Category Archives: Labor Unions

The Invisible Web at Work: Artificial Intelligence and Electronic Surveillance in the Workplace

Source: Richard A. Bales, Katherine V.W. Stone, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 41 no. 1, 2020
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From the abstract:
Employers and others who hire or engage workers to perform services use a dizzying array of electronic mechanisms to make personnel decisions about hiring, worker evaluation, compensation, discipline, and retention. These electronic mechanisms include electronic trackers, surveillance cameras, metabolism monitors, wearable biological measuring devices, and implantable technology. With these tools, employers can record their workers ’ every movement, listen in on their conversations, measure minute aspects of performance, and detect oppositional organizing activities. The data collected is transformed by means of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms into a permanent electronic resume that can identify and predict an individual’s performance as well as their work ethic, personality, union proclivity, employer loyalty, and future health care costs. The electronic resume produced by AI will accompany workers from job to job as they move around the boundaryless workplace. Thus AI and electronic monitoring produce an invisible electronic web that threatens to invade worker privacy, deter unionization, enable subtle forms of employer blackballing, exacerbate employment discrimination, render unions ineffective, and obliterate the protections of the labor laws.

This article describes the many ways AI is being used in the workplace and how its use is transforming the practices of hiring, evaluating, compensating, controlling, and dismissing workers. It then focuses on five areas of law in which AI threatens to undermine worker protections: antidiscrimination law, privacy law, antitrust law, labor law, and employee representation. Finally, this article maps out an agenda for future law reform and research.

Why unions are good for workers—especially in a crisis like COVID-19: 12 policies that would boost worker rights, safety, and wages

Source: Celine McNicholas, Lynn Rhinehart, Margaret Poydock, Heidi Shierholz, and Daniel Perez, Economic Policy Institute, August 25, 2020

From the summary:
What this report finds: The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored both the importance of unions in giving workers a collective voice in the workplace and the urgent need to reform U.S. labor laws to arrest the erosion of those rights. During the crisis, unionized workers have been able to secure enhanced safety measures, additional premium pay, paid sick time, and a say in the terms of furloughs or work-share arrangements to save jobs. These pandemic-specific benefits build on the many ways unions help workers. Following are just a few of the benefits, according to the latest data:

• Unionized workers (workers covered by a union contract) earn on average 11.2% more in wages than nonunionized peers (workers in the same industry and occupation with similar education and experience).
• Black and Hispanic workers get a larger boost from unionization. Black workers represented by a union are paid 13.7% more than their nonunionized peers. Hispanic workers represented by unions are paid 20.1% more than their nonunionized peers.

“They’re Not Alone”: An Oral History of the Pennsylvania Faculty Strike of 2016

Source: Gordon Mantler, Rachel Riedner, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Volume 17, Issue 3, September 2020
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From the abstract:
In 2016, more than five thousand faculty members and coaches in the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties successfully struck in the union’s first ever such action in thirty-five years as an official bargaining agent. Two faculty members active in the union reflect on their experience in a wide-ranging interview about how years of careful, often painstaking organizing made such a success possible. The strike was the product of both ten years of increasingly acrimonious negotiations and considerable tactical work by a new generation of union members who learned a number of lessons from the process, including the necessary work of persuading faculty members that they, too, were workers.

Reducing Unequal Representation: The Impact of Labor Unions on Legislative Responsiveness in the U.S. Congress

Source: Michael Becher and Daniel Stegmueller, Perspectives on Politics, First View, July 21, 2020
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From the abstract:
It has long been recognized that economic inequality may undermine the principle of equal responsiveness that lies at the core of democratic governance. A recent wave of scholarship has highlighted an acute degree of political inequality in contemporary democracies in North America and Europe. In contrast to the view that unequal responsiveness in favor of the affluent is nearly inevitable when income inequality is high, we argue that organized labor can be an effective source of political equality. Focusing on the paradigmatic case of the U.S. House of Representatives, our novel dataset combines income-specific estimates of constituency preferences based on 223,000 survey respondents matched to roll-call votes with a measure of district-level union strength drawn from administrative records. We find that local unions significantly dampen unequal responsiveness to high incomes: a standard deviation increase in union membership increases legislative responsiveness towards the poor by about six to eight percentage points. As a result, in districts with relatively strong unions legislators are about equally responsive to rich and poor Americans. We rule out alternative explanations using flexible controls for policies, institutions, and economic structure, as well as a novel instrumental variable for unionization based on history and geography. We also show that the impact of unions operates via campaign contributions and partisan selection.

