Category Archives: Labor Unions

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part I)

Source: Victoria L. Killion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10042, December 4, 2017

The Supreme Court long ago described the First Amendment’s protection against compelled speech as a “fixed star in our constitutional constellation.” This Term, the Court may decide whether it has steered too far from that shining precept in the area of public employee union dues (or agency fees) in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Specifically, the Court will consider whether to overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the Court announced the basic test for determining the validity of “agency shop” arrangements between a union and a government employer. Agency shop arrangements (sometimes called “fair share” provisions) require employees to pay a fee to the union designated to represent their bargaining unit even if the employees are not members of that union. The Abood Court held that these arrangements do not violate the First Amendment insofar as the union uses the fees for “collective bargaining activities” and not “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.” In its October 2015 Term, the full Court heard oral argument on whether to overrule Abood, but ultimately divided four-to-four on this question following the death of Justice Scalia. Now that Justice Gorsuch has joined the bench, it remains to be seen whether a majority of the Court will reaffirm Abood or chart a new course. Part I of this two-part Sidebar provides general background on Abood and the case law leading up to Janus. Part II then discusses the perspectives Justice Gorsuch may bring to Janus and the potential implications of the decision for public sector collective bargaining and compulsory fees more broadly.

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part II)
Source: Victoria L. Killion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10041, December 4, 2017

As discussed in Part I of this two-part Sidebar, on March 29, 2016, an eight-member Supreme Court divided equally over whether to overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and hold that public sector agency fees violate core First Amendment principles (the Court’s “fixed star”). Earlier this Term, the Court agreed to consider the question again in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Part II of this Sidebar begins with a brief summary of the parties’ arguments in Janus. It then highlights some key statements from the prior decisions of Justice Gorsuch, who is likely to be a critical voice in deciding whether to overturn Abood. The post concludes by exploring the potential implications of the Janus decision.

Unions Held Their Own in 2017

Source: Doug Henwood, Jacobin, January 20, 2018

Unions had a pretty good year in 2017: they didn’t lose any ground.

According to the latest edition of the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual survey, released this morning, 10.7 percent of employed wage and salary workers were members of unions, unchanged from last year. There was a mild uptick in the share of private-sector workers represented by unions (aka union density), from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent. Density was unchanged at 34.4 percent for public-sector workers — mildly surprising, given the war on labor being conducted by Republican governors and legislatures across the country…..

And, as the graph below shows, unions bring higher wages — especially for workers who are neither white nor male.

the union difference

For example, black men who are not in unions earn 71 percent as much as all white men (union and nonunion); with a union, that rises to 89 percent as much. For black women, the numbers are 65 percent for nonunion and 81 percent for union. For what the BLS calls Hispanic or Latino workers the union boost is even sharper: from 69 percent of white men for nonunion men to 98 percent for unionized ones, and from 60 percent for nonunion women to 94 percent for union.

Unions also narrow gender gaps. Nonunion women of all races/ethnicities earn 82 percent as much as men; that rises to 88 percent for unionized women. Unions add 21 percent to the average weekly wage for men, and 30 percent for women. In other words, unions reduce inequality along all the familiar demographic axes — and make it harder to pit workers against each other…..

Union Members – 2017

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, USDL-18-0080, January 19, 2018

The union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–was unchanged at 10.7 percent in 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million in 2017, edged up by 262,000 from 2016. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers. ….

Highlights from the 2017 data:
–The union membership rate of public-sector workers (34.4 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.5 percent). (See table 3.)
–Workers in protective service occupations and in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rates (34.7 percent and 33.5 percent, respectively). (See table 3.)
–Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (11.4 percent) than women (10.0 percent). (See table 1.)
–Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
–Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 80 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($829 versus $1,041). (The comparisons of earnings in this release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.) (See table 2.) –Among states, New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (23.8 percent), while South Carolina continued to have the lowest (2.6 percent). (See table 5.)…

Top 10 Things Unions Can Do Right Now to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Source: Ana Avendaño and Linda Seabrook, On Labor blog, November 10, 2017

…. The following are practices that unions could adopt right now to address sexual harassment in America’s workplaces:

1)      Recognize that sexual harassment is a workers’ rights issue. ….
2)      Make sure that the union’s constitution and collectively bargained agreements contain guarantees against sexual harassment and retaliation. ….
3)      Address member-on-member harassment. ….
4)      Create a union culture that connects union values and behavior and welcomes women as equal partners in the struggle for social and economic justice. ….
5)      Focus on prevention. ….
6)      Encourage men—especially male leaders—to step up, speak out, and work to change the culture. ….
7)      Create channels for members, union staff and others to report harassment quickly, before it escalates, without having to resort to formal mechanisms. ….
8)      Train stewards in trauma-informed practices on handling claims of harassment. ….
9)      Protect victims who file charges of harassment against retaliation. ….
10)   Give women a voice in the grievance process, and include them as active participants. ….

1,300 Men: Memphis Strike ‘68

Source: The Root and Striking Voices, 2018

….The Root partnered with Striking Voices, a Memphis-based multimedia journalism project, created by journalist and author Emily Yellin, to produce 1,300 Men: Memphis Strike ‘68, an 11-part video series that brings the sanitation strikers’ stories to the forefront where they belong. Yellin, who has written about the South extensively for the New York Times, first interviewed Memphis sanitation strikers 20 years ago. Striking Voices builds on the visionary work of Yellin’s parents, David and Carol Lynn Yellin, journalists who began chronicling the 1968 strike in real time, resulting in a six-year, multimedia, oral, written and visual history archival project, now housed at the library of the University of Memphis. Most of the vivid film footage featured in 1,300 Men was collected by her parents in 1968 as a cornerstone of their pioneering work…..

