Restoring the Power of Unions

Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement

Julius G. Getman
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Restoring the Power of Unions
    Book Description:

    The labor movement is weak and divided. Some think that it is dying. But Julius Getman, a preeminent labor scholar, demonstrates through examination of recent developments that a resurgent labor movement is possible. He proposes new models for organizing and innovating techniques to strengthen the strike weapon. Above all, he insists that unions must return to their historical roots as a social movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16293-6
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Organized labor needs to rekindle the spirit of the activist member-powered movement that has guided its past successes. Organized labor today is a progressive interest group, but it is not a workers’ movement. A “movement” entails something more than money, members, and economic power—significant though all these factors are. A movement requires activating and using the energies of workers. It means fostering solidarity across unions and occupations. It requires leaders who are willing to trust and who are committed to sharing power with the union’s rank and file. The spirit of movement also requires a concern for issues beyond...

  6. Part I Overview
    • Chapter 1 The Need for Unions
      (pp. 9-15)

      “If a man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar!” “There is no America without labor, and to fleece the one is to rob the other.” That is what Abraham Lincoln said.

      It is not surprising that the man who spoke eloquently of government of, by, and for the people believed in the cause of labor, for the two are inevitably intertwined. When organized labor is strong, workers become visible to those in power. A strong labor movement also assures those who toil a fairer share of the wealth that they help produce. That is...

    • Chapter 2 The Fall of Organized Labor: A Brief Overview
      (pp. 16-22)

      In 1964, in the conservative heartland state of Indiana, the power of organized labor was at, or near, an all-time high. Union members made up nearly half the workforce. The legislature had more union officials than lawyers or lobbyists. The state’s major industry was steel, and the United Steelworkers had a major voice in the day-to-day operation of the mills. Union stewards had status comparable to that of management officials, as did business agents of the carpenters, sheetmetal workers, and electricians at building sites throughout the state. Dallas Sells, an official of the United Auto Workers and head of the...

    • Chapter 3 The NLRA Organizing Process
      (pp. 23-32)

      Section 9 of the NLRA provides for secret-ballot representation elections to determine whether the majority of workers in a potential bargaining unit wish to be represented by a particular union. The Board’s process has dominated organizing for over sixty years. It was established to promote the Act’s basic policy: free choice. Free choice requires that employees feel free to choose or reject union representation without fear of economic reprisal by the employer or unlawful acts by the union. Although each individual worker is entitled to free choice, the wishes of the majority of the voters determine whether collective bargaining occurs....

  7. Part II The Story of UNITE HERE
    • Chapter 4 HERE and Its History
      (pp. 35-52)

      UNITE HERE is dedicated to organizing and motivated by a powerful sense of movement. How it came to this position is an important, sometimes inspiring, sometimes frustrating story. The union has overcome employer opposition, legal harassment, and internal schisms. Its story is illustrated primarily by the history of its major component, HERE.

      HERE began in 1891 as the Waiters and Bartenders National Union, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL).¹ Many of its members were immigrants, and meetings were often conducted in German and French as well as in English. It began as a union of skilled craftsmen with...

    • Chapter 5 The Rejuvenation of HERE Local 2
      (pp. 53-59)

      In the mid-1970s San Francisco was the gathering place for radical groups formed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Restaurant work, with its shifting schedules, was a job that fit easily into their lifestyle. They believed in unionism but thought that most unions, including HERE, were either corrupt or too accommodating to employers. By the early 1980s, self-styled revolutionists began showing up at Local 2 meetings and demanding fundamental changes. To control the situation, Hanley appointed an old-time union functionary, Joseph Belardi, who came out of the cooks’ local to be president of Local 2. He was a poor...

    • Chapter 6 Organizing Yale’s Clerical and Technical Workers
      (pp. 60-71)

      When Ed Hanley appointed Vinnie Sirabella western regional director of HERE in 1980, it left a vacancy at Local 35, and Hanley, acting on Sirabella’s enthusiastic recommendation, appointed John Wilhelm chief business agent. Soon after his appointment, Wilhelm, strongly supported by the members of Local 35, began an organizing campaign among Yale’s clerical and technical workers, creating a new Local 34 to represent them.¹

      Organizing the clerical workers was bound to be a formidable task. The bargaining unit that the union sought was large, somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 employees. It was diverse, including secretarial workers, librarians, journal editors, science...

    • Chapter 7 The Need for a New Organizing Model
      (pp. 72-78)

      In 1983 HERE president Ed Hanley named Vinnie Sirabella to the position of director of organizing of the international union. It was Sirabella’s longtime dream come true.¹ He had since the 1960s preached the central importance of grassroots organizing to skeptical union officials. Now he would be able to put his ideas into action. Sirabella anticipated success. He had developed an approach to organizing that seemed foolproof. Between 1979 and 1985, relying on Sirabella’s committee-centered strategy, Local 217 won eleven consecutive NLRB elections. In almost every case, the local won despite the efforts of a union-busting consultant to defeat it....

