Labor

Labor at a Crossroads: The Case for Union Organizing

The labor movement has been growing while shrinking—growing through organizing.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
T he union movement is 3.5 million members smaller than 40 years ago, and the forces that brought that about are as energetically engaged and powerful as they have ever been. From that undeniable fact, it has been wrongly concluded: Union organizing is impossible, futile, or a thing of the past The labor movement is dead, or dying The best hope for workers is through something different from trade unions and collective bargaining. These conclusions are very disconcerting to this organizer. I am upset that there’s so little acknowledgement of the millions of workers who have risked much to try to unionize. Thousands are doing it today. And so little acknowledgement of those who have done it and succeeded. They number a million and a half. How do I know that? I know it from my own experience; it’s the work with which I have been immersed for those 40 years. And I know it by virtue of simple arithmetic. The 3.5 million members by which labor has shrunk is net. I simply added the net...

What Obama Should -- and Shouldn't -- Say in State of the Union Address

While he's taken steps to improve Americans' wages, there's still more the president can do. 

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama delivering his 2011 State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. This article originally appeared at the website of the Economic Policy Institute . T onight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address, which gives him an opportunity to lay out his priorities and set an agenda for the year ahead. At the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), we have argued that raising wages is the central economic challenge . It is terrific news that the president will address wage stagnation in his speech. After a year of strong job creation but continued stagnant wage growth, many economists and commentators—not to mention the American people—are beginning to focus on wages. Even the new GOP-controlled Congress is paying lip service to the middle class squeeze (but is offering no program to address these challenges). So we are now entering into a great debate about what can be done...

Labor at a Crossroads: Minimum Wage Fights More Easily Won Than Representation

Unions are investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members.

15 Now/Seattle
15 Now/Seattle Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle. This article is originally appeared in the December 7, 2014, edition of the Los Angeles Times . We republish it here as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference to be presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . H altingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years—of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Wal-Mart employees—have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven't done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future...

Labor at a Crossroads: In Defense of Members-Only Unionism

Allowing members-only unions would protect the rights of those who wish to bargain collectively even if they fail to surmount all the legal hurdles necessary to establish the union as the representative of all employees in the workplace.

(AP Photo/Times Free Press, Danielle Moore)
(AP Photo/Times Free Press, Danielle Moore) In a March 31, 2010, photo, Christian Iosif, an equipment installer with Leoni, programs a welding robot on the underbody dash panel line at Volkswagon of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . S urveys of employee support for unions show a majority want collective representation. Yet, as illustrated by the close vote on union representation at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, union organizing efforts often fail—either before employees have a chance to vote, or at the ballot box, or in subsequent litigation. For decades, scholars and union-side lawyers explained the gap between employee desire for unionization and...

Labor at a Crossroads: Time to Experiment

New organizing will be propelled by committed activists, but will have to be sustained by huge numbers of members and supporters.

Working America
This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . I love the breadth and gusto of the new labor organizing, which includes plenty of innovation based in old labor organizing as well. This mash-up of practical experiences will help produce breakthrough tactics and strategies. There is also a question of purpose—is our aim to improve working conditions, or is it to build a more powerful working class? These are related, clearly, but suggest different strategies and structures. Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is a laboratory for change. Here are three areas at the top of our list for exploration in this realm. Changing minds Pollsters call this “the frame”—but really, it’s ideology. Working...

Labor at a Crossroads: How We Know We Haven't Yet Found the Right Model for the Worker Organizations

If we had already found the right model for a powerful, scalable, sustainable organization uniting low-wage workers, then organizers would learn about problems at particular worksites from the workers themselves, not Reddit.

© Phillip Pessar via Flickr
© Phillip Pessar via Flickr The retail chain Wet Seal kept employees in the dark about plans to close 338 stores, such as this one in Miami's Dadeland Mall, even assuring workers that their jobs were not in peril. Employees responded by posting signs in store windows detailing the company's mistreatment of workers, and by creating a #forgetwetseal hashtag campaign that rocketed to the top of Reddit . This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O n the first Friday in January, the executives of mall retailer Wet Seal held a conference call to inform hundreds of store managers that their stores were closing—effective just days later. Many workers had noticed extremely low inventories and extremely high...

