How can labor unions grow in the United States?
February 8, 2012 1:58 AM   Subscribe

What (and where) is the best current thinking on the future of the labor movement in the United States?

I'm interested primarily in people who discuss union growth. Questions of interest include:

- What rate of growth is required to dramatically increase union density from the current level, which is 7% of workers.

- What organizing methods are required for such growth?

- What policy changes are required for such growth?

- How could labor law be updated to reflect the changing domestic and global economy?

I'm familiar in broad strokes with the Employee Free Choice Act, the project labor agreements in Community Benefit Agreements, and so on and so forth. What I'd really like to read is some really forward-looking articles on an ambitious but plausible future for the labor movement.

posted by kensington314 to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The past model of many labor unions was based on industry that employed large groups of full time, long-term workers. Those types of industries are long gone from the US and so the largest bulk of union members lies in the public sector and in various trades. Right-wing idealists are chipping away at those unions through harsh legislation which takes away their bargaining power and controls.

The main way to grow is stop unfair legislation pushed by corporate lobbyists. Most of this legislation strangles the ability of unions to freely bargain and to represent their workers against unfair policies. Propaganda from these corporate lobbyists is being used to turn public opinion against unionized employees. That in itself will take time to reverse and without public opinion to support unions, old unfair laws cannot be reversed and new anti-union laws cannot be stopped.

There are plenty of good blogs out there which discuss unions and may be the best source for discussions of the future:

As far as academic sites, University of California, Berkeley has a portal site which has plenty of useful links and information.
posted by JJ86 at 6:31 AM on February 8, 2012

I would echo JJ86's suggestions. Also check out:
New Labor Forum
Labor Studies Journal
Labor Notes
Employment Policy Research Network
Workplace Prof Blog
LabourStart (more international, not just US)
Columns by John Logan (can figure out a direct link) in The Hill
Labor articles in The Nation
posted by cushie at 6:44 AM on February 8, 2012

An American Left perspective.

I would emphasize Cushie's links. Note that New Labor Forum tends to have more academic establishment types, and Labor Notes tends to have more perspectives from street-level activists.
posted by univac at 8:54 AM on February 8, 2012

The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor might also be helpful to read; it's an analysis (from a pro-labor, pro-worker perspective) of internal problems with union structure, strategy, etc., that have additionally hobbled the labor movement in recent years, and which will have to be overcome to successfully take on the right-wing employers' offensive that's been going on for so long.
posted by scody at 9:22 AM on February 8, 2012

I'd be very interested to hear what you dig up on big-picture commentary. My comment here isn't going to help you much on the big-picture, but within the little-picture analysis there might be some things that help you.

Many employment law blogs are fairly decent at discussing the individual trees in the forest. Cushie has a great list, here are some blogs (by lawyers) writing to the management side:
Littler's LawMemo Employment Blog
KJK's Ohio Employer's Law Blog (recent entries are general employment but he blogs about traditional labor issues, too)

In relatively recent commentary on the NLRB's proposed rulemaking changes and its notice posting requirements, there has been some big-picture commentary. There's a lot of political invective in that commentary, but there's also been some interesting big-picture stuff there, I think.

Also, it may be totally lost-in-the-weeds and perhaps only of interest to labor law wonks, but there's ample commentary on the NLRB's recent Specialty Healthcare decision (see, e.g., here and here) and some hand-wringing about it.

The ABA Labor & Employment section has some good "summary" publications about the state of labor law. BNA's Daily Labor Report has lots of ongoing news coverage of similar issues, too, so your Lexis/Nexis subscription (and some time spent searching those individual publications) might be useful there.

Also, FWIW, I think a lot of the recent scholarship on labor law and unionization has been harmed by the politicization of the academy. It's too easy to dismiss an article as being "management side" or "pro-union", but at least in my experience there's a dearth of neutral academic literature or prognostication out there right now. (Although it's certainly possible I've just missed them.)
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:22 AM on February 8, 2012

Here are some other interesting reads to add to your list:

Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes A Movement by Julius Getman

(about changing organizing strategies and making unions more of a social movement)

The Blue Eagle at Work: Reclaiming Democratic Rights in the American Workplace by Charles J. Morris

(this is an interesting idea about non-majority unionism, where the union doesn't recognize the entire bargaining unit but only bargains on behalf of members)

The UFCW is trying a new campaign with Walmart, Our Walmart, by creating an employee committee that focuses on improving the workplace but without traditional organizing and collective bargaining. Note that this is still considered protected concerted activity under the NLRA.

There is also organizing going on among workers who aren't covered by the National Labor Relations Act, such as farm workers, domestic workers, workers such as taxi drivers (who are often considered independent contractors), and day laborers. A lot of this organizing involves immigrant workers and it often uses worker centers as a base, along with legislative advocacy, legal strategies, and publicity campaigns as opposed to organizing through NLRB-type elections. Some examples are Caring Across Generations and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (tomato pickers in Florida).
posted by bbq_ribs at 3:42 PM on February 8, 2012

Two progressive thinkers in labor academia (they often work together):
Dorian Warren
Kate Bronfenbrenner

Very generally, there are two opposing camps, the AFL-CIO approach (organizing through NLRB elections, progress through legal reforms using the standard lobbyist channels) and the Change to Win approach (strategic corporate campaigns, grassroots efforts).
posted by melissasaurus at 4:06 PM on February 8, 2012

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