Labor Day Perspectives on This Past Year and the Coming Year: An Upbeat View and a More Guarded View

The more upbeat view is provided by Harold Meyerson in a piece written for American Prospect and re-posted to the labor blog Talking Union. Although Meyerson starts with some grim statistics on the disconnect between increasing productivity and stagnant, if not declining, wages and on the decline is vacation time available to and taken by American workers, he eventually gets to some more upbeat news:

“And yet this Labor Day, for the first time since the 1970s, American workers are beginning to reclaim what by right should be theirs. Through actions in city halls and statehouses, through court decisions and labor board rulings, public officials, prompted by workers’ advocates, are finding ways to overcome many of the obstacles—outsourcing, franchising, stagnating minimum wages, union busting—that have created the new normal and with it, the shrinking of the middle class.

“The public response to the ‘Fight for 15’ campaign of fast-food and other low-wage workers has exceeded all expectations. Ordinances to raise the local minimum wage, which first popped up in liberal strongholds like San Francisco and Seattle, have in the past few weeks been enacted in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Birmingham, Alabama. A proposed ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2021 in California—home to one out of every eight American workers—commanded 68 percent support in a Field Poll last week.

“Unions are polling better, too: In a mid-August Gallup Poll, they commanded a 58 percent approval rating, 66 percent among adults under 35. That’s radically at odds, of course, with the percentage of private-sector workers who actually belong to unions: just 6.6 percent. The chasm between the number who approve and the number who belong is the product of decades of union-smashing by employers, ranging from illegal firings of union activists to corporate restructurings that enable employers to claim their workers aren’t actually theirs.

“In hotels across America, the workers who check you in and clean your rooms often come from temporary employment agencies, though there may be nothing temporary about their tenure on the job. In Tennessee and Mississippi, many of the workers on the assembly lines in Nissan factories are also labeled temps, though they’ve been there as long and do the same work, for less pay, as the Nissan employees right next to them. FedEx insists the men and women who drive its trucks are independent contractors, though they can’t drive for anyone else. At Walmart’s warehouses, the tens of thousands of workers who unload the goods from China and ship them to stores near and far are formally employed by a bewildering array of staffing agencies. Many of these workers—permatemps, if you will—hold down the same job for many years, though their employer of record may have shifted repeatedly.

“When these workers and the millions like them are paid at lower rates than workers doing the same jobs for parent companies, or when they receive no benefits, or when they’re paid less than the legal minimum or injured on the job, their parent companies have been able to deny any legal responsibility. When these workers have sought to form a union, they’ve had no legal right even to knock on their parent employer’s door. ‘The current laws,’ says one veteran union organizer, ‘don’t let workers get to their puppet masters, whether they’re the companies whose goods are processed at the warehouses, or who employ the drivers at the ports.’

“Now, that’s changing. Last week, the Obama-appointed majority on the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a local union representing the staffing-agency employees at Browning Ferris, a California waste-management company, could bargain with Browning Ferris itself: The parent company, they said, was really a joint employer. In Miller & Anderson, a case pending before the NLRB, that same majority might rule that a union can actually represent both outsourced workers and parent-company employees in the same unit.”

 

Meyerson’s complete article is available at: https://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/a-happy-labor-day-really/

 

Writing for TruthDig, Bill Blum looks ahead to the Supreme Court’s decision on Friedrichs v. California Teachers and finds much to be concerned about:

“We don’t officially celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1 in this country, even though the worldwide holiday was originated to memorialize the Chicago Haymarket Square Riotof 1886 and the long and often bloody movement waged by American workers to establish the eight-hour workday. Instead, we hold a watered-down substitute, observing Labor Day on the first Monday of September. Each year, the commemoration grows more tepid and disconnected from the historical and current struggles of working people.

“If the U.S. Supreme Court’s dominant Republican majority has its way when the panel’s new term commences in October, we might as well dispense with the holiday altogether, or at least drop the term “labor” from its title. Among the most important cases the court will consider when it reconvenes is Friedrichs v. California Teachers, which poses what some observers have called an “existential threat” to public unions and by extension to the entire labor movement.

“At issue in Friedrichs is the right of public sector unions to collect limited “fair-share” fees in lieu of full formal dues from nonunion workers to defray the costs of collective bargaining that benefits all employees. A decision against the teachers association would have the potential to bankrupt government employee unions and turn the nation’s entire public sector into one enormous “right-to-work” jurisdiction.

“Even before agreeing to hear Friedrichs, the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts had amassed a staggering résumé of anti-worker decisions. As a study published in January by The Nation explains, the Roberts court has issued rulings that have restricted gender-based discrimination and class-action lawsuits against corporations; curbed age discrimination claims; limited the availability of overtime pay; redefined the term “supervisor” to allow employers to avoid liability for harassment; and made it more difficult for employees to prosecute workplace retaliation grievances.

“Over the past few years, the court’s conservative majority has expressed a special animus against public employee unions, displayed not just in its interpretation of state and federal labor statutes but in a novel and twisted interpretation of the First Amendment. It’s complicated, but in a nutshell, the conservative legal theory works like this:

“Under current law, no one can be forced to join a union, even one that has been elected by a majority of workers to negotiate on their behalf. In non-right-to-work states, however, unions nonetheless can collect mandatory fair-share fees from workers who want to keep their jobs without becoming union members. Typically, dissenting nonunion workers are billed for full regular union dues, but they have the right to “opt out” of making full payments, remitting instead only the fair-share fees that are needed to help the union meet expenses for collective bargaining. Fair-share fees (also called “agency” fees in reference to the union’s status as the sole agent authorized to act on bargaining) cannot be used to pay for other union expenses, such as contributions to political campaigns and most lobbying.

“In a landmark 1977 decision dealing with government unions, one handed down during a more labor-friendly era in the court’s history—Abood v. Detroit Board of Education—the justices upheld the constitutionality of fair-share fee systems.

“But the Roberts court, operating in a new era of hostile anti-worker judicial activism, has steadily chipped away at the Abood rule. Starting in 2012 with its opinion in Knox v. SEIU and continuing with its 2014 decision in Harris v. Quinn, the court’s five Republican appointees have emphasized that the payment of union dues by public employees is a form of political speech subject to the constraints of the First Amendment because public unions negotiate contracts with governmental entities and such contracts by definition affect public policies and the spending of taxpayer money.

“The First Amendment, they reason (and here is where the twist sets in), protects not only the affirmative right to speak but also the passive right not to be compelled to speak or compelled to endorse the offending speech or acts of other people or groups. Requiring dissenting employees to pay fees to a union they don’t want to join, the analysis continues, amounts to such compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment.”

 

Bill Blum’s complete article is available at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_labor_day_worry_the_courts_right-wingers_are_sharpening_20150905

 

 

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