    • Chapter 8 The Culinary Union and the Development of the Comprehensive Campaign
      (pp. 79-91)

      In the late 1970s the corporate campaign was developed as a tool for unions to augment the strike. The corporate campaign was given name and shape by Ray Rogers, a former student activist whose tactics were derived from the student movement. As Rogers told me, “No question Saul Alinsky played a role in my thinking and SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]. . . . They understood how you research companies.” The basic idea of the corporate campaign was to discover and exploit corporate weaknesses other than those that could be exploited through striking. The corporate campaign required intense research...

    • Chapter 9 From Hanley to Wilhelm
      (pp. 92-100)

      While HERE’s young leaders and organizers were changing the focus and tactics of the union, its leadership and many of its locals were being investigated by the President’s Commission on Organized Crime, which in 1986 issued a report critical of the union’s top leadership and its Chicago locals:

      For 40 years Joseph Aiuppa, now the underboss of the Chicago Outfit, and boss Tony Accardo wielded power in the Chicago area locals and the HEREIU joint executive board. Their actions took on national proportions when Edward Hanley, who began his career in Local 450 as a business agent in 1957, was...

    • Chapter 10 Refining the Comprehensive Campaign
      (pp. 101-114)

      Shortly after John Wilhelm became president of HERE, the union abandoned the NLRB election process entirely. It was the Las Vegas experience that convinced him: “Our shift from NLRB elections to card check evolved over a period of time. As we moved toward true comprehensive campaigns and the conviction that workers should never be left to go one-on-one against their employers, we realized that we should leave NLRB elections behind altogether. We pioneered card checks in Las Vegas. I believe the best reading of the history is that card checks became more prevalent in the labor movement because of our...

    • Chapter 11 The Immigration Issue
      (pp. 115-119)

      When the issue of illegal immigration became politically charged in the early 1980s, HERE’s leadership was overwhelmingly white male. The attitudes of its leaders were mixed. Some thought of immigrants as a threat to union standards. Others, including Vinnie Sirabella and John Wilhelm, considered them to be the future of the labor movement.

      The struggle was particularly heated during the early 1980s in Los Angeles, an area of constant immigration from Latin America. Los Angeles Local 11 was one of the largest in the union. For many years, its leadership had resisted any serious effort to incorporate immigrants into its...

    • Chapter 12 HERE in the Twenty-first Century
      (pp. 120-137)

      By the fall of 2001, using the comprehensive-campaign method to obtain card-check agreements, HERE had made up the losses suffered during the Miller and Hanley presidencies. Then came 9/11, a compound tragedy for the union. Many of its members working at the Windows on the World restaurant in the North Tower were killed. Bill Granfield—the secretary-treasurer of New York Local 100¹—had the grim task of searching morgues and hospitals to discover the extent of the devastation. He found out that forty-three members had been killed. The physical destruction was followed by economic devastation.

      As John Wilhelm later recalled:...

    • Chapter 13 Solidarity Rebuffed
      (pp. 138-176)

      During its first years, the UNITE HERE merger helped both unions, providing a strong membership base for UNITE and needed financial resources for HERE. It was not, however, a perfect marriage. The two unions entered the alliance with different approaches to organizing and collective bargaining. UNITE did mostly top-down and hot-shop organizing. Its leaders often cut deals with employers offering low-cost contracts and the promise of labor peace in exchange for recognition. They regularly controlled contract negotiation. HERE organized through comprehensive campaigns using worker committees, job actions, and alliances with progressive groups. Its negotiations depended on rank-and-file involvement. HERE leaders...

  8. Part III Why the NLRB Election Process Doesn’t Work for Unions
    • Chapter 14 The Problem of Access
      (pp. 179-190)

      One reason that Sirabella’s national organizing project failed was the inadequacy of the NLRB representation-election process. It is a complex process that has not worked well for unions. Unions generally begin the formal campaign with a large majority of card signers but often end up losing the election or even withdrawing. There is considerable debate about why. Many believe that elections are lost because of employer threats and retaliation. Some, myself included, believe that the most significant problem with Board elections is that employers have three major, related advantages: access, coverage, and delay

      Soon after passage of the NLRA, the...

    • Chapter 15 The Regulation of Employer Campaign Conduct
      (pp. 191-198)

      It is an unfair labor practice for an employer to threaten retaliation if the employees vote to unionize or to promise them benefits if they turn down the union. But employers otherwise have the right to state their views concerning unionization to their employees. Employers typically take advantage of their right to speak out; in almost every NLRB election campaign, employers make captive-audience speeches to convince employees that it is not in their interest to vote for unionization. In the course of these speeches, employers regularly suggest that employees may not benefit—indeed, may be economically harmed—as a result...

    • Chapter 16 The Duty to Bargain and the Protection of Employee Choice
      (pp. 199-201)

      Winning an NLRB election is only a step toward unionizing. To secure meaningful representation, the union must be able, after the election, to negotiate a collective-bargaining agreement acceptable to its members. The law provides almost no help toward achieving this goal. The NLRA requires only that the employer “meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith” with the union. Section 8(d) specifically states that good faith “does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession.” It is easy for an employer to use the mandatory bargaining process as a device to...