Labor at a Crossroads: Can Broadened Civil Rights Law Offer Workers a True Right to Organize?

It's one way to allow victims of anti-union discrimination to sue in federal court for compensatory and punitive damages.

(AP Photo/Alex Sanz)
(AP Photo/Alex Sanz) U.S. Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, is co-sponsoring, with Rep. Keith Elison of Minnesota, legislation that would broaden the Civil Rights Act to include workers who are discriminated against for wanting to join a union. Lewis, shown here on December 22, 2014, discusses the historical film Selma and civil rights in the United States during an interview in Atlanta. Forty-nine years after Lewis and other marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, memories of "Bloody Sunday" are still vivid in his mind. It was one of the defining moments of the civil rights era. This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O rganized labor, which represents only 1...

Meet Austerity's Kissing Cousin: A Terrible Trade Deal

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner) People protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) at the final election party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prior E.U. Parliament elections in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, May 23, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope is right on the edge of another downward lurch into prolonged deflation. GDP growth is hovering right around zero. Germany, as an export powerhouse, continues to thrive, but at the expense of the rest of the continent—victims of German-imposed budget austerity demands. The euro, which keeps sinking against the U.S. dollar, is now trading at just $1.20, its lowest level in four and a half years. Unemployment outside prosperous Germany remains stuck at over 12 percent. All of this weakens the political center that supports the E.U., and increases the appeal of far-right parties. (You wonder if Europe's leaders bother to read their own history. When there is protracted...

Intrigue: Doth Chuck Schumer Protest Too Much When Called 'Enabler' of Bad Budget Deal?

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, talks on a phone as he walks from the Senate subway on Capitol in Washington, Friday, December 12, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . L ast week, I wrote a piece lamenting the fact that so many Democrats had voted for a budget package that gutted a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. The so called swaps push-out provision, now repealed, required banks to separate their speculative business in derivatives from depository banking covered by government insurance and further protected by the Federal Reserve. The broader budget deal, technically a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through next September, also cut a lot of needed public spending and added several odious riders, including one that raises the ceiling on individual campaign contributions to party committees about tenfold. Had Democrats resolutely opposed the deal, I argued, it would have revealed Republicans...

Caring for Caregivers

How my father's illness helped me appreciate home-care workers

(iStock/© FredFroese)
(Flickr/Emily Michelle) F or three years, I’ve watched my father succumb to Alzheimer’s. Once a doctor and an active community leader, today he has become quiet, less engaging, and prefers to stay home. He lacks a curiosity to explore new things, and often seems to be lost in his own thoughts. He can no longer go out on his own, even to run small errands, because he gets easily confused about where he is and what he is supposed to be doing. The changes in my father’s abilities have placed a lot of pressure on my mother to manage the household by herself—keeping the house clean, cooking meals, running errands like going to the post office and buying groceries, picking up their prescription medications, and keeping up with doctor’s appointments. My siblings and I have begun managing their finances and legal matters. But I worry about my ability to meet their needs given that I work full time and have a four-year-old daughter. In the near future, we, like millions of other families...

Movements for Racial Justice and Economic Justice Could Converge to Form a Powerhouse for Change

(Photo by Rachel M. Cohen for The American Prospect)
What happens to a dream deferred? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? T hat was the poet Langston Hughes, in 1951. In that year, more than half a century ago, the most basic dreams of African Americans were deferred. Segregation was mandatory in the old South. Discrimination was legal everywhere in America, whether in housing, education, or employment. Blacks were not just separated, but isolated, marginalized, restricted to the worst jobs and most dilapidated neighborhoods, the most dismal schools. For many, the racism just sagged, like a heavy load. It destroyed hope that hard work would be rewarded. The deferred dreams of that era seldom produced explosions, because the state had a very efficient system of terror. Blacks who resisted were likely to be lynched, jailed, or otherwise destroyed. It is a testament to sheer grit, tenacity and courage that large numbers of blacks managed to get educations, raise families, start businesses, and enter professions at...

