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New Labor Forum Highlights: September 17th, 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.

How far we’ve come since Anita Hill’s riveting testimony during the Clarence Thomas nomination hearings twenty-seven years ago! Now that the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault has come forward, his hasty confirmation appears far less certain. His accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, says she’s willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Should she do so, her statements are likely to acquire a heightened credence made possible by the #MeToo movement. With this news in mind, we offer Beyond #MeToo, an article from the current issue of New Labor Forum by social analyst Judith Levine. Levine surveys the working-class branch of the #MeToo movement and assesses the options—from the courts to unions to consciousness raising—available to blue-collar, service, and care workers as they confront widespread workplace sexual harassment.

We also draw your attention to a recent report by The National Women’s Law Project titled, Out of the Shadows: An Analysis of Sexual Harassment Charges Filed by Working Women. This report includes the findings that, between 2012 and 2016, Millenials and Gen Xers filed sexual harassment charges with the EEOC at over double the rate of Baby Boomers; and black women were disproportionately represented among those who filed complaints. Evidence included in the report shows that, although an estimated 87 to 94 percent of those harmed by sexual harassment never file a legal complaint, the tides are now turning.

The National Women’s Law Project has also produced an analysis of The Record of Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Critical Legal Rights for Women, which points to multiple causes for concern to women, people of color, and workers. High on the list of the concerns enumerated in the report would be Kavanaugh’s predisposition toward limiting individual rights. Kavanaugh is quoted saluting former Chief Justice for “stemming the general tide of freewheeling judicial creation of un-enumerated rights that were not rooted in the nation’s history and tradition.” Among those un-enumerated rights, one might argue, are indeed the very constitutional amendments upon which so many of us have come to rely.

Table of Contents

  1. Beyond #MeToo/ Judith Levine, New Labor Forum
  2. Out of the Shadows: An Analysis of Sexual Harassment Charges Filed by Working Women/ Amanda Rossie, Jasmine Tucker and Kayla Patrick, National Women’s Law Center
  3. The Record of Brett M. Kavanaugh on Critical Legal Rights for Women/ National Women’s Law Center

Photo by Charles Edward Miller via flickr (cc-by-sa)

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)

Supreme Court Won’t Weigh in on Age Discrimination in Hiring Practices

Amid the shockwaves from the Supreme Court yesterday — in particular the decision to allow parts of President Trump’s travel ban to go into effect until the court hears arguments this fall — came a decision that got notably less attention. The court has decided not to hear a case involving age-discrimination, allowing a lower court ruling to stand. From a ProPublica article in March:

For the past half century, federal law has banned employers from discriminating against people based on their age. But since the early 1990s, corporate lawyers and conservative judges have sought to shrink what counts as discrimination, making it substantially harder to prove age bias. […]

The case involves an Atlanta man named Richard Villarreal, who applied online for a sales manager job with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in 2007 and heard nothing. When he applied in subsequent years, he had no better luck.

What Villarreal, who was 49 at the time of his first application, didn’t know was that Reynolds had retained a subcontractor to review the applications, supplying guidelines that led reviewers to discard his resume and those of almost 20,000 other older applicants. Of the roughly 1,000 sales managers the tobacco company hired between 2007 and 2010, when Villarreal was applying, fewer than a score were over the age of 40. After a whistleblower emerged in 2010, Villarreal sued.

The significance of the case is two-fold. It highlights the hurdles for job seekers as hiring has increasingly moved online, where it’s easier for companies to reject whole classes of applicants and harder for people to keep track of their bids for work. And it illustrates how age discrimination protections have been progressively narrowed. The tobacco company’s defense challenges decades of precedent for how the law has been interpreted and enforced. Continue reading Supreme Court Won’t Weigh in on Age Discrimination in Hiring Practices

Time to double down: What the demise of Friedrichs means for labor

By Allison Porter

When Antonin Scalia died in Texas last month, public sector unions got some breathing room.  Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association — the case that was expected to overturn Abood vs Detroit Board of Ed in April — is likely to languish in a 4-4 stalemate until a new justice is appointed.  The danger, of course, is that unions will slow down or even stop the internal reforms that were underway. Instead of putting on the breaks, they should see this gift of time as an opportunity to be even more innovative and aggressive in transforming their organizations.

Unions have good reason to resent the open shop.  The average person does not want to pay for what they can get for free.  Federal law recognized this “free-rider” problem in upholding the right to collect fair share fees and it is a cynical and calculated agenda that is fighting against it. Unfortunately, the legal trend is against us on this one. In the Friedrichs arguments we got an up close look at the future: fast or slow, fair or unfair, labor is losing fair share. 

Whenever there is an existential threat, we humans are shocked out of complacency. It gets our attention.  However, it can also result in panic, paralysis and short term thinking.  In taking Friedrichs to the brink, and then pulling back, history gave unions a look into the abyss without having to take the actual fall.  This is a gift that we need to appreciate.  

It’s important to learn from both what the threat revealed about the internal workings of unions and what their response revealed about their readiness for change. Continue reading Time to double down: What the demise of Friedrichs means for labor

Scalia’s Death & The Future of Labor

The death of Antonin Scalia has marked a significant and surprising development in US politics. Republican senators are vowing to reject any nominee Obama makes to the court and attempting to call into question the legitimacy of the President making a nomination at all, while Obama, the Democrats, and most of the attention-paying public are baffled by this anti-constitutional posturing, all in the name of so-called constitutional filiality.

Of course, however this political showdown turns out, one thing is for certain: Scalia’s departure means things will be shaken up. Whether a new Justice is appointed during Obama’s term or not, the Court is down one arch-conservative, leaving only eight justices behind to wrestle with the cases remaining on the docket.

This year, one of the most controversial cases on the Supreme Court is slated to be Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. At issue is the union’s right to collect “agency fees,” and the implications of the decision will be far reaching. Will public sector unions be able to sustain themselves through the collecting of fees from public sector workers?

In this case, Scalia’s death is likely to mean a 4-4 decision on the case, sending the decision back to the victor in the lower court, which, in this case, was the union. Alternatively, the case could be re-argued once a new justice is appointed — whenever that may be. Continue reading Scalia’s Death & The Future of Labor

Friedrichs Case, Unions and the Public Sector

By Penny Lewis

The Friedrichs case argued before the Supreme Court yesterday will decide the near-term fate of public sector unions in the United States. In this and the next blog post I am mulling over the roots and implications of this case; in the next I want to consider what it means for us here at CUNY and our current contract fight.

The basic issue facing the Court is whether the “agency fees” collected by public unions from public workers violate the first amendment rights of non-union workers. The plaintiffs are making the case that, because bargaining in the public sector involves issues like merit pay, public workers who do not support the positions their unions take on such issues are being forced to pay for political speech with which they disagree. (For more background on the case, please look here and here.)

The ideological — and more importantly, material — roots of this argument lie in the decades long assault launched by conservative groups, their corporate funders and their political allies to discredit and dismantle the collective power of workers.

Continue reading Friedrichs Case, Unions and the Public Sector