Labor

Rahm's Wedge

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Put aside for a moment the particulars of the Chicago teachers’ strike and look at the broader picture. Rahm Emanuel is only one of a number of Democratic mayors and governors who are going after public-employee unions. In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is also at loggerheads with the city’s teacher union. In San Jose, a Democratic mayor and city council scaled back the city employees’ pensions (and so did city voters when they were asked to ratify that decision). In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has tangled with a number of public-sector unions. The battle between management and labor seems to have spread to the very center of the Democratic Party. To some degree, this is a predictable response to the fiscal crisis states have faced during a severe recession—something’s got to give, and a number of chief executives have said it’s union benefits. Nonetheless, a number of the chief executives who’ve taken on unions are from jurisdictions with lots of rich folks on whom they’...

GM's Hunger Games

The hunger strike is just the latest in a long history of labor tensions in Colombia.

(GDA via AP Images)
H asta la muerte ! “To the death,” chanted 12 hunger strikers outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia. General Motors subsidiary Colmotores had fired the workers a year ago, claiming they were dismissed because of declining productivity. In truth, they were injured on the job and deemed no longer useful. On August 1, they sewed their mouths shut in protest. On August 6, Colmotores briefly sat down to negotiations with the workers, who formed the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colombia (ASOTRECOL), but ended up walking out later the same day. Protests in the United States and Colombia soon sprouted— Martin Sheen and Noam Chomsky have been among the more well-known public defenders of the GM workers. Under mounting public pressure, Colmotores agreed to negotiations facilitated by the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on August 23. The talks, however, did not result in GM rehiring the workers or compensating them for lost wages. After...

Should Labor Boycott Charlotte?

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The Democratic National Convention is less than a week away, and liberals are getting fired up. But at least one of the party's key constituencies isn’t quite so excited. That group is organized labor. Last July’s announcement that the convention would be held in the staunchly anti-union city of Charlotte, North Carolina—the least unionized state in the country—set off a firestorm of protest in the labor movement. A year later, dissatisfaction still simmers, and there's a case to be made for an unprecedented move. The message is simple: maybe labor should sit this one out. To a large extent, politics is about resources. How an organization decides to deploy those it has available says a lot about its values and priorities. So why would labor want to channel limited funds into bolstering a local economy organized around avowedly anti-union principles? By opting for North Carolina as a convention destination, rather than a swing state with stronger union infrastructure such as Ohio or...

Union Maid

Over the past several decades, at any number of public events I’ve attended, I never had trouble knowing when Joyce Miller was in the house. “Harold!” she would boom, her voice a friendly foghorn across a crowded room. Over the decades, she’d needed that voice to make herself—and the cause of women workers—heard. A founder and, later, the president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Joyce was a longtime official of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, a heavily female union headed by invariably male leaders who eventually made room for very talented secondary-level women leaders such as Joyce. In 1980, even the AFL-CIO executive council made room for Joyce, when she was elected to become its first female member. During the decades when middle-class feminism was on the rise, Joyce continually reminded everyone within earshot that working-class women faced doubly difficult challenges—entering, or stuck, in a workforce where “the feminization of poverty” (a term she employed as far back...

The Court’s Scott Walker Moment

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
On First Amendment Thursday, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court delivered an unsubtle warning to public employee unions: You are living on borrowed time. In Knox v. Service Employees International Union , the five—Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito—reached out to decide a question that was not argued or briefed; their opinion all but begs right-wing advocacy groups and public employers to use its emerging First-Amendment jurisprudence to take down public-employee unions and in essence find a Southern-style “right to work” law in the Constitution. In the days when right-wingers favored judicial restraint, this might have been called “judicial activism.” It is the Court’s Scott Walker moment. The case concerned the rules by which unions can assess “agency fees” payable by non-members who benefit from the unions’ collective bargaining efforts. Though public employees can’t be forced to join...