Wage Differentials, Bargaining Protocols, and Trade Unionism in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Labor Markets

Source: John Pencavel, ILR Review, OnlineFirst, Published June 1, 2020
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From the abstract:
Income inequality in the United States has been lower in periods when trade unionism has been strong. Using observations on wages by occupation, by geography, and by gender in collective bargaining contracts from the 1940s to the 1970s, patterns in movements of wage differentials are revealed. As wages increased, some contracts maintained relative wage differentials constant, some maintained absolute differences in wages constant, others combined these two patterns, and some did not reveal an obvious pattern. The patterns persisted even as price inflation increased in the 1970s. The dominant pattern implies a reduction in inequality as usually measured.

Labor’s Legacy: The Construction of Subnational Work Regulation

Source: Daniel J. Galvin, ILR Review, OnlineFirst, First Published: August 5, 2020
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From the abstract:
In recent decades, much of the authority to regulate the workplace has shifted from national-level labor law to state-level employment law. What contributions, if any, did labor unions make to this historic shift in workplace governance? The author uses quantitative and qualitative analyses to test hypotheses and move incrementally closer toward drawing causal inferences. In the first part, he finds a strong statistical relationship between union density and state employment law enactments. Next, analyzing the cases the model identifies as “deviant” (Pennsylvania and Maine), he uses systematic process tracing to test the hypothesis that labor unions were integral players in legislative campaigns for stronger employment laws. Strong evidence supports the hypothesis that labor unions, even as they declined, contributed to the construction of this new system of subnational work regulation—arguably one of their most significant and durable legacies.

Why is the American South Poorer?

Source: Regina S Baker, Social Forces, Volume 99, Issue 1, September 2020
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From the abstract:
While American poverty research has devoted greater attention to poverty in the Northeast and Midwest, poverty has been persistently higher in the U.S. South than in the other regions. Thus, this study investigates the enduring question of why poverty is higher in the South. Specifically, it demonstrates the role of power resources as an explanation for this regional disparity, yet also considers family demography, economic structure, and racial/ethnic heterogeneity. Using six waves (2000–2016) of U.S. Census Current Population Survey data from the Luxembourg Income Study (N = 1,157,914), this study employs a triangulation of analytic techniques: (1) tests of means and proportion differences, (2) multilevel linear probability models of poverty, and (3) binary decomposition of the South/non-South poverty gap. The comparison of means associated with the power resource hypothesis yields the largest substantive differences between the South and the non-South. In the multilevel models, adjusting for power resources yields the largest declines in the South coefficient. Binary decomposition results indicate power resources are the second most influential factor explaining the South/non-South poverty gap. Overall, power resources are an important source of the South/non-South poverty gap, though economic structure and other factors certainly also play a role. Results also suggest an important interplay between power resources and race. Altogether, these results underscore the importance of macrolevel characteristics of places, including political and economic contexts, in shaping individual poverty and overall patterns of inequality.

….Beyond these factors, this study focuses on the role of politics and policy via power resources theory (PRT). Here,power resources refer to class-based collective political actors, such as labor unions and parties, and the social policies they are able to institutionalize…

October 2019 pre-print version

Labor Unions and White Democratic Partisanship

Source: David Macdonald, Political Behavior, Early View, Published: June 25, 2020
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From the abstract:
The Democratic Party’s declining support among white voters is a defining feature of contemporary American politics. Extant research has emphasized factors such as elite polarization and demographic change but has overlooked another important trend, the decades-long decline of labor union membership. This oversight is surprising, given organized labor’s long ties to the Democratic Party. I argue that the concurrent decline of union membership and white support for the Democratic Party is not coincidental, but that labor union affiliation is an important determinant of whites’ partisan allegiances. I test this using several decades of cross-sectional and panel data. I show that union-affiliated whites are more likely to identify as Democrats, a substantively significant relationship that does not appear to be driven by self-selection. Overall, these findings underscore the political consequences of union decline and help us to better understand the drivers of declining white support for the Democratic Party.

Labor Unions and White Racial Politics

Source: Paul Frymer, Jacob M. Grumbach, American Journal of Political Science, Early View, First published: June 29, 2020
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From the abstract:
Scholars and political observers point to declining labor unions, on the one hand, and rising white identity politics, on the other, as profound changes in American politics. However, there has been little attention given to the potential feedback between these forces. In this article, we investigate the role of union membership in shaping white racial attitudes. We draw upon research in history and American political development to generate a theory of interracial labor politics, in which union membership reduces racial resentment. Cross‐sectional analyses consistently show that white union members have lower racial resentment and greater support for policies that benefit African Americans. More importantly, our panel analysis suggests that gaining union membership between 2010 and 2016 reduced racial resentment among white workers. The findings highlight the important role of labor unions in mass politics and, more broadly, the importance of organizational membership for political attitudes and behavior.

Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections

Source: Dan DiMaggio, Saurav Sarkar, Labor Notes, March 26, 2020

As the coronavirus spreads, more and more workers who are still on the job are taking action to defend their health and safety and demand hazard pay. Here’s a round-up. (For an earlier round-up, see “Organizing for Pandemic Time-Off,” Labor Notes, March 16, 2020.)