January 25, 2008
Government Reports First Rise in Union Membership in 25 Years
According to the annual BLS Union Membership News Release, the number of workers belonging to unions rose for the first time in 25 years.
In 2007, the number of workers belonging to a union rose by 311,000 to
15.7 million, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics
reported today. Union members accounted for 12.1 percent of employed wage
and salary workers, essentially unchanged from 12.0 percent in 2006. In
1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the
union membership rate was 20.1 percent. Some highlights from the 2007
--Workers in the public sector had a union membership rate nearly five
times that of private sector employees.
--Education, training, and library occupations had the highest unioniz-
ation rate among all occupations, at 37.2 percent, followed closely
by protective service occupations at 35.2 percent.
--Among demographic groups, the union membership rate was highest for
black men and lowest for Hispanic women.
--Wage and salary workers ages 45 to 54 (15.7 percent) and ages 55 to
64 (16.1 percent) were more likely to be union members than were
workers ages 16 to 24 (4.8 percent).
Read the entire news release HERE
January 11, 2008
Starbucks Anti-Union Campaign Revealed in E-Mails
From the Wall Street Journal
A series of emails by Starbucks Corp. managers sheds light on the company's efforts to thwart union organizing among its baristas.
The emails, which are part of a labor-dispute proceeding in New York and were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, open a rare window onto the company's labor relations practices. Labor experts not involved with the case said the activity is not illegal. But the emails could prove embarrassing because they show managers using various methods to identify pro-union employees.
In other emails, managers discuss employee relationships to discern their union preferences. In one case, managers sought information about a Halloween party employees attended, and noted that a discussion about the union between two employees ended in part because they "were attracted to each other and this became the focus of their evening."
September 10, 2007
Fruits of Our Labor has a good post on Union Busting:
More people than at any time in the past 35 years need unions, but aggressively anti-union tactics in the private sector have taken away or suppressed worker's rights to organize. This process has been greatly assisted by a mass media which is extremely hostile to organized labor across the board (newspapers, magazines, television, radio and movies). Finally, the linking of liberal and Democratic Party causes to organized labor has made labor's political agenda subservient to these other forces.
September 09, 2007
Secret History of the Free Market
This looks like it will be an interesting book/film. One thought that comes to mind is if the labor movement was also the product of a shock. I believe there is a Richard Freeman paper that touches upon that.
September 05, 2007
United Auto Workers vs Toyota Round 16
There are two troubling facts about the U.S. auto industry.
1. US Auto employers' US operations have been in decline for the past 20 years resulting in plant closings and layoffs.
2. Foreign Automakers have been opening plants up in the United States at a fast pace, but the US autoworkers union has been unable to organize any of them.
As time goes on more than half of all automobiles made in the USA will be made at foreign owned auto plants by non-union workers. For the current and retired members of the UAW it is important that the union establish a presence and foothold within these foreign plants. Yesterday's NY Times featured an article suggesting that the UAW's luck may be changing for the better.
Hardly a Union Hotbed (NY Times Login Required)
September 03, 2007
Mexican Trucks On a Highway Near You
The Teamsters Union's request to halt a Bush Administration plan to allow trucks from Mexico on U.S. highways has been rejected by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This move will affect both union and non-union truckers further shaking up the labor market and U.S. trucking firms. The Bush Administration's plan will also compromise border control and highway safety. I am a bit surprised there isn't more of an uproar over this.
The plan will only be in effect for a year as a test or experiment. I guess next year at some point they will tally up how many fatalities were caused by unsafe trucks from Mexico and then decide on whether or not to expand the program?
I don't know the full extent of the program i.e. how will they ensure these vehicles meet U.S. standards, what labor laws will govern these drivers etc but I will look into it.
September 02, 2007
Happy Labor Day - Wall Street Style
It never fails.
This time of year (Labor Day weekend) the business press is always full of editorials and articles denouncing labor unions. Today's Wall Street Journal ( The Strange Career of Affirmative Action )dedicates half of a page to an op-ed on how labor union's introduced the concept of affirmative action in the early 1900's as a way of protecting white workers. Upon finishing the article one who did not know better would assume labor unions were one of the primary institutional players fighting against the civil rights of African-Americans.
