Category Archives: Labor Unions

Public Employee Unions and Pensions

Source: Posted on January 22, 2016 by Catherine Fisk and Brian Olney, OnLabor blog, January 22, 2016

Advocates of weakening public sector unions, both some who have filed briefs in the Friedrichs case and others who support anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and other states, assert that public sector unions contribute to state budget deficits and that public employee pensions are a main culprit. The truth is more complicated. Unionization doesn’t cause either budget deficits or unfunded pension liabilities. Bad governance does. Some unions may contribute to bad governance but they are not the sole cause, and unions can help solve the problem.

Although labor costs consume a relatively larger share of revenues in the public sector than in the private sector, studies show this is because government tends to provide more labor-intensive services, and also services that require a higher level of education and training (e.g., teachers and public health workers). Collective bargaining, in the states that allow it, is only one aspect of a complex web of law that, in every state, regulates compensation and working conditions for public employees. A bewildering array of state and local constitutional or charter provisions, statutes, and administrative rules specify pay, benefits, and pensions for government workers by job category. Elimination of collective bargaining will not eliminate the budget or pension funding deficits that exist. But it may eliminate the last defined benefit pension plans, which would be bad for workers and bad for the economy as a whole…..

Fighting for a Better Life: How Working People Across America are Organizing to Raise Wages and Improve Work

Source: AFL-CIO, January 2016

From the blog post:
Marking nearly one year since the first ever Raising Wages Summit, the AFL-CIO today released a new report detailing the successes, struggles and path ahead to raise wages for working people. The report, “Fighting for a Better Life: How Working People Across America are Organizing to Raise Wages and Improve Work,” finds that over the last year income inequality has shifted from a problem we discuss to a problem we can solve. The report points to clear and unequivocal steps for a path forward. Armed with the solutions outlined in the report, the central conclusion is that America is ready to move beyond the discussion of income inequality and is beginning to write new rules that will shape the economy….. The report goes well beyond direct wage increases, highlighting successes that demonstrate the all-encompassing nature of the raising wages agenda. Numerous organizing victories, paid sick leave laws in multiple states and municipalities and new protections against wage theft if five states are outlined as part of the effort to create an economy built on raising wages. The report also outlines hurdles to further victories, and challenges that remain as the raising wages agenda grows…..

Martin Luther King, Teachers’ Unions and Social Justice

Source: Yohuru Williams, Huffington Post blog, January 12, 2106

As the nation prepares to mark what would have been the 87th birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, we should remember Dr. King as a staunch supporter of both public education and organized labor. This is especially important as teachers in cities across the nation including Chicago and Detroit, weigh the necessity of civil disobedience and work stoppages to raise awareness and encourage a fair resolution to their concerns….

Public-sector workers are paid less than their private-sector counterparts—and the penalty is larger in right-to-work states

Source: Jeffrey Keefe, Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Economic Snapshot, January 14, 2016

State and local government employees already earn less than similar private-sector workers. The wage and compensation gaps between public- and private-sector workers are significantly higher in right-to-work states, which allow “free-riders” to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without paying their fair share of fees to support the union’s ability to negotiate on their behalf. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could effectively render the entire public sector right to work, pushing down wages for workers in the public sector and beyond….

The Bargaining Power of Health Care Unions and Union Wage Premiums for Registered Nurses

Source: Christopher K. Coombs, Robert J. Newman, Richard J. Cebula, Mary L. White, Journal of Labor Research, Volume 36, Issue 4, December 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
For the first time in its history, the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses in 2008 includes a question involving union status. This study utilizes data from this sample to estimate the union/non-union wage premium for registered nurses and among some of the occupational-, workplace-, and individual-specific characteristics. The study finds that standard union wage premium estimates for registered nurses are larger than what were revealed in other relatively recent studies. Upon inspection of various characteristics of registered nurses, the study finds a positive wage gap for union nurses as experience increases. With respect to characteristics of the workplace, there is statistical evidence in the sample that suggests a wage gap for registered nurses in the private- and public- sector, although more distinct in the private-sector. Finally, a positive wage gap is found for union nurses working in hospitals. The lattermost finding is particularly interesting given a specific change in labor law that occurred in the early 1990s that may have resulted in temporal differences in union wage effects within health care. The possibilities that unions “spillover” their bargaining power to help increase the wages of nonunion workers, or that perhaps employers are paying efficiency wages to remain “union-free” are also explored.

The Supreme Court Case That Could Gut Public Sector Unions

Source: Elizabeth Bruenig, New Republic, January 11, 2016

A case going to oral arguments today will have implications far beyond that of free speech. ….