Walmart Workers Stage Black Friday Protests at Stores Throughout the Country

Workers walked off the job in 10 states, employees in Los Angeles staged a fast, and workers in D.C. orchestrated a sit-in.

(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) Colorado Walmart employees and supporters join nationwide protests, in front of a Walmart store in Lakewood, Colorado, Friday, November 29, 2013. This article was originally published by ThinkProgress . A s Americans rushed to take advantage of jaw dropping deals this Black Friday, thousands of Walmart employees and labor union members protested at 1,000 stores across the country for higher wages and consistent full-time work. At least 11 Walmart workers and supporters were arrested for blocking traffic outside a Walmart in Chicago. The strikes, organized for the third year in a row by the labor group OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, come after a week of actions in which workers walked off the job in 10 states, employees in Los Angeles staged a fast, and workers in D.C. orchestrated a sit-in. The associates wore masking tape over their mouths to protest of Walmart “silencing of employees who complain about working...

How Democrats Can Win Back the White Working Class and Increase Turnout Among Blacks and Latinos

(Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr/Creative Commons License)
(Photo: CNV Sioux Falls, SD Action via Flickr) Demonstrators in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, urge fellow citizens to vote for the November 4 ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage. The demonstration took place on Saturday, September 27. T he voting turnout in this year's congressional and gubernatorial elections was the lowest since 1942. Much of the story was in young people, poor people, black and Hispanic citizens, who tend to support Democrats, voting in far lower numbers than in 2008 or 2012. The Democrats just weren't offering them very much. But the other part of the Election Day story was older voters and the white working class, especially men, deserting the Democrats in droves—again, because Democrats didn't seem to be offering much. Republicans, at least, were promising lower taxes. Turnout on average dropped from 2012 by a staggering 42 percent. But as Sam Wang reported in a post-election piece for The American Prospect , the drop-off was evidently worse for Democrats...

Progressive Midterm Victories You Didn't Hear About -- And Some That Could Still Happen

Across the nation, voters passed measures against fracking and abortion restrictions, and for the minimum wage, paid sick leave, public safety and gun reform. 

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Topher Jones, from left, of Denton, Texas, Edward Hartmann, of Dallas and Angie Holliday of Denton, Texas, hold a campaign sign supporting a ban outside city hall, Tuesday, July 15, 2014, in Denton, Texas. A North Texas city became the first in the state to ban hydraulic fracturing when voters passed a ballot measure on November 4, 2014. T uesday’s Republican wave of election victories did not reflect public opinion or the public mood. Instead it was the result of the GOP’s triumph in changing the rules of democracy to favor big business and conservative interest groups, including the triumphs of corporate money and voter suppression. But while Democrat candidates were going down to defeat, liberals and progressive won some impressive but little-publicized victories on important issues—including minimum wage hikes—especially in red and purple states, suggesting that voters are not as conservative as the pundits are pontificating. One of the most significant...

Minimum Wage Measures Pass Easily in Four Red States

In the 2014 midterms, the Democrats' economic agenda fared better than Democrats.

(AP Photo/Carson Walker)
(AP Photo/Carson Walker) South Dakotans decided on November 4, 2014 whether to raise the minimum wage in the state from $7.25 an hour to $8.50. Mark Anderson, president of the South Dakota AFL-CIO, led union members in gathering enough petitions to force a public vote on a minimum wage ballot measure. A s devastating as Tuesday night’s election was for Democrats—Republicans took control of the Senate and won a number of key governor races — it was actually an encouraging night for the progressive economic agenda. In four red states—Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota—minimum wage ballot initiatives all passed easily . In San Francisco, voters overwhelmingly passed a $15 minimum wage— with notably little opposition from the business community . And in Illinois, voters sent a clear message through a non-binding advisory initiative that they want lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, and fast. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 has been a major economic...

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