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July 31, 2005

Labor Movement Debate Round-Up

Here are the latest articles in the mainstream press about what is going on in the labor movement:

10 Questions for Andrew Stern (Time Magazine Free)

Dissident unions put the focus on organizing (San Francisco Chronicle Free)

Workers Prepare for Life After AFL-CIO (Washington Post Free)

Union power: 8 companies they want now (CNN Free)

July 31, 2005 in Labor Movement Debates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Pension Crisis

Sunday's NY Times has an excellent article on what happened with the pension troubles in the airline industry.

How Wall Street Wrecked United's Pension (free-registration required)

July 31, 2005 in Current Affairs, Economy and Unions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2005

Nation Magazine on AFL-CIO split

The Nation magazine features a number of articles on labor and the split within the AFL-CIO. Of particular interest is Janice Fine's interview with a number of union leaders - Debating Labors Future:

I found this answer from Hoffa to be interesting especially in light of what the Change to Win folks are obstensibly about.

Q. James Hoffa, the Teamsters are the most general union of all. Why are you on a team that is so clearly emphasizing uniting workers by core industries? You organize in every industry. Are you going to stop doing that?

Hoffa: Absolutely not. We would not give up members. But we feel that if a union is going to get the organizing rebate money from the AFL-CIO, it should be for organizing in their core industries, not just for going out and organizing zookeepers or something like that--which we have at the San Diego Zoo. We have from A to Z in our union, airline pilots to zookeepers, but we felt that the money that comes from the rebate program should go to each union for organizing their core industries. We will never just be a trucking or transportation union. We will always be a general union, and we are not giving up our right.

July 28, 2005 in Labor Movement Debates | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Unionism

Yesterday's (7-28-05) Wall Street Journal has an important article on the split in the AFL-CIO with hints at what the dissident unions may be looking to do, especially SEIU.

Reinventing the Union (subscription required)

The climate isn't very hopeful. Union membership has fallen steadily in recent decades, particularly in industries that have seen rapid growth. Industries with a long tradition of unionization -- including auto manufacturing, airlines and grocery chains -- now are saddled with huge legacy costs for pensions and health-care benefits and are vulnerable to nonunion competitors. The United Auto Workers, despite repeated attempts, has had very little success organizing the U.S. auto assembly plants of foreign car manufacturers such as Honda Motor Co.

For many workers today, unions seem unable to offer protection against the powerful forces of globalization and technology, which have sent many factory and even white-collar jobs overseas. At the same time, corporate managements with their sophisticated human-resources departments, employee-assistance programs and "cafeteria" benefit choices have successfully countered union claims that workers could do better if they were organized under a bargaining unit.

**In an interview, Mr. Stern said he realizes the difficulties of organizing workers from disparate industries and says one of his goals is to create different kinds of unions. "First of all, we have to be sophisticated: The 1930s adversarial type unionism isn't going to apply to nurses and reporters and child-care workers," he said. "We need to create a lot of different models of unions."

For example, white-collar contract employees who move from job to job are concerned with how to get and keep benefits. Nurses are worried about staffing and quality of care. Building security guards are more interested in wages.

Among the initiatives Mr. Stern's union is studying are 401(k)-type retirement plans that wouldn't be tied to a particular employer and job-education programs, both of which could help employees as they move from job to job in an increasingly flexible economy.

July 28, 2005 in Economy and Unions, Labor Movement Debates, Organizing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 26, 2005

Wal-Mart to Take New Approach Towards Detractors

According to a front page article in today's Wall Sreet Journal, Wal-Mart Boss's Unlikely Role:
Corporate Defender-in-Chief
, Wal-Mart's CEO will start meeting with activist groups:

When Wal-Mart Stores Inc. became the world's biggest public company, it also became one of the world's biggest targets. The barrage of criticism reached a crescendo last year as Democratic presidential candidates lambasted the company's employment practices.

Over its 43-year history, Wal-Mart typically ignored its critics. But after the primaries were over, Chief Executive Lee Scott went on the offensive. Through Thomas "Mack" McLarty, a former Clinton aide and a consultant to the Bentonville, Ark., retailer, Mr. Scott arranged a September dinner in Washington, D.C., at Mr. McLarty's home with several former Clinton administration officials.

But a couple of years ago, under fire for everything from its health-care benefits to the size of its stores, Wal-Mart decided to wade into the controversy it creates and gave Mr. Scott, 56 years old, responsibility for leading the offensive. So for the past nine months, he has crisscrossed the country as Wal-Mart's defender-in-chief, grappling with activists of every persuasion, including congressmen, environmentalists and Sister Barbara Aires, a Catholic nun and longtime critic. In many ways, his personal evolution mirrors that of the company.

"Over the years, we have thought that we could sit in Bentonville, take care of customers, take care of associates and the world would leave us alone," Mr. Scott said at a Goldman Sachs investors' conference earlier this year. "It just doesn't work that way anymore."

July 26, 2005 in Wal-Mart Watch | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Taste of What's to Come?

SEIU vs AFSCME in California

AFL-CIO orders SEIU to stop recruiting from rival  (San Diego Tribune free)

Frank said many home-care workers have told AFSCME they were deceived into signing the cards and now want to rescind them.

