State of the Unions: What happened to America’s labor movement?

From today’s New Yorker Magazine:

Do you have rights at work? Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought you did. In 1936, while trying to haul America’s economy out of the bog that the free market had driven it into, Roosevelt argued that workers needed to have a say, declaring it unjust that

a small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives. For too many of us throughout the land, life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

For Roosevelt, a system in which bosses could unilaterally decide “the hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor” amounted to “dictatorship.” He hoped that the New Deal would bring workers and managers together in a new form of workplace governance.

New Dealers drew on an idea known as industrial democracy, developed, in the late nineteenth century, by English socialist thinkers who saw workplace rights as analogous to civil rights such as due process and the freedoms of speech and assembly. Senator Robert Wagner, who wrote the National Labor Relations Act of 1935—also known as the Wagner Act—made the point explicitly: “Democracy in industry means fair participation by those who work in the decisions vitally affecting their lives and livelihood.” In their efforts to civilize the workplace, however, Roosevelt and his allies didn’t set up a new institution for workers to speak through. They relied on an existing one: the union.

Whenever the rate of unionization in America has risen in the past hundred years, the top one per cent’s portion of the national income has tended to shrink. After Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act and other pro-union legislation, a generation of workers shared deeply in the nation’s prosperity. Real wages doubled in the two decades following the Second World War, and, by 1959, Vice-President Richard Nixon was able to boast to Nikita Khrushchev that “the United States comes closest to the ideal of prosperity for all in a classless society.”

America’s unions and workers haven’t been faring quite as well lately. Where labor is concerned, recent decades strongly resemble the run-up to the Great Depression. Both periods were marked by extreme concentrations of personal wealth and corporate power. In both, the value created by workers decoupled from the pay they received: during the nineteen-twenties, productivity grew forty-three per cent while wages stagnated; between 1973 and 2016, productivity grew six times faster than compensation. And unions were in decline: between 1920 and 1930, the proportion of union members in the labor force dropped from 12.2 per cent to 7.5 per cent, and, between 1954 and 2018, it fell from thirty-five per cent to 10.5 per cent. In “Beaten Down, Worked Up” (Knopf), a compact, pointed new account of unions in America, Steven Greenhouse, a longtime labor reporter for the Times, writes that “the share of national income going to business profits has climbed to its highest level since World War II, while workers’ share of income (employee compensation, including benefits) has slid to its lowest level since the 1940s.”

Read the complete article here.

Disneyland reaches a tentative contract settlement with workers, ending a heated battle that lasted months

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Walt Disney Co. reached a tentative settlement Monday with four unions at the Disneyland Resort, putting an end to a contentious dispute that attracted the attention of Sen. Bernie Sanders and prompted a ballot measure to require the Burbank media giant to pay resort workers a “living wage.”

Although details of the settlement were not disclosed, the agreement appears to end a heated, months-long contract dispute with about 9,700 employees who work in the eateries and retail shops, operate the attractions and provide maintenance at the two Anaheim theme parks, the Disney hotels and nearby shopping district.

“The Disneyland Resort and Master Services Council are proud to have reached a tentative agreement, which we are hopeful will be ratified later this week,” the park and the council that represents the workers said in a joint statement. “We have had a successful history of working together since Disneyland Park opened in 1955, and this contract continues that shared commitment to cast members.”

Union members vote on the proposed contract Thursday. Negotiations began in April for the contract that was set to end in June. Employees have been working under an extension to the contract.

The unions have been pushing Disney to pay a “living wage” by, among other tactics, commissioning a study that looked at the economic hardship of the workers and sponsoring a rally featuring Sanders, who called on Disney to share its wealth with employees who are struggling to make ends meet.

The unions were successful in collecting at least 13,185 valid signatures — or at least 10% of the city’s voters — to put on the Nov. 6 ballot a measure requiring large hospitality companies that accept a subsidy from the city to pay at least $15 an hour, with salaries rising $1 an hour every Jan. 1 through 2022. Once the wage reaches $18 an hour, annual raises would then be tied to the cost of living.

