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Labor Notes Shares Vision for Organizing in Post-Janus America

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.

New Labor Forum Highlights, June 25th, 2018

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.

The future of public sector unions in the U.S. hangs in the balance, awaiting the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision due this week, even as soon as tomorrow. This case will decide whether public sector workers in a workplace represented by a union and benefiting from a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by that union will have to continue paying an “agency fee” to the union for the work it does on their behalf. With a public sector unionization rate five times that of the private sector rate, the expected ruling against the American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees threatens to undermine what has been a redoubt of union strength, heightening the need for bold new ideas to rebuild the labor movement.  That is what we offer here.

We begin with a provocative think-piece (due out in our September 2018 print issue) by Larry Cohen, Board Chair of Our Revolution, the successor organization to Bernie 2016, and past President of the Communications Workers of America. Cohen argues that the future of enterprise-based collective bargaining in the U.S. is bleak, and that now’s the time to move to a sectoral bargaining system, which protects industry-wide wages and conditions of employment for workers in many other countries, from South Africa to Norway. He discusses why organized labor and progressive democrats should make universal, sectoral bargaining a top demand and why it will make other victories possible.

Next we offer a strategic proposal by Luke Elliott-Negri and Marc Kagan for what may be a new opportunity to organize the tens of thousands of public sector adjuncts in New York State in the post Janus environment. This chance for organizing results from a recent law unions managed to pass in New York, intending to blunt the expected blow of the Janus decision. Unions in states like California have made similar legislative inroads that may also offer similar promising options for organizing.

Chris Brooks weighs in on the question of whether unionists should press for a “members only” brand of unionism made more likely in the wake of the anticipated Janus decision. Examining a 2011 Tennessee law targeting teachers’ unions, Brooks cautions against embracing “members only” trade unionism and the resulting competition among unions that may vie to represent workers in the same bargaining unit. He argues that inter-union competition, which has long been promoted by strategists on the right and some on the left, more often benefits employers than workers.

With this newsletter, we take a hiatus for the summer season, returning on Labor Day. In parting, we leave you with a wildly imaginative, searing poem by Alberto Rios, Arizona’s first state poet laureate. In it, he contemplates the very nature of a border, giving us all something to ponder as we respond to the fact of the thousands of children at our border, incarcerated and separated from their parents into the unknowable future.


Table of Contents

  1. The Time Has Come for Sectoral Bargaining/ Larry Cohen, New Labor Forum
  2. An Odd Twist: Might a Response to Janus Make Adjunct Organizing Easier in New York State?/ Luke Elliott-Negri and Marc Kagan, New Labor Forum
  3. The Cure is Worse than the Disease/ Chris Brooks, New Labor Forum
  4. The Border a Double Sonnet/ Alberto Rios, New Labor Forum

Photo by Richard Gillin via flickr (CC-BY-SA)

New Labor Forum Highlights: March 5th, 2018

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

  1. U.S. Union Membership Data in Perspective/ Glenn Perusek, New Labor Forum
  2. How Unions Fracture Along Economic Lines/ Todd Zwillich with Ruth Milkman, The Takeaway, WNYC, Feb 1, 2018
  3. Organized Money: What is Corporate America Thinking?-Freedom’s Janus Face/Max Fraser, New Labor Forum
  4. 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)

Photos and Video: Janus and Beyond: the Future of Public Sector Unions

Many thanks to everyone who supported our recent conference, “Janus and Beyond: the Future of Public Sector Unions,” held November 17th and sponsored by the Cornell Worker Institute and the Murphy Institute at CUNY. Over 170 union activists, leaders, staff and allies attended, coming from over 40 labor locals, councils and federations.

The energy in the rooms was palpable throughout the day. Our morning speakers underscored the urgency of the moment we face by educating us about the where the current attacks are coming from and sharing their firsthand experience of the aftermath of Harris v Quinn in Washington and “right-to-work on steroids” in Wisconsin. In the afternoon we turned to the nuts-and-bolts of best practices: preparing for Janus and going forward in a right-to-work future. Speakers shared their successes and challenges, and workshops allowed participants to drill down in the particulars of communication, member-to-member organizing, legislative campaigns, new approaches to bargaining, and more.

We were grateful to be joined by Janella Hinds, Secretary-Treasurer, NYC Central Labor Council, and UFT Vice President, who opened our conference; City Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Chair, NYC Council, Committee on Labor and Civil Service, who spoke with us during lunch; and Tony Utano, President, TWU Local 100, who shared closing remarks.

 

Conference: Janus & Beyond: The Future of Public Workers (11/17)

Friday, November 17th, 2017
9am-4pm

Murphy Institute
25 W. 43rd St., 18th Floor, New York, NY
REGISTER HERE

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.

Speakers include:

  • 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)

Announcing the 20th Anniversary Issue of New Labor Forum

The right-wing’s decades-long attack on public sector unionism is slated for a hearing before the Supreme Court later this fall in the Janus v. AFSCME case. The September 2017 issue of New Labor Forum contemplates the probable implications and strategic options facing public sector unions once the ruling is handed down.

Also under contemplation in the Fall 2017 issue is the historically troubled, but occasionally productive, relationship between organized labor and civil rights organizations. Strengthening that alliance in the years ahead will prove critical to the fate of labor and racial justice movements. The journal examines the historical obstacles to such alliances, and suggests new grounds on which to reinvigorate those efforts under current circumstances.

Subscribe to New Labor Forum and gain full access to in-depth analysis on issues like these.