Category Archives: Labor Unions

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.

“‘Think Global, Act Local”: Employee Representation in a World of Global Labor and Product Market Competition

Source: Samuel Estreicher, The Labor Lawyer, Volume 24, Number 3, Winter/Spring 2009

Trade unionism in private companies is a declining phenomenon in nearly all developed countries. In the United States, for example, unions represent fewer than 8 percent of workers in the private sector; over half of the members of the two leading union federations (the AFL-CIO and Change to Win) are workers in government offices even though public-sector employment is only one-sixth of the overall workforce. The rate of decline may be slower in other developed countries, but the story of private-sector decline (at least if viewed in terms of membership as opposed to contract coverage) is well-nigh universal. What started as a movement of workers against private capital is now increasingly a movement of government workers against public capital.

Family-Friendly Workplaces: Do Unions Make a Difference?

Source: Jenifer MacGillvary with Netsy Firestein, UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and
the Labor Project for Working Families, July 2009

This report analyzes the “union difference” in family-friendly workplace policies and finds that in areas such as paid family leave, paid sick days, family health insurance, and child-care benefits unionized workers receive more generous family-friendly benefits than their nonunionized counterparts.
See also:
Executive Summary
Press Release

Sit-down at Republic: Will it Give Labor New Legs?

Source: Roger Bybee, Dissent, Vol. 56 no. 3, Summer 2009
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When capital is so mobile and mobilized, you have to break out of the box,” advises longtime activist and scholar Frances Fox Piven. Breaking out of the box is precisely what a six-day sit-down strike by United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Local 1110 did last December, producing a remarkable victory at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago. The sit-down resonated widely with the public, because it targeted Bank of America, a major bailout recipient, for its refusal to provide Republic with the funds needed to give the workers the payments due them.
See also:
Not Your Parents’ Labor Movement
Source: David Moberg, In These Times, Vol. 33 no. 8, August 2009
Why the Republic sit-in failed to inspire other worker actions.

Labor’s Last Stand – The corporate campaign to kill the Employee Free Choice Act

Source: Ken Silverstein, Harper’s Magazine, July 2009

The unions have fought too long and spent too much money to walk away from the EFCA fight with nothing. Can they push Obama and the Democrats to approve a compromise bill that genuinely makes it easier for workers to organize unions? Or will any bill end up being merely a face-saving gesture? Given the shakiness of support for EFCA, unions will probably have to drop the two key provisions on organizing: majority sign-up and binding arbitration. Labor will now likely focus on heightening the penalties for companies that violate labor law, and on narrowing the window during which union elections are held (which would give employers less time to exert pressure on workers).

Are U.S. Unions Ready for the Challenge of a New Period?

Source: Kim Moody, New Politics, Vol. XII no. 3, Summer 2009

By now it seems clear that the United States has entered a new period of contradictory trends that presents a profound challenge to organized labor. First there is the deepening world recession that is bringing down some of American capitalism’s most high profile institutions from Wall Street to Detroit. At the same time, of course, it is wiping out millions of jobs, 4.4 million from December 2007 to February 2009. Slightly less dramatic is the changing climate of social and political opinion in the US that has been taking shape for a number of years and made the landmark victory of Barack Obama possible. This change is not simply that the dark clouds of neoconservatism have lifted. Nor is it that we have a Democratic administration and Congress, as these predictably disappoint. At root is a definite mood shift away from faith in markets and business leaders that just might help unions recruit and open the door to bolder action.

But are the unions fit to fight? Basically, many union leaders have had two strategies for survival and increased fitness: mergers and new organizing.