Post-New Deal America Needs Unions

(Flickr/Kheel Center, Cornell University)
One of the unfortunate consequences of the still more unfortunate failure of the unions’ effort to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker earlier this month is the gloating and schadenfreude that’s come forth from labor’s enemies. Some comes straight up, as in this column from Charles Krauthammer. Some comes with the caveat that private sector unions are fine in their place, but public sector unions have no place at all, an opinion expressed in this blog post from Chuck Lane. (I confine myself here to offerings from my Washington Post colleagues, but they’re representative of the breed.) As I noted in my response to Lane, it would be nice if these defenders of private-sector unions had bestirred themselves to join the battle for labor law reform in 2010, since under the current labor law, workers effectively have no protection from being fired when they seek to join a union. As it is, Lane, Mickey Kaus and their fellow union critics endorse private-sector unions in the abstract, but...

Public Employee Union Endorse (And Help) The Guy Who Supports Dictators

It's no secret that times are tough for public employees unions and that such groups need to foster support wherever they can. But in the effort to get pro-labor candidates into office, there may need to be some limits. For instance, regardless of his stances on workers' rights, one would assume unions would shy away from openly supporting a New York city councilman who's known largely for his support of human-rights-flouting dictators Robert Mugabe and Muammar Qaddafi—let alone spending money to campaign for him. But that assumption would be incorrect. Councilman Charles Barron is running in the Democratic Congressional primary to replace U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns. Two of New York's biggest public employee unions, District Councils 37 and 1707, have already endorsed Barron and now, according to the latest from Buzzfeed , their "federal parent union," AFSCME, is poised to spend money on the councilman's behalf. Here's how Buzzfeed characterizes Barron: The candidate, New York...

Wisconsin Recall: A Conservative Case for Election Day Registration

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
As the nation waited for the Wisconsin recall results to come in, Twitter began to light up with conservative claims of voter fraud. "Please @ me with any stories of #WI #WIrecall voter fraud," tweeted conservative radio host and pundit Dana Loesch around 11 a.m . She noted stories on busing voters in across state lines and on supposedly suspicious high turn-out rates. "It's not 'fraud' if you didn't cheat enough to rob voters of the lawmakers they choose," she wrote. Others joined in. "@GovWalker needs to make sure he wins by an amount greater than the margin of fraud," tweeted @RickMoore. "Early results show #TomBarrett leading #ScottWalker amongst dead voters, illegal aliens and cartoon characters," tweeted @rovibe71. "Dems really need to embrace honesty for 'change' and rename themselves 'The Vote Fraud Party". [sic] Disgusting" wrote @Furrystoat. These tweets all arrived as news was breaking of huge turnouts around the state and pundits were speculating about a close finish. When...

The Union Fight You Might Not Have Been Watching

(Flickr/MaineDOE)
The fight around Wisconsin's public employee unions has in the national spotlight frequently over the last 18 months—culminating in Governor Scott Walker defeating an effort to recall him from office. But while most were at least a little familiar with the Badger State's turmoil around the right to organize and collectively bargain, few have watched the unfolding drama in Maine, where Governor Paul LePage has courted controversy in his discussion of the state's unions. The governor made headlines a year ago when he removed a mural, deemed too favorable to unions, from the side of the state's Department of Labor building. (In March, a federal judge ruled in favor of LePage's decision.) But the art was only the beginning. LePage has been in a protracted battle over a collective bargaining agreement with the public employee union Maine State Employees Association, which happens to be the biggest union in the state. Stateline has a great summary of the fights , which include various...

The Ongoing Triumph of Radical Individualism

A figure from a bygone era.
Scott Walker's victory in the Wisconsin recall has been gleefully hailed on the right as a death knell for American unions, and while that may be an exaggeration, there's no doubt that the labor movement is in a long and perhaps inexorable decline. How did it happen? One answer is that conservatives have of late found increasing success in a tactic they've used for decades: getting non-unionized workers to resent unionized workers for the better pay, benefits, and working conditions that unionized workers have used collective bargaining to obtain. This is only possible if you convince people to see everyone around them as not potential allies but as competitors in a zero-sum contest. Rich Yeselson offers a story about watching William Winpisinger, the head of the machinists' union, on television 30 years ago: As always, the conflict formula for talk shows eventually took hold, and Winpisinger received a barrage of hostile questions from Donahue's audience. So, he stood up—a big, bald...

