Since the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME declared required agency fees for public sector unions unconstitutional, many in the labor world and media are scrambling to ask the question: Can labor unions bounce back after Janus?
According to Labor Notes, the answer is yes — but it will require thought and a plan. The publication just released “Rebuilding Power in Open-Shop America,” offering historical context, a diagnostic tool and a prescription for how workers and their unions can remain strong and regain and rebuild power.
Check it out.
This post was originally featured at Mobilizing Ideas.
By Ruth Milkman
Two years ago I focused my ASA Presidential address on social movements led by Millennials, building on Karl Mannheim’s classic treatise on “The Problem of Generations.” As the first generation of “digital natives,” and the one most directly impacted by the economic precarity that emerged from the neoliberal transformation of the labor market, the Millennial generation has a distinctive life experience and worldview. Disappointed by the false promises of racial and gender equality, and faced with skyrocketing growth in class inequality, Millennial activists embrace an explicitly intersectional political agenda. This generation is the most highly educated one in U.S. history, and indeed it is college-educated Millennials who have been most extensively galvanized into political activism. My address documented their role as the dominant demographic in four high-profile 21st-century social movements: Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the “Dreamers” and the campus-based activism around sexual assault (which later helped spark the multi-generational “Me Too” movement).
When I researched and wrote that piece, there was little evidence of a significant Millennial presence in the organized labor movement. In fact, young workers have been underrepresented among labor union members for decades, in part because of the scarcity of new union organizing efforts. But now that may be changing. In 2017, over three-quarters of the increase in union membership was accounted for by workers under 35 years old, as a recent Economic Policy Institute post noted. (The total number of U.S. union members in 2017 rose by about 262,ooo over the previous year, although the unionization rate was unchanged.) In addition, survey data show that Millennials express far more pro-union attitudes than their baby boomer counterparts do. Continue reading Millennials and the Labor Movement that Refuses to Die
Future Hindsight is a podcast hosted by Mila Atmos where civic engagement meets civil discourse. On last week’s show, Atmos interviewed Murphy Professor Ruth Milkman, where the two discussed the role of unions for workers, the main factors of de-unionization, and the potential leadership by millennials in this space.
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)
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)
Organized labor has suffered sharp declines in recent years. So where does this leave the labor movement? And how do New York City and State compare to the nation as a whole?
Murphy Professors Ruth Milkman and Stephanie Luce have released a new report that addresses these questions. State of the Unions 2017: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State and the United States looks at how union density has changed nationally and locally across demographics and industries over the past decades, and assesses the challenges and prospects that the labor movement faces now and in the coming years.
Explore this invaluable and accessible report here.