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Bad Week for Workers at the Supreme Court

By Penny Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute. 

It’s been a bad week for workers and unions at the US Supreme Court (not to mention women and families in general).  Last week, in NLRB v. Noel Canning, the Court affirmed the lower court decision that three appointments to the labor board made by President Obama in 2012 were invalid.  In the 18 months that these board members served, 436 cases were decided.  As the Washington Post reports, the current board will likely reaffirm the decisions it must revisit, but it’s not clear yet whether the effect of the ruling will be to force large scale revisiting of the decided cases, an outcome which would create a major backlog for the board. 

Worse, in the long and short terms, was the verdict in Harris v. Quinn, the case that the labor movement has been following with fearful anticipation for the past year.  Creating a new employee category of “partial public employee,” Alito’s majority decision found that such workers were not obliged to pay fees to unions that represented them if they were not members of the union themselves.  Putting the decision in historical context, Jane McAlevey points out

Harris v. Quinn takes aim at public-sector workers precisely because today they are the largest segment of unionized workers and, not coincidentally, a leading source of employment for people of color and women. The efforts of today’s economic elite to inflict a Taft-Hartley on the fastest-growing group of workers within public sector unions — home-care and childcare employees — seem like déjà vu.

While public sector unions dodged the worst outcome for now—which would be overturning all agency fees in the public sector— the decision written by Justice Alito lays groundwork for overturning Abood, the 1977 decision that allows unions to address the problem of “free riders” by charging agency fees for non-members in unionized workplaces.  For excellent coverage (and links to even more coverage) see On Labor.

Penny Lewis is Academic Director of Labor Studies and an Associate Professor of Labor Studies at The Murphy Institute.

Photo by Steve Rhodes via flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND).

Harris v. Quinn: Separate, and not equal

Jane McAlevey is working on her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center.  This article was originally posted on Waging Nonviolence

It’d be more than alarming and resoundingly condemned if any institution in the United States tried to take our country back to the days before Dred Scott, or to when people of color in this country fell under the racist and dehumanizing “three-fifths rule.” But the Supreme Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn smacks of a new three-fifths rule by declaring the fastest growing occupation in the nation — an occupation dominated by people of color and women — as made up of “partial” or “quasi” public employees. The Harris decision, which concludes that workers who provide essential government services to the frail and elderly aren’t “full” public employees, is best understood in the context of two other seminal moments when U.S. lawmakers stacked the deck for employers and against people of color and women trying to improve their lot in life by forming strong unions.

Continue reading Harris v. Quinn: Separate, and not equal

Temporary (6 Week) Position with SEIU Local 32BJ

The Contracts and Grievance Center of SEIU Local 32BJ is looking for a temporary, six-week, assistant in our New York City office. The assistant will help us ensure that members’ workplace disputes have been resolved and properly documented. The temporary assistant will review grievance files, interact with our members regarding their workplace issues, update our database with information obtained from members, coordinate with staff for appropriate follow up, and make sure that files are complete.

Essential Job Requirements:
(1) Communication and Interpersonal skills: The temporary assistant will have extensive contact with our members and must have strong listening and communication skills.
(2) Strong Writing and Computer Skills: The temporary assistant will be required to use the 32BJ databases and electronic grievance tracking systems during the performance of their job duties. Must also have strong writing skills for summarizing conversations with members and others.
(3) Written and Oral Bilingual Skills: Spanish/English.
(4) Must be able to work independently, manage a high volume workload, maintain organized files and thoroughly document all aspects of work.

Primary Duties: The temporary assistant will be responsible for assisting us work through grievance files to ensure that grievances have been resolved or moved to the next appropriate step in the grievance process, and that files slated for closing are complete. Candidates must be well organized, thorough, able to work independently, and have excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

32BJ is seeking to fill the position immediately. This is a temporary position and is based in Local 32BJ’s New York City office. Please email a letter of interest, resume, and references to Vanessa Andrews at vandrews<at>seiu32bj<dot>org.

32BJ is an equal opportunity employer. People of color and women are encouraged to apply.

Readers Responses to: Thoughts on Union Structures, Labor History And Union Member Consciousness

Last week we posted a piece from Nick Unger about union structures, labor history and union member consciousness. Below, you can find seven responses from readers of The Murphy Institute Blog.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of Nick Unger’s Series, coming soon.

From Gene Carroll at The Worker Institute at Cornell

A few years back Rutgers professor Janice Fine expressed to a forum on worker centers that “labor unions are difficult to join.” Nick Unger’s deconstruction of the Wagner Act’s impact on working class mobilization and consciousness reminded me of her keen insight.  The new forms of labor organizations that have emerged (worker centers, alt. labor) with some support from but still largely independent of traditional unions, is one result of, and a reaction to, how the Wagner Act has painted unions into a corner…structurally and vision-wise.  How do we make these new organizational forms sustainable without actual collective bargaining contracts and its benefits, which exist alongside of the internal contractions Nick explores?  How can labor’s new forms of leverage help unions to become much less difficult to join?  What is the relationshiop between the previous two questions?  Thank you, brother Unger, for sharing your thinking labor.

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Recap of Last Night’s Diversity Scholarship Event at The Murphy Institute

John Mogulescu Is the Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs and Dean of the School of Professional Studies

Last night  the Murphy Institute hosted the second annual Promoting Diversity and Excellence in Union Leadership and Labor Scholarship Reception.  It was a wonderful evening.  Four emerging labor leaders received the 2014 Rising Leader Awards.  That was followed by the awarding of the first five Murphy Institute Scholarships for Diversity in Labor.  The scholarships had been initiated by former Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, who provided initial financial support of $100,000 in 2013, with the possibility of an additional $400,000 depending on our ability to raise matching funds.  The overall potential for scholarships assuming that we meet the match is close to $1 million.

Chancellor Milliken kicked off the evening with greetings.  He reinforced the commitment of the University to the scholarship program, congratulated the winners and Murphy Director Greg Mantsios, and emphasized the importance of the labor movement to the city of New York.  The Chancellor was gracious and supportive.

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Strategic Researcher at the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA)

The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) is seeking to hire a Strategic Researcher in its New York City office. NYSNA is a dynamic, progressive 37,000-member union and professional association that represents both public and private-sector nurses, throughout NYS.

We are committed to winning strong contracts, making legislative gains and building the public image of our dedicated, professional registered nurse members.

To meet our organizational goals, we need research professionals:

  • Excellent writing, analytical, computer and data skills required.
  • Experience in analysis of the health care industry, financing and/or economic development and labor research is necessary.
  • Knowledge of public and private sector health care and nursing is a plus.
  • BA required/Master’s preferred.
  • Our work environment requires individuals who can work as part of a team, take initiative on key issues and balance multiple projects, to meet the needs of our members in bargaining and organizing.

Interested individuals send letter of interest, resume and writing sample to Sonja Harris, Director, Human Resources, NYSNA, 131 West 33rd Street, 4th Fl., New York, NY 10001 or send email to employment@nysna.org.

NYSNA is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, sexual orientation or any other characteristic protected by law.