Fighting for the Labor Movement

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Teachers strike in Chicago over pay, benefits, and unions rights. (peoplesworld/flickr)

Today, fewer than 7 percent of American private-sector workers belong to a union, the lowest percentage since the beginning of the 20th century. Union organizer Jane McAlevey looks at the state of the American labor movement and describes her experiences fighting the bosses and national labor leaders. In Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement, she tells the story of a number of dramatic organizing and contract victories, and the unconventional strategies that helped achieve them, and looks at ways to revive the labor movement.


Jane McAlevey

Comments [18]

Almost all Union non-union discussion misses the two most important issues:

1. In the private sector the NLRA of 1935 made an absolutely idiot rule that Unions COULD NOT be organized around corporations, they had to be organized by across industry. This seemly innocent rule has created almost 80 years of union v. management divisions which can ultimately cripple the success of the company (both management and union). Instead of both sides working to make the pie as big as it can be, they fight over their share of a shrinking pie.

2. An even bigger issue crushing this country is the public sector unions. Across the board, a perfect storm of unions funding the election of politicians that pander to unions and effectively blank check budgets (especially at the federal level) have created a cancer that is destroying the country.

A day doesn't pass when you don't see a blaring example of this in action. Today, the New York Times reported that the US Railroad Retirement Board voted to cut the benefits of 600 "retirees" who have fraudulently claimed 10 years of illegal disability payments. amounting to hundreds of millions of theft.

Never mind, how this massive fraud was able to go "unnoticed" for a decade. But ask yourself, why aren't these union workers facing jail time. Their "punishment" is that they must stop the fraud. Not give the money back, not make any restitution but merely stop steeling.

This is tax payer money. The MTA scares people into fare hikes at the hint of a budget shortfall, when they can't even manage to stop of decade of fraud!!!!

Everywhere you turn in this country of public sector union, is one story after another of breathtaking corruption.

Don't worry about the private sector unions, be deathly afraid of the public.

Jul. 03 2013 12:36 AM
dk from NY

The real issue is not the unions.The problem is living in a profit driven world where profits rising isn't equated with the quality of life declining though they have been occurring alsong side. As long as making the most profit is glorified and rewarded people will be getting paid less and prices will rise, the quality of our food will decline By organizing as workers and as consumers we can push back against the force of profits. Part of this pushing back begins by questioning the right amount of profits is the enemy of a moral and healthy society.

Jul. 02 2013 12:59 PM

Unions would do well to look at jobs that can't be sent overseas and can't be automated. As soon as an industry is unionized, employers look for lower cost labor elsewhere. If they don't, their competitors will. Steel and auto industries are typical of industries which were heavily unionized and then became decimated as jobs moved overseas. Unions are just a way to extort higher wages than a worker would otherwise be entitled to based on market conditions. On thing is sure, once your industry becomes unionized, you will be looking for a new job in the next decade.

Jul. 02 2013 12:49 PM
henry from md

I agree with your guest that the private sector labor force of this country is woefully underrepresented where power really matters.
However, it also needs to be said that any organization that becomes too powerful may also behave in unjust ways. One example, my father came to this country as a refugee from Nazi oppression. He was an expert in everything connected with wine culture (in Vienna he had built up a prominent wine business. He was offered a managerial position in an American wine business, but his engagement by the firm was prevented by the union.
It may be said that it is legitimate for any union to protect American jobs;
against this a case may be made for the employment of a foreign expert where
there is god reason to expect that such a person would ultimately benefit the firm and therefore the workers employed by it.

Jul. 02 2013 12:40 PM
Joyce from NYC

Unions will never prosper if we lie about them.

Saying there is no problem ---

Sorry, I live in NYC and deal with the Teachers Union

Jul. 02 2013 12:39 PM

She does not know the details of the Hostess situation, but asserts that the CEO should in jail. Credibility, meet Window.

Jul. 02 2013 12:39 PM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

Lazy management does make for "fire proof" employees. I've seen it close up at a major corporation where managers would apologetically ask the clerk to do something for them - you know, her job!

Jul. 02 2013 12:38 PM
richard from levittown

The critical mass for union support came after WW1. My father was an early member of the iron workers union in the early 1920's and 30's. I grew up in a home of a union person during the FDR era. I remember the persecution that unions were subject to, my father was attacked by non-union groups frequently, but the climate set by FDR, Senator Wagner, et al, fostered a climate that protected and motived organized labor. During WW2 their was some backlash, but after the war the critical mass was still there- organizing labor. I grew up in the Depression, and saw how unemployment crushed many of the families in my neighborhood. This critical mass is simply non-existent today. I became a teacher in the 1950's and worked through the unionization of public employees.
The great suburbs developing after WW2 became a battleground for public employee unionization (util the Taylor Law put on the brakes in 1967). The division between urban centers and unionization seeded the divide between union and non-union workers. Perhaps the Reagan years began the fall of the unions, but the emergence of the stock market and the tie-in with unions (see the 401K retirement). This move, joined the American Public the Consumer society altar. We created an individualized (Read isolated society, and greed/selfish profits crowded out any chance of unionization. Today's population (even many public school teachers) have given up on collective bargaining. There is no longer a critical mass, and doubtful any of the living generation have the slightest idea of what unionization was all about,,,

Jul. 02 2013 12:37 PM

There are unions and there are unions.

California's "Three Strikes" law was pushed by prison workers union. They now have more people in jails and the state has budget deficit.

Also, look at public workers unions giving their workers such benefits as double-dipping, like the case reported recently with Booker's former driver.

Jul. 02 2013 12:35 PM
tom LI

Agree with the guest - but workers rights should not revolve around a Family/child care core...but simply all worker's, young, single and childless, old and childless, etc...workers should not be discriminated against because of no children, etc...!

I am tired of this child and family exceptions in this country - from tax breaks benefits, and/or workers rights. FMLA discriminates against singles, etc...

Jul. 02 2013 12:33 PM
William from Manhattan

We can't do manufacturing in the US? Because we can't compete with low-cost foreign labor? Then how do you explain Germany's hugely successful manufacturing sector, which is a major driver of the EU's leading economy?

Jul. 02 2013 12:32 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

A so-called "right to work" state.

Jul. 02 2013 12:28 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Well said Nat. We taxpayers subsidize corporations' workers.

Jul. 02 2013 12:22 PM
Bonnie from New Jersey

Does Ms. McAlevey address people's impressions of labor unions? That the leadership is mostly out for themselves, corrupt, and not really concerned with the membership. Or when they negotiate, they ask too much, or that ask for outrageous things.

Jul. 02 2013 12:22 PM
James L

This woman is amazing and right on!

Thanks for having her on the show.

Jul. 02 2013 12:20 PM

Wealth disparities would be reduced if government aggressively dealt with monopolies. Unions are counterproductive to that goal.

Jul. 02 2013 12:17 PM
Joe from nearby

I refuse to shop at Walmart- it's a cancer on our society.
I shop at Costco & ShopRite, good employers.

Jul. 02 2013 12:16 PM
Nat from NYC

The Walton (Wal-Mart) family's riches are even more obscene when you consider that their company pays full-time workers so little that the workers need food stamps to survive, and thus American taxpayers are subsidizing the Walton's wealth. Disgusting.

Jul. 02 2013 12:16 PM

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