….At the core of the case are “agency fees,” sometimes called “fair share fees.” Agency fees work like this: Public sector unions are required to cover all employees in a given bargaining unit, whether the employees opt into union membership or not. Public sector employees (which include EMTs, firefighters, public school teachers, social workers, and more) thus pay agency fees to their respective unions even if they are not union members, because public sector unions work on behalf of everyone in their bargaining unit, not just union members.

Agency fees do not fund unions’ political activities, but rather strictly the costs of union grievance-handling, organizing, and collective bargaining. In the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court upheld the right of public sector unions to extract agency fees from public sector workers, and found that agency fees do not violate employees’ freedom of speech, so long as they do not fund unions’ political activities.

But conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has long signaled that he would attempt to overturn Abood given the chance. With Friedrichs, his moment may have arrived…..

A Guide to ‘Friedrichs,’ the SCOTUS Case That Could Decimate Public Sector Unions

Source: Ben Rosenfield, In These Times, Working In These Times blog, January 11, 2016

The Supreme Court began hearing arguments today in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The plaintiff, California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, and the organizations on the Right that are behind her are arguing that public sector employers violate individuals’ First Amendment rights by compelling employees to pay union fees. The case could in effect force all public sector unions to operate under “right-to-work” rules and decimate public sector union membership—bad news for an already battered American labor movement.

In These Times has covered the case closely since its beginning. Here, we’ve rounded up some of our articles on the case and its implications for U.S. unions….
Friedrichs Oral Argument Commentary Round-Up
Source: Juhyung Harold Lee, OnLabor blog, January 11, 2016

The Labor Prospect: Friedrichs’s Fate
Source: Justin Miller, American Prospect, January 12, 2016

Special Feature: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association
Source: SCOTUSblog, 2016

Attack on unions shows why we need a new social contract governing work

Source: Thomas Kochan, The Conversation, January 13, 2016

….Labor legislation passed in the New Deal (minimum wages and overtime protections, social security, unemployment insurance and the right to unionize) provided the foundation for that social contract, and collective bargaining made it work by negotiating wage increases in tandem with productivity growth.

But at least in part because those policies and practices could not cope well with developments since 1980 – such as globalization and corporate short-termism – the country has experienced three decades of wage stagnation, rising income inequality and the erosion of the social safety net that was designed to ensure basic protections and minimum employment standards.

Restoring such a safety net, which would be further eroded if the Supreme Court rules against the unions, will require broadening the circle of debate to engage the powerful interest groups that don’t necessarily share the view that changes are needed…..

….Here are three high-priority ideas highlighted by participants at his gathering [White House Summit on Worker Voice] that can help us reach a new compact and deserve broader discussion.

How to wean social benefits from employment.
A major point of debate at the meeting was whether or not the economy, business and workforce would all be better off if we could sever the safety net from employers. That is, should we separate the funding and coverage for benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings and sick and family leave from individual employment relationships?…

A new way to regulate and enforce standards
Another area of discussion was how to modernize regulation and enforcement of employment standards….

Breaking the chains of our ossified labor law
Unlike the debate at the Supreme Court, participants in this meeting focused on how to rebuild bargaining power so workers have an effective voice in shaping the future of work. There was a crucial breakthrough over this issue….

Study claiming right-to-work in West Virginia will create job growth is fundamentally flawed

Source: Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, and Will Kimball, Briefing Paper #417, January 14, 2016

From the press release:
A recent paper on so-called right-to-work laws relies on flawed data and analysis, according to research by Economic Policy Institute economists Elise Gould and Josh Bivens and research analyst Will Kimball. Gould, Bivens, and Kimball analyze a recent paper by West Virginia University (WVU) School of Business researchers John Deskins, Eric Bowen, and Christiadi, and find that that the study relies on questionable research methods that skewed the results in favor of right-to-work legislation.
Deskins, Bowen, and Christiadi attempt to analyze the effect of right-to-work laws on employment. However, their paper does not have sufficient variation in right-to-work status within states during the study period to reach conclusive results. The authors misidentify Texas and Utah as having not been right-to-work states when in fact they were, leaving only one state that switched to right to work during their study period. Furthermore, the authors failed to include state fixed effects in their analysis—the industry standard for this type of research—which account for economic shocks or characteristics that are particular to a given state and not controlled for in other variables in the model…..
The Economic Impact of Right to Work Policy in West Virginia
Source: John Deskins, Eric Bowen, and Christiadi, West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, November 2015
(Funding for this research was provided by the West Virginia Legislature)