“A Different Type of Union”: How National Nurses United is Changing the Face of the Labor Movement

Since its formal inception in 2009, National Nurses United has emerged as one of the lone upstarts in the otherwise-contracting organized labor landscape. Defending nurses in the face of hospital budget cuts, the nurses are also fighting for increased safety for themselves and their patients.

In The Little Union That Could from The Atlantic, journalist Alana Semuels writes, quoting NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro:

“You can’t poison the air because your company won’t give you more money per hour,” she said. “You’ve got to fight for safety standards for the public, and you’ve got to fight in the public’s interest. If unions don’t connect with the public interest, there’s not going to be unions..”

Semuels continues:

It’s a strategy that other unions have tried recently, most notably the AFL-CIO, led by Rich Trumka, which is seeking to represent the rights of all working Americans, not just its members. The fast food strikes of the past year have also sought to draw attention to the larger problems created by the minimum wage, rather than just a union. And the most successful unions these days organize from the bottom up, not the top down, said Julius Getman, author of Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement.

“What I see is that the unions are organizing on a much more sophisticated basis,” he said.

But the nurses might be most able to lead a labor resurgence because of the fact that they’re highly-skilled workers, and not easily replaceable. Nurses are less afraid to strike than fast food workers, for instance, because they know their employer won’t have an easy time finding someone to replace them. That’s made it easier for them to speak their minds on things not necessarily related to their union. NNU has spoken out in favor of a financial transaction tax, protested water shut-offs in Detroit, and supported Occupy protesters.

Read the full story at the Atlantic.

Photo by Elvert Barnes via flickr (CC-BY-SA).

Labor & the Climate Justice Movement at Murphy

On Friday, Oct 31st, the New Labor Forum hosted Bill McKibben, Jill Furillo, Chris Erikson, Estela Vazquez and Sean Sweeney to discuss labor and the climate justice movement. Check out some of the conversation here:



Want more from the New Labor Forum? Come to one of our upcoming events.

The next Labor and Policy Forum will be held on November 14th. Look forward to a discussion about the 2014 Midterm Elections, featuring Ed Ott, Sarah Jaffe, Juan Gonzalez Errol Louis and Michael Hirsch.

Professors Join in Struggle Against Blick

Last week, professors joined workers, community members and students who have been waging an 8-month contract battle with Utrecht Art Supplies, a conglomerate of Blick Art Materials. The activists served management with a petition demanding that Utrecht move forward on a contract and supporting the workers’ right to unionize and earn fair pay.

Murphy Prof. Stephanie Luce explained the struggles of low-wage workers, many of whom are students, in work environment like Utrecht’s:

“A lot of the students have a hard time just covering their tuition because they work in these low-wage jobs…They also work at a lot of jobs that have unpredictable schedules so it’s even hard for them to make it to class.”

For the full story, visit LaborPress.org.

Photo via rwdsu.info.

Photo by Thomas Altfather Good via flickr (CC-BY-ND).

Organized Labor Hopes to Grow by Helping Immigrants Gain Citizenship

By Steve Brier

One of the persistent tragedies in the history of the U.S. labor movement has been the repeated opposition of unions to organizing new immigrant workers into their ranks. Not only the old AFL, but even the more progressive and inclusive Knights of Labor, attacked new immigrants (the Chinese, in the case of the Knights), refusing to organize them into their ranks and even working politically to restrict the entry of international workers into the U.S. Those moments when the labor movement shed its xenophobia and actually organized immigrant workers — the 1919 steel strike and the early CIO organizing drives in basic industry — stand out as beacons of light and organizing success in an otherwise grim and dark history of exclusion and labor defeat. Even the contemporary AFL-CIO, as recently as the late 1980s and early 1990s, actively opposed organizing the rising numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America entering the U.S. workforce, precisely at the moment that the labor movement was in sharp decline in the face of employer and government intransigence and attacks. Continue reading Organized Labor Hopes to Grow by Helping Immigrants Gain Citizenship

Legal Appeals & Partial Strategies: Labor at the Crossroads

By Stanley Aronowitz

As previously reported on this blog, two weeks ago, the School Reform Commission appointed by Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett unilaterally cancelled the union contract of 15,000 Philadelphia teachers and staff personnel. The union president Jerry Jordan promised to “fight” the brazen action of the commission. Later in the week a number of the city’s union leaders met to consider mass action to protest and hopefully reverse the decision. Jordan said that direct action such as a general strike must await the union’s efforts to exhaust its legal options. The assembly bowed to his caution. But parents and teachers demonstrated at City Hall anyway.

However, as in Madison Wisconsin almost three years ago when 100,000 public employees occupied the state capitol to protest the right-wing Republican governor and his legislative allies to strip them of bargaining rights, the union leaders called off the protest. Instead they supported a Democratic Party proposal to recall Governor Walker and four of his Republican senators. The recall failed to unseat the governor and two of his allies, so the recall failed. But similar efforts to thwart direct action in Ferguson, Mo. by substituting a voter registration campaign were rejected by many black people protesting the murder of Michael Brown. The streets are still crowded with protesters. Continue reading Legal Appeals & Partial Strategies: Labor at the Crossroads

Union Pension Funds and the Power of Capital

By Steve Brier


Walking to work, I came across a building trades union-run informational picket line near my office. The NYC Concrete Coalition was picketing the Church Pension Group (CPG), which invests union pension funds. It seems that CPG has invested in a hedge fund, the Baupost Group, that is partnering on a huge real estate project on the east side. The $600 million project will be built by SSC Highrise, a “very irresponsible construction contractor,” according to the flier the workers were distributing. SSC’s principal, Seth Klarman has been found guilt of racial discrimination, wage theft, and tax fraud, according to the flyer.

What is to be done? According the picketers, we’re all supposed to call the Baupost CEO to complain. That’s a good idea and we should all do that, if possible. But complaining to a hedge fund billionaire about his desire to make money seems a bit like splitting in the wind. It makes one nostalgic for the days when building trades workers would take a more militant stance, shall we say, against scabs and non-union contractors. Shaming a hedge fund CEO (an unlikely outcome if there ever were one) isn’t going to make much of a difference for building trades workers and their union.

Dr. Steve Brier is a Murphy Institute Consortial Faculty Member and Prof. of Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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