Category Archives: Labor Unions

The National Health Care Debate: What is being proposed and what does it mean for union members?

Source: UC Berkeley, Center for Labor Research and Education, 2009

Health care premium costs doubled between 2000 and 2009, forcing unions to face a constant trade-of between negotiating for higher wages and maintaining health benefits. Not only have health care costs skyrocketed, but the quality of benefits has gone down. Workers who are laid-of or do not work enough hours to qualify for coverage must chose between paying the high price of COBRA or going without coverage. Today forty-seven million Americans lack health benefits altogether.

The high cost of health care also hurts the competitiveness of union employers. Union employers are much more likely to provide coverage and better benefits than non-union employers. To stay competitive, union employers are forced to look for various ways of cutting labor costs, including demanding wage and benefit concessions, downsizing, outsourcing, and off-shoring.

Worker Pay Protection: Implications for Labor’s Political Spending and Voice

Source: Marick F. Masters, Raymond Gibney, And Thomas J. Zagenczyk, Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Volume 48 Issue 4, Published Online: 24 Aug 2009
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From the abstract:
Labor’s participation in politics requires money. Within legal restrictions, unions use compulsory dues to pay for much of their involvement. Such usage has continually raised controversy, leading to a host of U.S. Supreme Court decisions to give nonmember dues-payers the right to object to union political spending. We examine the current legal framework and are the first to report comprehensive data on union political spending financed from dues. We estimate the potential impact of a national “worker paycheck protection” law on labor’s political spending. With the potential to reduce money available to finance union involvement in politics, such a law may lessen the ability of labor to have its voice heard by lawmakers, especially in the face of shrinking density in the workforce. The importance of this is demonstrated by the large role unions played in the 2008 congressional and presidential elections. Despite Democratic victories in that historic year, “paycheck protection” is likely to loom large, fueled by efforts to enact the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Persistence of Union Repression in an Era of Recognition

Source: Anne Marie Lofaso, Maine Law Review, Forthcoming

From the abstract:
This article focuses on several of the sixty-one decisions issued by the NLRB’s five-member Board in September 2007 as well as a few of its other more controversial decisions. The labor community has come to regard the Board’s September 2007 decisions as the “September Massacre.”

The term “massacre” suggests an indiscriminate and instantaneous destruction of a large number of longstanding labor doctrines. But, on closer scrutiny it becomes clear that many of the September decisions fit into a long history of legislative, administrative, and judicial cutbacks to the original NLRA.

The September Massacre, then, is more accurately viewed as the latest, and perhaps most serious, attack on workers’ rights–this time by a Board controlled by appointees of President George W. Bush (“the Bush II Board”). Nevertheless, the characterization of the September decisions as a “massacre” is arguably accurate for two reasons. First, in many instances, the Bush II Board’s September 2007 decisions cumulatively chip away at the NLRA’s protections more vigorously than during previous administrations. Second, while historically the courts and Congress have been responsible for much of the NLRA’s erosion, the September Massacre was wrought by the very administrative agency charged with protecting Section 7 rights (i.e., the fundamental right of working people to band together collectively for mutual aid and protection).

Section II of this article discusses the aggregate, weakening effect on the NLRA by the Bush II Board and prior governmental action. This aggregate weakening effect is demonstrated by focusing on four topics: the narrowing statutory definition of employee; the shrinking scope of NLRA Section 7; the dilution of economic weapons; and the rejection of some lawful remedies. Section III of this article illustrates the damaging role that adjudicative delay has had on the Board’s power to administer industrial justice. Section IV of this article examines one of the most prominent (and perhaps most damaging) of the September 2007 decisions–Dana Corporation. Section V of this article concludes with some remarks on what the labor movement can do to regain economic and political power.

