity, principles that can inform more than just what your paycheck looks like. What happens to labor coverage when there are thousands of Kim Kellys out there? Thousands of people who now know what it’s like to unionize and have a large (albeit constrained) platform through their media outlet? What does that shift mean for media labor coverage?…

Inside a Long, Messy Year of Reopening Schools

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, New Republic, March 8, 2021

Teachers unions were accused of being obstinate and compromising education. The real story is a lot more complex.

Last month in Chicago, after months of heated negotiations, the teachers union and Chicago Public Schools emerged with one of the most detailed school reopening agreements in the nation. Brad Marianno, an education policy professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has been studying these agreements since last spring, called it the most comprehensive he’s seen, citing its inclusion of things like testing protocols, measures that might lead to reclosing schools, and vaccination commitments. Among other things, the union succeeded in negotiating accommodations for hundreds more members at higher risk of Covid-19 complications, or who serve as the primary caregiver for someone at higher risk, than the district had originally agreed to accommodate.

Stacy Davis Gates, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said one of the most important components of the agreement was the so-called “school safety committees” a demand the union put forward in December to hold leadership accountable to the health and safety promises it’s made. The school-based committees include up to four CTU members, the principal, the building engineer, and a “reasonable” number of other employees like janitors, lunchroom staff, and security guards. On a regular basis, they will flag to the principal any issues that arise and can hold the school liable if they go ignored. ….

I Am a Man: A Conversation With William Lucy

Source: Steve Flamisch, Rutgers Today News, February 26, 2021

Francis Ryan, a labor historian in the School of Management and Labor Relations, interviews the union leader who coined the iconic phrase, “I Am a Man,” during the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike.

When two sanitation workers were killed by a malfunctioning garbage truck in Memphis, Tennessee, in February 1968, the city’s fed-up public works employees went on strike to demand safer working conditions and higher wages.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) dispatched a young, up-and-coming union official named William Lucy to help the 1,300 striking workers—all Black men—in their struggle.

“Here you had men who had worked the better part of their adult life for the city—some were working 15 to 20 years,” Lucy recalled. “Their wage levels were $1.25, $1.35 an hour. They were confronted with equipment that came from the Stone Age.”….

Promoting Good Jobs and a Stronger Economy: How Free Collective-Bargaining States Outperform “Right-to-Work” States

Source: Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, February 9, 2021

From the press release:
In an eight-year period of national economic expansion that followed the Great Recession of 2008, the 27 U.S. states that had enacted so-called “right-to-work” laws saw slower economic growth, lower wages, higher consumer debt, worse health outcomes, and lower levels of civic participation than states that had not, according to a new study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Investigating the Dimensionality and Stability of Union Commitment Profiles over a 10-Year Period: A Latent Transition Analysis

Source: Alexandre J. S. Morin, Daniel G. Gallagher, John P. Meyer, David Litalien, Paul F. Clark, ILR Review, Volume 74 Issue 1, January 2021
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The authors adopt a person-centered approach to the investigation of the dimensionality of the union commitment construct by capitalizing on a 10-year longitudinal study (from 1992 to 2002) of 637 union members in their first year of employment measured again 1 and 10 years later. Results reveal four distinct profiles of union commitment, presenting a stable structure over time. These profiles demonstrate consistency in commitment level across the three most common union commitment dimensions, thus questioning the necessity of adopting a multidimensional approach. Results show that union members became more similar to other members of their profiles over time, and that their union commitment became slightly less extreme as union tenure increased. Finally, results show that union commitment profiles predict union participation, in accordance with our expectations, and suggest that endorsing positive attitudes toward unions and their instrumentality was a stronger predictor of profile membership than was satisfaction with the actions of one’s own union.

Digital tools are helping employees mobilize the workforce

Source: Nicolás Rivero, Quartz at Work, December 13, 2020

Technology has already fundamentally changed the way that millions of people work. Now, it’s changing the way they unify to make demands of their employers.

Waning union power across industries and around the world has left workers with fewer formal structures for venting grievances. In some sectors, the rise of the gig economy and remote work means people aren’t meeting and forming relationships with co-workers like they used to. All of this has made it harder for rank-and-file employees to organize and collectively lobby their bosses for change.

But a spate of new digital tools offers a workaround, helping people to find far-flung peers, share grievances, and coordinate action.

Collective Action Is How We Shake Ourselves Free of Pandemic Isolation

Source: Barbara Madeloni, Labor Notes, September 30, 2020

The pandemic has made me see more clearly why it works when workers get together to solve problems collectively.

With no public health system to access and a disorganized, inept, and neglectful response from the government, individuals have been cast out alone to deal with the pandemic. Decisions about working—and risking one’s health and safety—have become individual.

School districts have surveyed parents and educators, asking what individuals wanted for themselves. Unions that simply let members fill out their surveys alone reinforced the message: you are on your own, do what is best for you.

Which is why the contrast when workers come together to talk is so pronounced and powerful right now.

In Union, There is Strength: How Our Union Benefits Our Nonprofit’s Mission

Source: Juli Adhikari, Thomas Waldrop and Malkie Wall, Nonprofit Quarterly, September 22, 2020

…As nonprofit workers at a policy thinktank, we realize we are relatively shielded from some of the worst conditions that others face. And yet young workers like us, and especially those of us who are workers of color, face considerable market vulnerability. Without a union, many in our sector face long hours for low wages under the burden of sky-high rents and student loans. …

…So, what to take from our experience? If you are a staff member at a nonprofit, we encourage you to consider the benefits of organizing. In the past month alone, nonprofit workers have formed new unions at the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center, Feminist Majority Foundation, Scholars Strategy Network, New American Leaders, Innovation Law Lab, and The Hub Project. And just months ago, workers also unionized at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

And if you’re a nonprofit manager or board member, we encourage you to work with unions and workers as partners, not see unions as something to “avoid.” We are well aware that there is an entire union-busting industry out there. Certainly, it is possible for a nonprofit board to spend thousands or even tens of thousands of donor dollars on lawyers who will tell you to not voluntarily recognize the union and instead insist on a prolonged election process, and advise you on how to postpone the election date, reduce the number of people in the union, and even how to intimidate workers to vote against the union when an election is held. A nonprofit board and management can do this—but not without doing grievous harm against their social justice missions….