Starting off with national developments:
- Via the Workers Independent News, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that union membership increased tremendously last year. Labor unions organized a net 213,000 new union members last year, holding overall union density steady at 12.5 %.
I can’t overstate the importance of these numbers. For the first time in over a decade, we can now say that union membership is not on the decline. All the gloom and doom talk about the inevitable extinction of labor unions (which I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more of for a while to come) is a mere corporatist fantasy. Hopefully, when we look back in another decade, we will realize that the year 2005 was a turning point in the US labor movement.
Working Life gives some insight into the strategy behind these numbers. More and more unions are turning to the card check process instead of the NLRB process. With the card check process, employers agree to recognize a union if at least 50% of the eligible employees sign cards indicating their willingness to join. With the NLRB process, the union forces a binding vote on unionization by collecting cards from 30% of the eligible employees. The union is recognized (whether or not the employer agrees) if a majority of workers agree to unionize. In practice, the card check process tends to stifle employer opposition and anti-union tactics much more so than the NLRB process.
Republicans in the House, led by Charlie Norwood (R-GA) are trying to close off the card check route. On the other side, there is legislation pending to make card checks the route to unionization even without the employer’s agreement. The latter bill will never see the light of day as long as Bush is President. One thing we can do in Massachusetts is to pass similar legislation. Such legislation would instantly make Massachusetts the most pro-labor state in the country.
By the way, in case anyone’s counting, here are some off-the-cuff calculations based on very simplistic assumptions: last year’s round of organizing will bring in around 140,000 new Democratic votes and will provide the labor movement with about $77 million more in union dues.
Now what was the margin of victory in Ohio in 2004? I can’t seem to remember.
- Change To Win is putting together a “Make Work Pay” campaign scheduled for the last week of April. The campaign is a massive 2,000-organizer, 35-city affair, targeting public awareness as much as it targets corporate policies. The goal is to align the labor movement with the middle class. At its convention in Las Vegas, the labor federation set up “cross-union campaign teams” whose jobs are to coordinate organizing across unions in each of the 35 cities:
Breakout sessions are being held to allow each of the teams to determine what targets they should concentrate on in their individual cities or states. …”We are creating a new model for cross-union organizing,” [CTW Chair Anna] Burger said. The goal of the teams will be to create strong local organizations that include unions as well as community activists that will have the power to let employers know that when they oppose any group of workers that is trying to organize, they will not be confronted by one union, but by seven unions that represent nearly 6 million workers.”
It’s hard to say how much of this is press release gobbledygook and how much will actually result in new union members. Working Life appears unconvinced so far.
By the way, did you notice the number of organizers involved? 2,000. According to some estimates, that is the number of movement conservatives and apparatchiks employed by the vast array of conservative think tanks, leadership institutes, and politburos, nationwide. I don’t think the numbers are directly comparable, but it’s an interesting coincidence.
- Following the formation of an AFL-CIO Industry Coordinating Council that focuses on organizing nurses, the United American Nurses have announced the creation of an $8 million fund dedicated to organizing.
- The Center for Union Facts, a virulently anti-union corporatist website, was launched a few weeks ago. The AFL-CIO posts a hilarious take on this inaccurate slam site.
… and if you think that’s plenty, check out your Massachusetts labor movement:
- David at Blue Mass Group points to the possibility of a Boston-area transit strike if the MBTA and its unions can’t agree to a contract by June 30. Let’s hope that the two sides do agree to a contract, although bear in mind that the transit workers in New York showed that commuters will support the union under almost any conditions. Despite perhaps the worst possible timing, polls showed that New Yorkers, including low-income New Yorkers, strongly supported the transit workers.
David’s take appears to be that the transit workers are already getting a plum deal and shouldn’t complain, but I beg to differ. They are working hard and getting pretty decent middle-class salaries (around $55,000), that’s true – but isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? Hard work should be rewarded by good, decent salaries. The current contract contains anemic raises – 0%, 2%, 3% and 4% in years 1-4, respectively. And don’t forget, inflation averages right around 3% a year, so really the workers don’t see a pay raise until year 4.
One thing I hope the workers and the T agree to is a 5-year contract. It’s clear that the Governor’s race will provide a major X-factor in these negotiations. So why not schedule the next expiration until after the next Governor’s race? The political landscape will be a lot more stable at that point, and both sides will be able to negotiate with a better understanding of their respective positions.
- The Right to Organize campaign continues at Harvard. The deadline for Harvard to respond to the Student Labor Action Movement’s list of demands has passed, but you can still sign their petition (as I did).
- Carpenters Local 40, one of Cambridge’s feistiest and most active locals, is demanding that a new housing development in Cambridgeport use union labor or face a string of picketing carpenters. State Rep. Marty Walz and City Councillor Tim Toomey are behind the carpenters. One of the investors on the project, interestingly, is Bruce Herzfelder, a Republican who worked for the Romney administration. A major question for the union is whether the Board of Zoning Appeals will allow the project to continue, in light of stiff opposition from a neighborhood group.
- The Massachusetts Nursing Association is protesting low staffing levels at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, according to Workers Independent News.
Over at Blue Mass Group, Charley on the MTA asks why labor appears to be so marginalized in state politics. I’d like to think it’s because they are busily organizing away. Certainly Change to Win has its hand full these days, with m
ajor campaigns including the Hotel Workers Rising effort and SEIU’s campaign to organize security guards.
As for the governor’s race, my guess (and probably that of every armchair pundit) is that labor will side for the most part with Reilly in the Governor’s race. The fact that Reilly recently announced his support for indexing the minimum wage to inflation in Massachusetts, and Patrick didn’t, probably doesn’t help Patrick’s cause much. I still think Patrick could pull a Nixon-in-China on a really crucial issue, like a private sector card check law, but we’ll have to wait and see.