Read the complete article here.

Deadline Is Today in McDonald’s Labor Case That Could Affect Millions

From today’s New York Times:

The Trump appointee charged with enforcing federal labor rights is scrambling to head off a court ruling in a case against McDonald’s that could redefine the accountability of companies for the labor practices of their franchisees.

The official, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, has been exploring settlement terms with workers at the center of the board’s complaint against McDonald’s, according to lawyers involved in the case. A judge had halted the trial until Monday to give the agency a chance to do so.

If no settlement is reached and the judge were to rule against the company, the decision could have enormous implications for the franchise business model, affecting millions of workers in the fast-food industry and beyond. Corporations could be required to bargain with unionized workers at disparate franchise locations.

The National Labor Relations Board did not respond to a request for comment. A McDonald’s spokeswoman said that “settlement discussions are a normal part of any litigation process.”

The case was brought during the Obama administration, when the board was under Democratic control. Since President Trump’s election, Republican members have regained a majority, steering the board away from a pro-labor orientation.

Read the complete article here.

LA Times Newsroom Votes on Whether to Unionize, Tronc tries to suppress it

Here is an object lesson in why workers at the LA Times newsroom voted to unionize. Below is the “story” that appears in the LA Times about this historically significant event, in a time of digital transformation, job displacement, and mismanagement of news sources. The second article below is from the New York Times, and provides extensive coverage of both the background and context of yesterday’s vote by LA Times reporters. No wonder they are making a serious effort to unionize—their own management apparently wouldn’t even let them cover their own important story. Shame on Tronc for this selective editorial heavy-handedness.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Newsroom employees of the Los Angeles Times voted Thursday on whether to form a union.

Employees began casting ballots at 10 a.m. at The Times’ offices in downtown Los Angeles and Fountain Valley in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board. Those who work outside those offices were to able vote by mail.

Election results are expected to be announced Jan. 19. If a simple majority votes for the union, nearly 400 journalists would be represented.

A group of more than 40 Times journalists launched efforts last year to have the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America represent employees in collective bargaining.

Organizers are calling for regular raises as well as improved benefits and job protections. The management of The Times had urged employees to vote no, arguing a union would not benefit employees.

From the New York Times:

Newsroom employees at The Los Angeles Times began casting ballots Thursday on whether to form a union, in what they believe is the first time journalists have held a union vote in the newspaper’s 136-year history.

Workers — who are calling for more competitive salaries, equitable pay for women and minorities, more generous benefits and improved working conditions — began voting at 10 a.m. in a first-floor community room at The Times headquarters in downtown Los Angeles and at the company’s offices in Orange County. Those who work remotely or who are on assignment will be able to vote using mail-in ballots.

A tally of the vote is expected to be announced on Jan. 19; forming a union requires a simple majority of votes cast.

The unit would include roughly 380 employees. People familiar with the process said they believed the organizing effort had the votes to join the NewsGuild, which represents 25,000 reporters, editors, photojournalists and other media workers at news organizations across the United States.

The union vote affirms something of a shift at The Times, where a bombing by union organizers in 1910 helped shape a historically anti-union stance. The organizing effort has also exacerbated tensions between newsroom employees and the newspaper’s executives.

Times employees, who have seen repeated management and ownership turmoil over the years, have long expressed skepticism over their top leaders, but a wave of recent changes further strained their relationship.

Over the last several months, Tronc, the Times’s Chicago-based corporate parent, installed a new publisher, Ross Levinsohn, and editor in chief, Lewis D’Vorkin, who has vowed a “digital transformation” that has left some in the newsroom anxious. A dispute between The Times and the Walt Disney Company also raised tensions between the paper’s employees and its new top management, with some employees questioning how Mr. D’Vorkin had handled the paper’s response.

Management typically counters efforts to organize employees, but many in The Times newsroom — especially against the backdrop of already tense relations — said they felt that those in charge have been unduly aggressive in the attempt to thwart the union effort.

Read the complete article here.