Category Archives: Labor Unions

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.

How to Jump-Start a Weak Union to Fight Open-Shop Attacks

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Labor Notes, January 2, 2018

Hostile forces are poised to encourage public sector workers to ditch their unions as soon as the Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case in 2018. To stave off a big exodus, many unions are asking workers to commit to keep paying dues. If you’re active in your union, leaders may even be asking you to “sell” membership to your co-workers.

But what if you’re caught in a union that hasn’t been doing a good enough job? What if your union doesn’t communicate much with members, or is mostly invisible, or only reaches out to you when there’s a crisis, or doesn’t fight hard for good contracts, or is too cozy with the boss?

Tragically, there are many union locals like this. If the leadership of your union isn’t open, inclusive, and fighting on behalf of your co-workers, this could present a kind of crisis for you. Perhaps when some representative comes around asking you to recommit to the union, you and your co-workers are saying, “Really? Why should we?” You might even be tempted to stop paying dues yourself, as a form of protest.

This is a tough moment, but one also filled with great possibility. If you know that workers are better off with a union, then of course you have to fight to keep the union no matter what. If you’re asked to sign a “Recommitment Card” it makes sense to do that; your frustrations are with the way the union is run, not with being a member, and the only way to change things is to keep organizing.

So let’s consider what you can do to improve the union you’re in, while helping to keep it alive during the “post-Janus” era. …..

Escalating Moral Obligation in the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011

Source: Matthew Kearney, Social Forces, Advance Access, December 28, 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This study uses insider ethnographic and interview data to examine one of the largest sustained collective actions in the history of the United States—the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011. It finds that this event took a highly unusual form due to a social relation that I term escalating moral obligation, a sense of solidaristic duty that grows increasingly fervent as others struggle on behalf of a shared cause. Each of three active groups within the movement engaged in arduous and unconventional resistance to controversial legislation, and did so in a manner that induced moral debt among the other groups. Fervency of commitment to the cause increased as a result of allies taking risky or self-sacrificial actions. Each group felt obligated to continue difficult mobilization as long as others continued theirs. Escalating moral obligation develops a simultaneously emergent, endogenous, and cognitive dimension of social movements. It is a relational mechanism linking political opportunity with actual mobilization. The political opportunity in this case was a combination of several conditions: an elite cleavage over the desirability of public unions, a more local balance of power allowing dissident legislators to obstruct but not defeat legislation, and an immediate severe popular reaction. This mechanism is potentially generalizable to other risky or arduous protests. When activists are motivated by the sacrifice or risk-taking of allied activists, escalating moral obligation is present. The concept links group-level imperatives with individual-level motivations. Escalating moral obligation shows one way that individual subjectivities can change through group interrelations and emotionally intense interactions.

Can Unions Stop the Far Right?

Source: Vauhini Vara, The Atlantic, December 2017

If it weren’t for working-class voters, Germany’s recent election could have had a different outcome. …. Can the United States learn from Germany’s example? The German system is a product of the country’s culture and history as well as its economic structure, and it may not be possible to replicate in the United States. In fact, some evidence suggests that Germany is moving in America’s direction, not the other way around. In recent decades, the German government has cut back on social benefits that were seen as hampering growth and keeping able-bodied people from working, and unions agreed to slow down wage increases in order to minimize layoffs. Unemployment fell, but inequality rose—a fact that, in the postelection analysis, was cited as one reason for the AfD’s surprising showing. ….

Everything Passes, Everything Changes: Unionization and Collective Bargaining in Higher Education

Source: William A. Herbert, Jacob Apkarian, Perspectives on Work, 2017

From the abstract:
This article begins with a brief history of unionization and collective bargaining in higher education. It then presents data concerning the recent growth in newly certified collective bargaining representatives at private and public-sector institutions of higher education, particularly among non-tenure track faculty. The data is analyzed in the context of legal decisions concerning employee status and unit composition under applicable federal and state laws. Lastly, the article presents data concerning strike activities on campuses between January 2013 and May 31, 2017.