Labor news roundup
by Shai Sachs, Sat Sep 29, 2007 at 06:39:37 AM EDT
There's been a lot going on in labor news lately. The UAW strike was the big story, but there's more: another state joined the ranks of card-check states (where public employees may organize through card-check campaigns); Change to Win had its second annual convention; and the Teamsters suffered a setback in their School Bus Workers United campaign. Follow me across the flip for more...
- The United Auto Workers held a nationwide, 73,000-worker strike against GM for the first time in decades... and won. Well, they might not have won outright, but they came away with what appears to be a pretty solid deal. There are two major outcomes from this strike: First, the contract itself, which creates a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) which will provide employee and retiree health care in GM's stead. Second, UAW initiated a massive strike, and won.
I am not sure what I think about the VEBA - it seems like it could cause a lot of trouble down the road, unless we ever manage to create a national health care system. (In which case, I'm guessing, it would become irrelevant.) I'd be curious to see how much influence UAW will be able to hold over the VEBA. Since the organization will control billions of dollars in investment capital, it could potentially have a very powerful voice, through the stock market, in preventing union-busting by other companies. Then again, union pension funds also have this theoretical capability, and as far as I understand things, they don't really act on it.
What is clear is that this strike was one of the most successful high-profile strikes in recent memory. It was massive, covering 73,000 workers across the country; it had second-order effects, with Teamsters and the machinists union (IAM) respecting the UAW picket lines; and it resulted in what looks like a pretty reasonable compromise (although the UAW membership will be the final judge of that.) That's a remarkable contrast to AMFA's strike of Northwestern two years ago, where the most salient news seemed to be that the labor movement was in disarray.
I'm also curious to see how this contract affects UAW's future moves. Will the union target Ford or Chrysler for its next round of contract negotiations? Will this agreement strengthen the UAW's hands in organizing Toyota workers?
- In Massachusetts (where I live), Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill giving state public employees the right to organize by card check. Much like the national Employee Free Choice Act, this bill will help public employees organize unions and prevent supervisor intimidation.
I'd be curious to see what the long-term effects of this bill, and other efforts to organize public employees, will be. The percentage of the public sector which is organized is already pretty high - something like 30%. As that number grows, how does the labor movement's collective power change and increase? What does this concentrated strength mean in terms of new kinds of pressure which can be brought to bear on private employers?
- Change to Win held its annual convention this week, releasing the latest in its series of surveys on the American Dream. The survey is pretty damning for our economy and the way voters feel about it. Voters are also heavily inclined to believe that unions can help them achieve the dream, with 90% of voters saying that unions can help them achieve a job with a living wage, good health care, good retirement, and opportunities for their children.
From a political point of view, these are very interesting results, and I think the presidential candidates would be well advised to take note. From an organizational point of view, these results make me wonder whether it's possible to design new kinds of unionization campaigns, similar in some ways to the kinds of religious outreach done by evangelical churches. For example, would it be possible to develop a mass media campaign which would reach out to unorganized workers, and encourage them to join a union (regardless of where they work)? I'm not sure, but these results, combined with the AFL-CIO's 2005 Labor Day survey (which showed that over 50% of workers want to join a union) certainly suggest that such a campaign could be successful.
- In a decision which is sure to impact the School Bus Workers United campaign, First Group and Laidlaw reached an anti-trust agreement with 11 states, which should allow the $2.8 billion merger of the two companies to proceed. In the agreement, the merged company will sell some of its existing operating contracts to other school bus operators, in order to prevent monopolistic practices in certain areas. It's hard to determine how much influence the Teamsters attempted to exert on attorneys general in negotiating this deal. Unfortunately, it appears that the merger will considerably hamper the campaign, as First Group has a long history of union-busting.
Any other tidbits? Drop them in the comments!