Monday Jun 18

Back Story: Lessons for US Labor from Other Countries

A  story in The New York Times from the “Upshot” writers noted that the impact of the Janus case before the United States Supreme Court is not simply an issue of the conservatives’ ideological animus against unions but extended potentially to political expression and electoral victories by progressive candidates. The piece noted ominously that after so-called “right to work” legislation had passed in various states the voter turnout dropped 3 to 4%, more than enough margin to impact battleground state elections and cascade into determining presidential and Congressional party control.

The Janus case, as most readers surely know by now, seeks to determine whether agency fees or servicing payments in lieu of full membership dues can legally be deducted for public employees in states where this is allowed. The Supreme Court was on the verge of scuttling these fees when the likely deciding vote, Antonio Scalia, passed away suddenly in 2015, and now with his replacement ensconced in the new Republican administration, no union seems to believe the decision this June will not sweep away this provision. Over lunch recently in London with an old comrade, he shared his observation that the Service Employees, the US’s largest union, is planning on losing one-million fee payers, which would cut their income for organizing and other activities by almost half. Many unions are already preparing for this day as a certainty, but inevitably many fee payers and millions of dollars will be lost.

Of course, many unions in many states have never enjoyed fee payments for nonmembers in either the public or the private sector in so-called “right to work” states, and not surprisingly unions are weaker in these states. West Virginia teachers recently showed that strong, concerted action is a damn sight better than a hope and a prayer, and there’s much to learn from their example, but there is also much to learn from the experience in other countries as well.

In Ontario, Canada for example in an amazing hat trick, unions combined to leverage the Liberal, center right party to pass a sweeping piece of legislation in late 2017 that raised the minimum wages to $15 per hour by 2019, gave rights to unorganized and even informal workers to vacations, personal leave, reporting pay, and a basket of other entitlements, and won streamlined union organizing and bargaining provisions involving card check, list access, and increased penalties for employer scofflaws, as well as successorship, unit mergers, and better mediation and arbitration procedures on first contracts. Obviously, Ontario is just one province in Canada, but it is by far the largest, so looking at California, Washington, New York, and other states, perhaps there is a strategy to go and do likewise. The new Ontario labour code is worth careful study!

In the United Kingdom, the largest union, Unite, may also be showing the path for post-Janus unions to take. In their 100% campaign, designed in open-shop UK to sign up 100% of bargaining units as members, they have been disciplined and successful, adding as many as 100,000 members one union executive in their fan club reported to me recently when we met in London. A key organizing department official in a large AFL-CIO union told me that despite great progress they were making in preparing for a post-Janus world, Unite was perhaps five years ahead of most US unions. Nonetheless, if they are breaking the hard ground, they are also proving there are ways and means to get the job done.

It won’t be an easy road, but the road to the future is one we can manage, if we keep our wits about us and our shoulders to the wheel.

Wade Rathke is the Chief Organizer of ACORN International, Founder and Chief Organizer of ACORN (1970-2008), and Founder and Chief Organizer of Local 100, United Labor Unions (ULU).

Subscriber Login

Latest Issue


Joomla! Debug Console


Profile Information

Memory Usage

Database Queries