AFL-CIO Tries to Claim Some Victories in Wisconsin

(Flickr/Sue Peacock)
After Governor Scott Walker's win in Wisconsin last night, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka decided to walk a strange line on today's press call. WaPo's The Fix has a post arguing that the call was about distancing the union from the recall effort, but to me the union president seemed eager to point to victories—a strange tactic in the face of a devastating loss. "The best-funded politician in state history spent more than $50 million to hold on to his office but he could not hold on to a majority in the state senate!" he said. True, it looks like the Democrats won a single Senate seat last night, giving them control of the chamber. But as I've written , that doesn't necessarily mean much. Barring a special session, the legislature isn't meeting again until January of 2013 —so Democrats will have to hold on past the November elections. Guy Molyneux, a pollster with Hart Research Associates, walked everyone through an election-night poll of 390 union members (as opposed to "union...

Just How Hard Was It to Vote In Wisconsin?

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
Last night's Wisconsin recall resulted in more than just Governor Scott Walker's re-election. It also showed the tremendous difficulties some voters in the state faced simply trying to cast their ballot. While Wisconsin has had same-day registration since 2006, which helps more people get to vote, the state passed a controversial photo-ID law last year that put up new barriers. The most stringent part of the law—requiring residents to show a form of photo-ID—is not in effect thanks to a court injunction, but other elements of the law came into play yesterday as new and old voters arrived at their polling places. The Election Protection Coalition, a non-partisan group that helps monitor elections, received 1,300 phone calls on Tuesday alone, as well as an more than 500 the previous weekend. "That's remarkable," said the group's lead attorney for Wisconsin, Dara Lindenbaum. (Lindenbaum is employed by the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups in the Election...

Wisconsin's Not-So-Silver Lining

(Flickr/wackybadger)
Around 1 a.m. Wednesday night, while most of Wisconsin's recall activists coped with their candidate's decisive loss, around 30 supporters in Racine cheered as John Lehman declared victory in a state Senate race. Taking the seat gives the Democrats control of the state Senate, which was split 16-16 with one vacancy. However, Lehman's opponent, Republican Van Wanggaard, has yet to concede. It's hard to blame him. The margin of victory— less than 800 votes —practically ensures a recount. But even if the Democrats gain control of the chamber, the victory isn't likely to make much of a difference. Ostensibly, controlling the state senate will allow Democrats to thwart Walker's legislative agenda. But as I noted Monday, the legislature isn't scheduled to meet again before the November elections, which means, barring an unlikely special session, there will be no legislation to block. "Whether [Democrats] can hold the Senate in November is an open question," University of Wisconsin political...

A Wisconsin Domino Effect?

(AP/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart)
(AP/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart) Supporters of a recall effort against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker continue to sing a union solidarity song outside the State Capitol Building after polling results begin show a victory for Walker in statewide recall elections Tuesday, June 5, 2012. Wisconsin residents have been casting votes in recall elections against Walker, his lieutenant governor and several state senators. While hardly surprising to anyone who read the polls, yesterday’s victory by Republican Governor Scott Walker was a body blow to Wisconsin unions and to American workers. Within Wisconsin, Walker’s victory ensures that his law repealing collective-bargaining rights for public employees will stay on the books, and if Republicans maintain their hold on the state senate—four of their senators faced recall elections, and as I write this at least three have survived—they will, at least in theory, be able to go forward on other parts of their Social Darwinist agenda...

Despite Predictions, Turnout Looks Good and Recall Activists Are Flying High

(Flickr/Sue Peacock)
"I'm pretty confident that Walker's going to go," Roberta Retrum told me last night. "I know what I hear from the people on the ground. I know how much support there is here for getting rid of Walker." Retrum, a grandmother and recall activist who's decided to run for state Assembly in November, lives in the small conservative town of Eagle River. Her confidence was seemed well meaning, but I had my doubts. After all, to have a shot at beating Walker, recall activists need turnout numbers like those during the 2008 presidential election. Retrum is one of the thousands of activists that have invested months of their lives in the recall effort. Many have formed close bonds over the last several months, as the movement has galvanized Wisconsinites who weren't particularly political before. They're an optimistic bunch, but most know the only path to winning is an extraordinary turnout, like that of 2008's presidential election. But increasingly, it looks like turnout will be high—and,...

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