While it is certainly true that some unions had a racist agenda the majority played a significant role in the struggle for racial equality and still play a progressive role to this day. I should not be surprised since this type of intellectual dishonesty is to be expected from the business press.
Yet even better are the op-eds that ignore economics and use simple arguments to draw erroneous conclusions. Such can be found ain today's Barrons.
Thomas Donlan writes:
AMERICAN CAPITALISTS HAVE strong reasons to celebrate on Labor Day. The holiday has become a hollow celebration for organized labor, because the power of unions continues to decline in the private sector. Partly in consequence, American labor productivity continues to lead the world, and brings prosperity to Americans in just proportion to their achievements.
Productivity, after all, does not measure how hard workers work. It measures how well capitalists invest, and how well managers manage. The tools purchased by capitalists and the working conditions set by managers enable workers to turn out more product per work hour. When unions impose work rules in the name of job preservation and seek wages beyond the value of their members' labor, they strangle productivity increases.
Let's start with Donlan's suggestion that productivity is a measure of how well capitalist's invest. When union's raise wages within an industry or firm they provide incentives for firms to invest in labor saving technologies and for other firms to invent and produce such technologies. Firms that have a constant supply of cheap labor tend not to invest in innovative labor saving technologies that serve to increase productivity.
Another thought that comes to mind is if the productivity increases Donlan refers to are actually the result of the tools purchased by capital and lower wages? What about Multi-Factor Productivity? This type of productivity which is also sometimes referred to as "free-lunch" productivity typically counts for more than half of all productivity growth. The main component of multi-factor productivity is technological innovation. Of course the primary new technology of this economy is the internet (you know, that project born from bureaucrats in the government making R&D investments).
And what about the working conditions "set by managers" that Donlan suggests enables workers to be more productive? Human Resource managers have spent years trying to create workplaces which mimic unionized workplaces in that managers get open and honest feedback from the workforce in order to create these better working conditions but to do so without the workers actually having a union. These attempts are largely unsuccessful because of course who is going to give open and honest feedback without being protected from the arbitrary wrath of bosses and managers?
What worries me most is when the business milieu (and labor for that matter) begins to believe its own propaganda and the above two articles are indicative of that.
October 15, 2005
Chapter 11 Weapon
FInancial Times Columnist John Gapper blows the Delphi Chapter 11 wide open in his most recent column. I provide a link and excerpts below:
John Gapper: The Danger of Rewriting Chapter 11 (Financial Times subscription required)
Steve Miller, chief executive of Delphi, was in New York this Monday to explain why he was putting the Michigan automotive parts supplier into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. “We are broke,” he said, holding his hands in the air. “I am sorry to be the one delivering that message.”
Mr Miller did not look very sorry. In fact, he seemed like someone whose bargaining position with his employees had just become a lot stronger. Instead of having to wheedle unions into accepting cuts in pay and benefits for Delphi’s 34,000 hourly-paid US workers, he can threaten them with the company defaulting on its defined-benefit pension plan.
Organised labour, meet organised capital. Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code used to be regarded as a bizarre US arrangement allowing a troubled company’s managers to stay at the helm and restructure instead of being kicked out by the creditors. Eastern Airlines went into Chapter 11 in 1989 and remained there for two years losing money before collapsing.
These days, managers and creditors are often on the same side from the start. Chapter 11 has become a device for reasserting management fiat over workers with the backing of bankers. Financiers have forced steel industry employees who were used to being highly paid to accept lower wages and fewer benefits. Delphi’s Chapter 11 filing suggests Detroit’s workers and retirees are next in line.
The way that Delphi is handling its bankruptcy shows how things have changed. David Skeel, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, says the interests of managers and creditors have been aligned by two things: companies are supported – and controlled – with specialist financing and managers are given very large financial incentives to act rapidly and to take tough decisions.
All of this carries a price. They say you should not visit a sausage factory if you like eating sausages and in this case the ingredients being ground up for profits are health and (perhaps) pension rights. It does not take a union activist to be disturbed by the prospect of Delphi workers losing benefits that they dedicated their lives to gaining by working there.