Could Employee Choice End Labor Unions’ Influence?

Source: Adam C. Abrahms, Employee Relations Law Journal, Vol. 43, No. 1, Summer 2017
(subscription required)

The author of this article discusses a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report, which found that private sector union membership has dropped to its lowest level in history, and its implications.

In 2016 private sector union membership dropped to its lowest level in history—a dismal 6.4 percent. Given the laws and systems in place related to union membership, this means that at least 94.6 percent of all American private sector workers currently choose not to be union members. The drop, recently reported in a routine annual report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), also was the largest year over year percentage drop in recent years, dropping 0.3 percent, from 6.7 percent in 2015.

While the percentage of union members as a portion of the total workforce saw a steep drop, possibly more disturbing to union bosses is the fact that the actual raw numbers of union members also dropped over 100,000 members from 7.554 million to 7.435 million dues paying members. This loss of dues revenue could hurt unions’ efforts to organize members as well as lobby and elect politicians….

Labor Debates: Assessing the Fight for Fifteen Movement from Chicago

Source: Robert Bruno, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017
(subscription required)

In this issue of Labor Studies Journal (LSJ), we introduce a new occasional section to readers, Labor Debates. …. In our times, no union action has been more provocative than the Fight for $15 (FFF) movement. And as expected, followers of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)–supported national campaign have insightful and diverse thoughts about the endeavor. Many of those thoughts are commonly held, but there are meaningful differences. Is FFF the model of rank-and-file social activism and union renewal or a largely well-intentioned, but flawed strategy? The energy embedded in the divergent ideas expressed in the oppositional judgments is worthy of open debate. We are therefore proud to inaugurate our Debate series with a collection of essays written about FFF by leading voices within the labor studies community. ….

Articles include:
Assessing the Fight for Fifteen Movement from Chicago
Steven Ashby

My goal in this paper is to dissect what makes the Fight for Fifteen movement special and praiseworthy; give some examples from the Fight for Fifteen movement in Chicago based on interviews and four years of conversations at Fight for Fifteen actions; add some perspective as a labor historian; and reply to left critics of the campaign. I will discuss the scope and duration of the campaign; its viability; the tactics of one-day strikes and civil disobedience; the degree of worker involvement and the idea of a militant minority in historical context; the role of community participation in Fight for Fifteen actions; and messaging and a media campaign…..

Fight for $15: Good Wins, but Where did the Focus on Organizing Go?
Jonathan Rosenblum

….The FFE had two main thrusts: First, through major worker mobilizations and actions, change the national public debate about what was wrong with the economy, expose corporate greed, and fight for better working conditions. And second, launch large-scale private-sector organizing campaigns to “move the union density dial” and rebuild durable union power. ….The question for Fight for $15—yet unanswered—is how to harness the energy of the walkouts to stoke a sustained movement of hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers who collectively can inflict real economic pain on the corporate masters…..

Fight for $15: The Limits of Symbolic Power—Juravich Comments on Ashby
Tom Juravich

Steven Ashby is right to mark the achievements of the Fight for $15. As he reminds us, this national campaign brought wage increases to nearly twenty million American workers during a time when union density fell to below 7 percent. Equally important is the way in which the Fight for $15 forever redefined low-wage work in the United States. Much like the occupy movement altered the discourse on inequality, I would argue that Fight for $15 forever changed how Americans think about low-wage work…..

Ashby Response to Rosenblum and Juravich: Fight for Fifteen
Steven Ashby

Educating for Change: How Labor Education Centers and AFL-CIO Bodies Can Grow and Transform Together

Source: David Reynolds, Barbara Byrd, Jeff Grabelsky, Paul Iversen, Jason Kozlowski, Sarah Laslett, Katherine Sciacchitano, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017

From the abstract:
In order to survive and prosper today, both labor councils and labor education centers need to rethink their mission, goals, and strategies. In this report, we examine how partnerships between these two types of organizations have fostered creative transformation for both. We examine the innovative relationships between labor education programs and their respective labor councils and state federations in five states (Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Iowa, and West Virginia). These cases include those with long-standing strong relationships and those that have been recently rebuilt or rethought. In several cases, the labor education centers owe their very existence to the work of state labor leaders to who helped found them and, more recently, to maintain and expand their resources. In addition, we document the role played by the UCLA labor education program in revitalizing the Orange County AFL-CIO, as well as two key partnership programs of Cornell and the AFL-CIO in New York: the Union Leadership Institute and the New York City Capacity Building Initiative.

Accidental Revitalization? Looking at the Complex Realities of Union Renewal

Source: Jason Foster, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 42 no. 4, December 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article outlines a union renewal case study with unexpected circumstances. It examines a local that underwent significant renewal in a context where renewal would normally not be expected. It did so by significantly altering its practices while retaining a stable leadership and highly centralized structure. This unexpected renewal is explained through the application of a referential unionisms framework. The article coins the term accidental revitalization to describe the case, arguing the intentionality for reform lies not in design, policy, or upheaval, but instead in an extension of logics constructed through narrative resources mobilization.