The New Labor Forum has a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.
Recently released figures for 2017 from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal a reversal in the decades-long decline in unionization rates. For those who have watched with chagrin the downward slope of union density, this appears to be a welcome bright spot. But not so soon, cautions Glenn Perusek in an essay for New Labor Forum. After all, the uptick is a small one, he notes, and perhaps better explained by new hiring in already unionized workplaces, than by massive new union organizing. The data does show an increase in young workers represented by unions, as well as new gains in unionization in white collar fields, including journalism and academia. NLF Consulting Editor and CUNY Sociology Professor Ruth Milkman makes sense of these trends in a WNYC interview with Todd Zwillich, included here.
Anyone concerned about organized labor’s prospects has noticed the dark cloud on the horizon in the form of the Janus v. AFSCME case, currently pending before the Supreme Court. This case threatens a body blow to public sector unionism if, as expected, it manages to abolish the mandatory “agency fees” that workers who don’t join the union currently pay to the unions that must represent them and negotiate their contracts, regardless. In his forthcoming NLF column, Organized Money: What Is Corporate America Thinking?, Max Fraser devotes his attention to the big money interests that instigated the Janus case, and presently stand poised with sophisticated campaigns to convert public sector workers into “free riders” through opting out of union membership and associated dues. The right-wing foundations that have long pushed to weaken public sector unions by overturning the “agency fee” may, however, find they’ve gotten more than they’ve bargained for. So argues NLF regular Shaun Richman in a recent piece for The Washington Post. He suggests that the deal that brought about the “agency fee,” also contributed to labor peace, in the form of no-strike clauses and exclusive representation. In the post-Janus labor chaos Richman predicts unionists may find new possibilities for militant action, while conservatives may rue the day they brought it about.
Table of Contents
- U.S. Union Membership Data in Perspective/ Glenn Perusek, New Labor Forum
- How Unions Fracture Along Economic Lines/ Todd Zwillich with Ruth Milkman, The Takeaway, WNYC, Feb 1, 2018
- Organized Money: What is Corporate America Thinking?-Freedom’s Janus Face/Max Fraser, New Labor Forum
- If the Supreme Court rules against unions, conservatives won’t like what happens next/ Shaun Richman, The Washington Post, Mar 1, 2018
Photo by Phil Roeder via flickr (CC-BY)
With Janus placing public sector unions on the chopping block while West Virginia teachers stage a wildcat strike for their rights, what’s the right way to feel about the future of labor? Is the picture as bleak as we’ve been made to think, or might there be glimmers of hope portending a brighter future ahead?
Murphy Professor Stephanie Luce recently interviewed historian Annelise Orleck for Jacobin. Orleck’s new book “We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now”: The Global Uprising against Poverty Wages is the result of her interviews with 140 workers around the world. The picture she paints offers room for some optimism and hope amid it all.
An excerpt from the interview is below. Read the full interview at Jacobin.
Stephanie Luce: You give quite a few inspirational stories, but most of the people you write about are living in pretty difficult conditions — whether it’s Walmart and fast-food workers in the United States, garment workers in Cambodia, or farmers in India. Some of the people you write about have been beaten, jailed — labor activists have been harassed, fired, kidnapped, and murdered. How are they winning?
Continue reading Stephanie Luce Interviews Annelise Orleck for Jacobin
December 8th, 2017
25 W. 43rd St., 18th Floor, New York, NY
New Labor Forum, first published in September 1997, was founded to contribute to the new possibilities for debate and discussion among labor and its allies in the wake of the AFL-CIO’s first ever contested elections in 1995. In those heady days, the New Voice leadership at the federation proclaimed its commitment to large-scale union organizing and ambitious coalition building with working-class communities, and particularly communities of color. It simultaneously engaged in a rapprochement spurred by Left intellectuals and progressive political activists who had for decades been excluded from the AFL-CIO’s strategic discussions. These efforts gave rise to widespread hopes that organized labor might help ignite a broad, national movement for social and economic justice. On the twentieth anniversary of the journal’s founding, we will host an assessment of those earlier ambitions, examining the complex reasons why they have borne such meager results. We will also examine the current challenges and possibilities for building a progressive movement capable of confronting a thoroughly financialized economy of highly concentrated wealth, precarious work and unabated racial disparity, and a political system in the vice grip of corporate interests in which a multi-racial working-class alliance remains a distant hope.
Stephen Lerner – Organizing in the New Economy: What are the principal features of the new economy that workers and working-class communities must now confront? What does this suggest about new forms that organizing should take?
Phil Thompson and Liza Featherstone – Debate: What is required to build a multi-racial working-class political movement?
The fight to close the Rikers Island Jail complex has received renewed attention since Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan last March to close down the facility in the next 10 years. Many have welcomed the moved, but one group has expressed resistance: correctional officers.
In a recent article in the Daily News, Brooklyn College sociology professor Alex Vitale argues that this resistance is misguided:
Corrections unions face a difficult challenge in the months and years ahead. Do they continue to defend a broken institution in the hopes of saving jobs or do they look for concrete ways to ensure that the people who work at Rikers have secure economic futures?
The irony of this dilemma is that the men and women who work at Rikers know better than almost anyone what a failed institution it is. They see day in and day out the deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate management, and culture of violence that organizes their daily work life. Continue reading Jail Workers & the Fight to Close Rikers
Friday, November 17th, 2017
25 W. 43rd St., 18th Floor, New York, NY
Join union leaders, scholars and activists during this one-day conference to discuss the implications of the Janus v. AFSCMEcase for workers and organized labor, possible immediate outcomes, and strategic options for combatting the attack on public sector unionism.
- Janella Hinds, Secretary-Treasurer of the NYC Central Labor Council
- City Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor
- Tony Utano, President of Transport Workers Union Local 100
- Barbara Terrelonge, Director of Organizing at DC37, AFSCME
Continue reading Conference: Janus & Beyond: The Future of Public Workers (11/17)
This article was originally featured at Labor Notes.
Want to learn more about public sector unionism? Join us for a one day conference on November 17th, “Janus and Beyond: The Future of Public Sector Unions.”
By Luke Elliott-Negri
As recently as 2014, just 22 percent of my co-workers were members of our chapter in our big wall-to-wall union. The rest—some 1,242 employees—paid the “agency fee,” which for us is the same as membership dues. The chapter had been defunct for several years. Few bothered to explain to new employees why it mattered to join and what power might come from engagement.
Both because of the right-wing assault in the form of legal cases like Janus v. AFSCME—the Supreme Court case that will make the whole public sector “right-to-work” by next year—but also because this is what unions should be doing anyway, a group of us set out to change these numbers. Continue reading Building Power before Janus – And After: Lessons from CUNY