Since 2000, the UDW has had the right to organize Riverside County workers. A home-care contract between Riverside County and the UDW expired June 30 and UDW/AFSCME is negotiating on a new contract.

Frank said the AFL-CIO decision that blocks SEIU from organizing in Riverside or interfering with UDW operations is similar to a federal court injunction issued June 30 that applies to former UDW officials. He said AFSCME probably will return to federal court to seek to block SEIU organizing efforts.

The SEIU, a 1.8 million-member union representing service workers, is one of five unions that is threatening to secede from the AFL-CIO at next week's annual convention in Chicago.

July 26, 2005 in Labor Movement Debates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

AFL-CIO Split Roundup

Sorry for the lack of posts but I have been in Chicago at the convention and have not had the time to update.

Here are links to some of the mainstream press takes on the disaffiliation of the Teamsters and SEIU.

Two Unions Quit AFL-CIO, Casting Cloud on Labor (Wall Street Journal Subscription Required)

Ambitions Are Fueling a Division of Labor (NY Times Registration Required)

Unions bolt from AFL-CIO Teamsters, SEIU lead exit from union powerhouse in biggest organized-labor split in nearly 70 years (Washington Post Registration Required)

For up to the minute coverage of what is happening there are two blogs worth monitoring.

Working Life

Oregon AFL-CIO

July 26, 2005 in Labor Movement Debates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2005

Business Writer Chimes in on the Labor Debate

From The Washington Post (registration required)

Defection Could Be Just What Organized Labor Needs

Steven Pearlstein (my comments in red)

I'll be rooting from afar this weekend for Andy Stern and all the other dissidents who threaten to break up the house of labor during its showdown convention in Chicago.

One of the best thing that ever happened to the labor movement was the split between the AFL and the CIO in 1935, creating the healthy competition that forced organized labor to retool itself for the industrial era, setting the stage for eventual reunification. The defection of Stern's Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO's largest and fastest-growing union, along with the possible departure of the Teamsters and grocery, hotel and needle workers, holds the promise of finally dragging the union movement into the 21st century.

While I am not surprised a business writer is rooting for the break up of the AFL-CIO it is astonishing that he would do so for the reasons stated. One of the more dangerous ideas floating around the labor movement debate right now is that a split in the AFL-CIO may produce "healthy competition" between unions like it supposedly did in 1935 when the CIO broke off from the AFL. This kind of sweeping statement with the chic free market rheotoric of healthy competition is dangerous and completely ahistorical.

2005 is not 1935. Unions did not grow in the 30s and 40s because of "union competition" but despite it. In 1935 the political, sociological and economic structure provided the proper incentive regime which supported the burst in union growth during that period in history. If we look around the industrialized world we will see that this not only happened in the United States but this spurt in union growth was experienced by all industrialized nations. Keep in mind systems of Industrial Relations varied widely in all these countries that experienced this growth spurt. Some countries such as Great Britian thrived under open shop conditions, many European nations allowed multiple unions within the same bargaining unit etc.

The political, sociological and economic structure of society has radically changed. Just as unions faced a worlwide growth spurt in the 30's-50's today unions are in decline worldwide. Again this decline continues despite the different ways unions have structured themselves.

Perlstein in today's follow up to the above article ( To Survive Labor Unions Need to Get Back to Their Roots ) points to Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers as a seminal moment where "the new Republican president, elected in part with the votes of union households, conferred legitimacy to strike-breaking and exposed the myth of worker solidarity" which continues another myth that it was the policies of one adminstration or a  tough president that began the decline of union membership in this country. The decline in union density was well in effect by the time Reagan took office. His action did not produce the decline in union density rather it was a signal that the incentive regime labor thrived under was gone. To put it another way, whether or not Reagan fired the air traffic controllers or not Labor would be in the exact same position today.

(More Later I need to a meeting)

July 22, 2005 in Labor Movement Debates | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Labor Debate Roundup

Here are links to recent press coverage of the AFL-CIO debate.

NY Times (registration required)

Among Dissident Union Leaders, the Backgrounds May Vary but the Vision is the Same

The above article profiles the leaders of the dissident unions

Bloomberg News (free)

AFL-CIO Beset by Troubles Braces for Split at Chicago Meeting

      July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Gayle Velner and 59,000 other California supermarket workers struck three chains in 2003 to preserve health-care benefits and wages. Nineteen weeks later, their union advised them to take a contract little changed from the companies' pre-strike offer that cut pay and benefits for new hires.         


``A lot of people think the union gave in,'' said Velner, 59, a checker for 16 years at Albertson's Inc., one of the strike targets.         


The failed strike was a blow to the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, which has found itself on the losing end of battles with corporations determined to pass along health care costs to employees at a time when private-sector union membership has dipped below 8 percent, the lowest level since the 1920s.         

July 22, 2005 in Labor Movement Debates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2005

Will Some Unions Boycott AFL-CIO Convention?

Today's NY Times (registration required)

Dissidents Threaten Labor Convention Boycott

Leaders of several dissident unions warned yesterday that they might shun next week's A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention in Chicago unless the labor federation's president, John J. Sweeney, agreed to some of their demands.

The possibility that those unions - the service employees, Teamsters, food and commercial workers and Unite Here - would boycott the convention signals that the four might carry out their threat to quit the federation, labor leaders said.


July 20, 2005 in Labor Movement Debates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack