Unions

The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

There's a good deal of crowing in conservative circles this week about the new 2012 numbers on union membership. Union membership nationally fell by about 400,000, to 14.4 million. Union membership in Pennsylvania declined 45,000, including 59,000 in the private sector.

Of course, for anyone who cares about, say, the American Dream, democracy, and rising living standards, the newest numbers are bad news. A simple chart put together by the Center for American Progress shows that unions are vital to the middle class. As unions have weakened, so has the share of income going to middle-income workers — and the gap between the 1% and the 99% has mushroomed.

How About A Sitdown Strike Across Hershey’s Supply Chain?

A blog post by Stephen Herzenberg, originally published at Third and State.

By now most of you have heard about the recent Hershey incident in which foreign students, having paid for the privilege of participating in a “cultural exchange” visit to the United States, found themselves packaging the candy company’s chocolate for about $8 per hour (not counting the upfront fee for the program and before you subtract the living costs taken out of the students’ paychecks). 

As Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale and I pointed out in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed , the implications of this incident go far beyond the advantage taken of the 400 students. It’s a case that demonstrates the irresistible urge of global corporations to fragment workers in their production chains so that the most vulnerable can be paid very low wages. Hershey, after all, has a stronger motivation than most corporations to resist this impulse: it’s in a capital-intensive industry, it has a cherished consumer brand placed at risk by the relentless pursuit of low wages, and the company is held in trust on behalf of a school for underprivileged children. The Hershey case demonstrates the need for constraints on companies’ freedom to pursue low-wage strategies.

Our suggestion in the Inquirer was a union that cuts across the entire company supply chain (within the U.S. for starters). This type of “network” unionism would generate long-term economic benefits for the U.S. because companies would be able to pursue productivity enhancing strategies with all their workers and also through cooperation among plants at different points in the production chain.

Since the legislative route to such multi-plant unionism could take a while, what about taking a tactic out of the students’ playbook — and out of the 1930s — a sitdown strike, this one including all workers in the entire Hershey production chain?

More than any other single step that I can think of, broad-based unionism that restores industrywide private-sector wage and benefit standards — in local service industries as well as within manufacturing — could fix the economic inequality threatening the United States and restore the middle class.

Could It Be the Weather?

A blog post from Michael Wood, originally published on Third and State.

The Delaware County Daily Times reprinted a story from the PA Independent (the state news service started by the Commonwealth Foundation) which mistakenly blames unions for the out-migration of taxpayers in the state.

Here is the claim:

The Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C., tax policy nonprofit, tracks tax returns filed in every state to determine how shifts in population affect working by tracking the Social Security numbers of income tax returns filed with the IRS each year.

Between 1999 and 2008, Pennsylvania saw an overall decline of 84,000 tax returns. The top three destinations for people leaving Pennsylvania during that time — Florida, Virginia and North Carolina — are all right to work states. The data is the most recent available.

There are a couple of problems with this rationale.

1. Not many people move between states as a share of the population. According to data on the IRS's website for the period 2004 to 2009, Pennsylvania lost a net 21,847 filers. This equates with less than 0.2% of our population. Most people who move do so to neighboring states.

2. Included in these numbers are retirees. If you aren't in the workforce, I don't think workforce policies are high on your priority list.

The Middle Class ‘Under Attack’

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

At the Keystone Research Center, we have been chronicling for years the forces that are putting a tighter and tighter squeeze on middle-class Pennsylvanians.

Last week, we released a new report in partnership with the national policy center Demos that takes the temperature of the state's middle class in the wake of the Great Recession. I'm sorry to say, once again, the patient is not well.

The state's annual unemployment rate is the highest it has been in nearly three decades and the cost of going to college is on the rise.

According to the report, times are particularly tough for Pennsylvania's young people, with state budget cuts to 18% of public university funding and a 7.5% tuition hike in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education. Pennsylvania's young people already bear the seventh highest rate of student debt in the nation — at approximately $28,000 on average.

Your Job or Your Hours

A blog post from Chaquenya Johnson, originally published on Third and State.

When the economy is hit by a sudden drop in demand, employers typically react by cutting employment or hours of work — sometimes both.

In a recent paper, John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research reviews the experiences of Denmark and Germany in the Great Recession and finds that, while both countries experienced a comparable decline in their economies, the outcomes for employment were very different.

German employers absorbed the decline in demand entirely with reductions in employee hours of work. As a result, unemployment actually fell over the course of the Great Recession, even as Germany’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined.

The German approach is partly attributable to negotiations with unions; union coverage in Germany is 63%. But German employers also took this path because of a program called “short work,” a version of what we know in the U.S. as Shared Work.

Under these programs, an employer facing a decline in demand can cut hours of work rather than jobs. Employees who take a pay cut because they are working fewer hours have their pay supplemented with unemployment insurance benefits.

Employers get the benefit of having workers available when demand returns, which saves them training and hiring costs. Workers get unemployment benefits, while keeping their job and their skills and maintaining ties to the workforce.

In Denmark, employers reacted to the Great Recession in much the same way as they have in the U.S.: they cut mostly jobs.

In Case You Missed It: Third and State Blog for Week of March 21

This week on Third and State, we blogged about Marcellus Shale trickle down economics, the Affordable Care Act's first birthday, unions and inequality, and much more!

In case you missed it:

Why have Democrats abandoned labor? Discuss with fmr. AFSCME DC 47 Pres. Thomas Paine Cronin at the next Green Night Out!

From the Green Party of Philadelphia:

Green Party of Philadelphia
www.gpop.org
GREEN NIGHT OUT

Saturday, March 12, 7:00 pm

Enjoy an endless supply of
vegetarian, kosher, Chinese food.

Discuss how too many Democrats have turned against Labor
with Thomas Paine Cronin,
retired president of AFSCME District Council 47.

Please join us.
GREEN NIGHT OUT
will be open to the public,
an exceptional bargain
for only $25/person.

Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant
www.singaporevegetarian.com
1006 Race Street
Chinatown, Philadelphia

For more information:
215-243-7103 or email gpop@gpop.org.

[I went to the last Green Night Out, when an organizer from Action United (btw, good luck to them in their fight for sick days for Philly workers) spoke, and both the food and conversation were great]

And here's the facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=196479820376770

Wisconsin Public Workers

I remember in 1981 when the Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) went on strike it was during the strikes in Poland that eventually brought down European communism. Those PATCO employees were fired by President Reagan. I still have a button that says “The right to strike-Only in Poland. The reason I raise this is we are seeing history repeat itself. While protests are breaking out all over the Middle East we are seeing an attack on our own citizens in Wisconsin. This is an assault on all working people by the far right and their funding sources in the business community. All working people should fight back in any way they can to stop this. Labor missed an opportunity in 1981. Let’s not miss another.
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO is urging people to wear red on Tuesday. It’s the least we can do.

Hugh Giordano to unions: The two parties have sold us out and the Greens are 100% pro-labor!

The following is an open letter sent to every Philadelphia area union by Hugh Giordano, printed with permission. Make sure to check out the Green Party of Philadelphia's upcoming events, like a meeting on the 27th and a concert on the 4th.

STOP Supporting the Democrats and Republicans!
LET’S RUN OUR UNION REPRESENATIVES FOR CITY COUNCIL AT LARGE AND CITY COMMISIONER IN 2011 AS GREEN PARTY CANDIDATES!

Dear Union Brothers and Sisters,

My name is Hugh Giordano, and I am fellow union representative for the UFCW, Local 152. Many of you know me or have heard about me in my run for State Representative where I produced the highest percentage of vote of any third party candidate in a three-way race – beating the Republican in Philadelphia!

I produced this great victory because I stood for the issues, used basic union organizing skills, took NO corporate money, and had union support. Just imagine what I could have accomplished if I had all the unions behind me, the man power, and financial backing; I could have done so much more to defeat the CEO/corporate Democrat.

Although I did not win that election, I opened the doors for us, as a united labor front, to do great things for the future. We have a duty to do what is right and to fight back against the status quo. That is why we are labor leaders and chose this activist life. I use the word ‘activist’ because that is what we are supposed to be, NOT businessmen and businesswomen.

Philadelphia Weekly: 'Third-party candidates emerge as champions of the working-class'

From Philadelphia Weekly (read the whole article here):

Hugh Giordano, a 26-year-old, Roxborough native and food workers’ union organizer for UFCW Local 152, ran on the Green Party ticket against Democrat Lou Agre for a seat in the 194th. He lost, but garnered 18 percent of the vote (23 percent in Philly)—an unprecedented number for a third-party candidate. He may have his district’s attention, but Giordano and the Green Party of Philadelphia want everyone to know that when it comes to the ballot, three isn’t a crowd. What’s more, they’ve got heavy union support—typically an automatic vote for Democrats—to help them.

“They want you to be stupid,” he says of the “party button,” which essentially allows citizens to vote along party lines without looking at who’s up for election...

Temple Nurses Refuse To Back Down on Quality Patient Care and Human Rights

With less than a week before the today the March 31st strike deadline, nurses and healthcare professionals held a rally outside of Temple University Hospital to demand a contract that will not strip away their human rights or diminish their ability to provide quality care to patients.

Watch the story produced by Media Mobilizing Project.

UNITE HERE Local 634 Members Beat Back SEIU Raid By 2:1 Vote

Last week the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) announced the results of the election to represent the 2,300 cafeteria workers and noon time aides in the Philadelphia School District: members of UNITE HERE Local 634 voted by a 2:1 margin to stay with their union and rejected SEIU’s anti-union tactics.

After months of attacks directed by New York-based SEIU 32BJ, the PLRB counted 1121 votes for UNITE HERE Local 634 and only 551 votes for SEIU Philadelphia Joint Board. There were 10 votes for no union and 198 challenged ballots.

Size of Philadelphia government?

Here's a fairly simple question w/major implications: how many people are currently employed by the City of Philadelphia? What is the ratio of city employees to city residents, and has this ratio changed since the 1950s?

This has been alluded to elsewhere, but much of the City's infrastructure configured based on a city w/2,000,000 residents, rather than the ~1,500,000 residents currently living in Philadelphia. If we're still employing people to service 500,000 more residents than actually exist, it suggests an obvious place to cut costs.

Of course, when you talk about cutting jobs, that brings union contracts into the discussion. And whose ox gets gored, so to speak.

Thoughts? Does anyone have some hard numbers on this?

-Z

AFL Insider Addresses Election Strategy, TOMORROW!

On Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 5:30 pm Jonathan Hiatt, the General Council for the AFL-CIO will address a small group of labor lawyers, unionists and law students about this critical election and what comes after November 4. Mr Hiatt will discuss topics such as the Employee Free Choice Act, the election, immigration and the Wall Street credit problems.

This event is a great place to mingle with leaders in the field of law, politics and labor. The event which is hosted by Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez will be in the City Hall Caucus Room, Room #400. Snacks and refreshments will be served. Tickets are $50 but call for low-income and student tickets that as affordable as $20. Space is extremely limited so be sure to reserve your ticket today by calling Fabricio at Jobs with Justice at 215-670-5855. A portion of the proceeds from this event will go to support Jobs with Justice.

Rude Mechanical Orchestra

For more information contact Fabricio at Jobs with Justice via www. phillyjwj.org or the Lava Space.

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