Labor’s Conundrum: Growth vs. Standards

Source: Max Fraser, New Labor Forum, Vol. 18 no. 1, Winter 2009
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The ongoing feud between the SEIU and UHW is a dramatic outgrowth of a broader debate that dates at least to 2005, when Stern and the SEIU led a cohort of five unions out of the AFL-CIO with promises to reverse declining union membership through a renewed emphasis on organizing. Since then, critics have raised concerns that a singular focus on growth risks making the union movement less responsive to the rank-and-file members that are at its core. No one has been targeted more frequently for this criticism than Stern, whose leadership style and unorthodox corporate alliances have frustrated longtime supporters in and out of the movement–even as he has presided over the most dynamic, fastest growing, and (many would argue) most progressive union in the country.
– Will Growth or Standards Build a Mass Movement? A Response to Fraser
Source: Stephen Lerner, New Labor Forum, Vol. 18 no. 1, Winter 2009
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– In Defense of Standards: A Response to Fraser
Source: John Borsos, New Labor Forum, Vol. 18 no. 1, Winter 2009
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A Tale of Two Tiers: Dividing Workers in the Age of Neoliberalism

Source: Ken Jacobs, New Labor Forum, Vol. 18 no. 1, Winter 2009
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Since their inception, two-tier contracts have been associated with increased employee turnover, lower employee morale, and reduced productivity. Nevertheless, they have continued to persist as a form of concessionary bargaining. The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) reported that 8 percent of employers who responded to their 2008 collective bargaining survey had expiring contracts with permanent two-tier compensation systems, while another 20 percent reported temporary provisions.

This article will explore the history of two-tier contracts, examine how the labor movement has responded, and end with a discussion of what unions can do to address the challenges that two-tier contracts pose.

A New Era Beckons: Labor and the Turning Point Election of 2008

Source: Bob Master, New Labor Forum, Vol. 18 no. 1, Winter 2009
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In two key ways, strong parallels seem to exist between 1936 and 2008. The first is the emergence of demographic building blocks that will likely provide the foundation for a new, Democratic, and possibly progressive, electoral majority for a generation to come. The second is the way in which a profound economic crisis has utterly discredited the dominant ideology of the preceding electoral alignment.

Labour Law and the New Inequality

Source: Michael S. Lynk, University of New Brunswick Law Journal, forthcoming

From the abstract:
Rising economic inequality in Canada and the Western world has become an unspoken but influential political theme over the past quarter century. The Great Compression between the late 1940s and the 1980s – which brought an unlamented end to the pre-war Gilded Age and its social inequities, established a post-war middle-class society in the industrial democracies, and created a host of equalizing institutions, including a vibrant union movement – has been unravelling since the rise of modern political conservatism. A hydraulic relationship exists between unionization and inequality. Countries that have higher unionization rates tend to have lower patterns of economic inequality. And as unionization rates decline, inequality tends to rise. In Canada, the political impulse to reform labour laws has been waning since the early 1990s, shortly after Canadian unions had reached their numerical zenith. As income and wealth inequality levels rose, labour’s share of the Gross Domestic Product has declined to record lows in the post-war era, wages have stagnated and most of the economic productivity gains over the past 25 years have been captured by those at the very top of the income scale. One significant explanation for the eroding levels of unionization in Canada has been the country’s stagnant labour laws. In particular, statutory changes to the union certification process in a number of Canadian jurisdictions has diminished the ability of unions to protect their representational levels. Empirical social science suggests that labour laws matter, not only for unionization levels, but as an important tool to enhance economic egalitarianism.

The International Labor Organization in the Stag Hunt for Global Labor Rights

Source: Alan Hyde, Rutgers School of Law-Newark Research Papers No. 048, August 2009

From the abstract:
The International Labor Organization (ILO) is not an effective force for raising labor standards in the developing world and could become considerably more effective by taking account of the two of the most important and interrelated recent theoretical developments in understanding labor standards. First, countries derive no comparative advantage in the global trading system from most very low labor standards. The ILO should therefore concentrate its energies on lifting these, rather than (as it so often does) concentrating on labor standards that are a source of comparative advantage, the elimination of which is resisted strongly and effectively. Second, the tools of game theory may be used to identify the collective action problems that prevent countries from lifting their own labor standards, and create a role for a transnational agency that may assist them.