The stark contrast between workers’ losses and managers’ gains was one reason for changes to Chapter 11 in the bankruptcy reforms that come into effect next week. The new law bars companies from paying managers Chapter 11 bonuses and limits the time during which they have the sole right to propose a restructuring plan. Managerial prerogative, as well as wealth, is taking a haircut.
September 01, 2005
Business Week Comes Down on AMFA's Northwest Strike
The latest Business Week features a critical article on the strike against Northwest. I provide a link and excerpts below:
This Hardball Union Is Striking Out
Since founding an airline mechanics union behind the ongoing Northwest Airlines strike four decades ago, labor leader O.V. Delle-Femine has built its membership on a core principle: Make no wage concessions to management. For years that position worked, allowing the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Assn. to raid existing unions at such airlines as Southwest Airlines (LUV ) and United Airlines (UALAQ ) to swell its ranks.
Now the Northwest (NWAC ) walkout seems likely to spell the death knell for hard-line labor positions in the troubled airline industry. Many of the mechanics who quit the much larger International Association of Machinists in favor of AMFA's tough approach probably won't get their jobs back. Their likely defeat will reverberate among other unionized airline workers, too, dampening any idea that Delle-Femine's go-it-alone tactics are worth emulating.
Instead, airline workers at most major carriers will continue to face painful wage and benefit adjustments as their employers struggle to cope in a fiercely competitive, loss-plagued industry. The Northwest strike "will cause the collapse of AMFA," predicts Ray Abernathy, president of Abernathy Associates, a Washington (D.C.) consulting firm that advises unions on strategy.
CRAFT POWER. More broadly, AMFA's uphill struggle illustrates just how weakened organized labor has become across the economy. True, airline unions operate under special federal laws that don't apply to auto workers or most other labor groups. But the ease with which Northwest has replaced 4,300 skilled mechanics shows how vulnerable virtually every kind of employee has become.
AFMA has tried to re-create worker clout based on an outdated notion of craft power more suited to the early 20th century than to today's globalized, deregulated economy. "Workers have to organize in bigger unions across whole sectors" or they will fail, says Bruce Raynor, president of UNITE/HERE, the needle trades and hotel workers union.
June 06, 2005
Retail Union Embarks on New Strategy to Empower NY's Lowest Paid Retail Workers
Today's NY Times features an article on a new strategy being undertaken by the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU/UFCW) and a community organization Make the Road by Walking to empower NYC's lowest paid retail workers:
Like many shopping strips in immigrant neighborhoods, Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick is overflowing with 99-cent stores, cuchifrito stands, sneaker shops - and egregious wage and hour violations.
At the Super Star 99 discount store at 353 Knickerbocker, employees say they work 63 hours a week for $260, which works out to $4.13 an hour, far below the state minimum wage of $6 an hour and the federal minimum of $5.15.
At the Nuevo Mexico restaurant at 276 Knickerbocker, Patricia Reyes, a 29-year-old waitress and cook, said she received just $165 a week, including tips, for 72 hours of work, which comes to $2.29 an hour.
And at Footco, a bustling sneaker shop at 431 Knickerbocker, workers said they earned $4.75 an hour working more than 50 hours a week.
Concerned about the high rate of wage violations, Make the Road by Walking and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union have adopted an unusual strategy. They are collecting information about violations from scores of workers on Knickerbocker Avenue. The two groups plan to confront storeowners with this evidence and give them a choice: either face a lawsuit or government action seeking maximum back pay, or agree to unionization and face a less aggressive push for back pay.
The retail union and Make the Road by Walking say that a half century ago, half of Knickerbocker Avenue's stores were unionized, but that just two were now. The groups assert that unionization would be preferable to occasional back-pay settlements because it would mean long-term improvements in wages and benefits.
"The State Department of Labor is completely overwhelmed and doesn't seem to have enough commitment or resources to do the job properly," said Andrew Friedman, a co-director of Make the Road by Walking. "My sense is many folks are very scared to stand up and complain because they worry about losing their jobs and because they have a perception that the State Labor Department isn't interested in protecting the rights of immigrants."