    • Chapter 17 NLRA Organizing: Law and Reality
      (pp. 202-218)

      Union leaders believe that employers win elections by retaliating and instilling fear. Employers claim that they win through persuasion. The issue has provoked scholarly dispute, in which I have been an active participant. During the 1970s I took part in the first major empirical effort to study the dynamics of NLRB campaigns. Along with Professors Stephen B. Goldberg and Jeanne Brett (Herman), I conducted a study of employee voting behavior in NLRB elections. We interviewed employee voters in over thirty-one NLRB campaigns that were chosen because they promised, and turned out, to be hard fought and to include a significant...

  9. Part IV The Strike Weapon
    • Chapter 18 Restructuring the Strike Weapon
      (pp. 221-228)

      Strikes, protest marches, job actions, civil disobedience, and slowdowns are all parts of comprehensive campaigns. These actions require worker solidarity to be successful.

      Solidarity is made up of comradeship, commitment, and belief. Comradeship is the sense of mutual trust and common destiny that joins the participants. Strikes and their hardships often breed comradeship. The terms “brother” and “sister” regularly used at union meetings take on a deep, heartfelt significance. Commitment refers to the willingness of workers to devote their time, skill, effort, and passion to the struggle. Belief refers to the idea that struggle is intended to achieve ideals broader...

    • Chapter 19 Strikes, Picketing, Comprehensive Campaigns, and the Law
      (pp. 229-241)

      The drafters of the Wagner Act of 1935 (the original NLRA) intended to create a rough equality between the economic power of employers and unions. To achieve this goal, they legalized the strike. The right to strike was proclaimed in two different sections of the Act. Section 7 empowered employees to “engage in . . . concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid”; interference with this right by employers was made an unfair labor practice. Section 13 specified that “nothing in this Act . . . shall be construed so as either to interfere with...

    • Chapter 20 Comprehensive Campaigns and RICO
      (pp. 242-254)

      In 1994 and 1997 the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) attempted to organize workers of Smithfield Packing Company’s Tar Heel plant. Smithfield responded in each case with anti-union campaigns that the NLRB found involved widespread use of threats, harassment, and retaliation through suspensions and discharges. The Board’s findings were upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which summarized Smithfield’s unfair labor practices as follows: “The company threatened to fire employees who voted for the Union, to freeze wages and shut the plant if the employees unionized, and to discipline employees who engaged in union activity. It...

  10. Part V The Need to Change the Law
    • Chapter 21 Organized Labor and the Employee Free Choice Act
      (pp. 257-267)

      From 2006 to 2009, the main legislative goal of organized labor has been passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).¹ The EFCA mandates certification of a union that demonstrates a card majority. It also provides for first-contract arbitration and increases penalties for employer unfair labor practices intended to prevent unionization. The key provisions of the EFCA are sections 2 and 3.

      Section 2 provides that the NLRB can certify an organization without an election: “Whenever a petition shall have been filed by an employee or group of employees or any individual or labor organization acting in their behalf alleging...

    • Chapter 22 Changing the Law of Representation Campaigns and Striker Replacement
      (pp. 268-274)

      The law should be amended to reduce the amount of time that employers can devote to captive-audience speeches and to provide unions with an equal opportunity to address employees. Equal time would permit unions to respond to employer arguments. Unions have responses to every argument that employers make. They can reduce concerns about dues in the vast majority of cases by pointing out that dues will not be charged until the union has obtained an agreement that increases the workers’ income by more than the amount of dues. They can point out that union officials cannot drag workers out on...

    • Chapter 23 Is the NLRA Worth Saving?
      (pp. 275-287)

      Many union leaders have turned against the NLRA, advocating its repeal. Jeff Fiedler, for example, told me, “I would personally return to the law of the jungle before anything else.” The same contempt was expressed by Richard Trumka, now president of the AFL-CIO: “I say abolish the Act. Abolish the affirmative protections of labor that it promises but does not deliver as well as the secondary boycott provisions that hamstring labor at every turn.”¹

      These are provocative, powerful statements. Taken literally, however, they make little sense. For as both Fiedler and Trumka know, if the NLRA were in fact repealed,...

    • Chapter 24 Beyond Traditional Collective Bargaining
      (pp. 288-302)

      There are inevitably more people who would like to have representation than are members of collective-bargaining units. Some workers are not represented because no effort has been made to organize them; some, because they supported the union in a losing cause; some, because they have retired; some, because they are viewed as independent contractors; some, because their employers are individuals who do not command a workforce; and some, because they work in isolation. How to recruit and represent these workers and the amount of dues, if any, to charge them have been issues of increasing concern to unions. It is...

  11. Part VI Summing Up
    • Chapter 25 The Difference between Labor Organization and Labor Movement
      (pp. 305-324)

      If you had asked a large group of union organizers in 1985 why organized labor was losing membership, almost all would have responded with a version of Dorothee Benz’s explanation: “hostile employers and inadequate labor laws.”¹

      Vinnie Sirabella, by contrast, devoted most of his criticism to the labor movement itself, focusing on the lack of planning and the lack of organizing passion. John Wilhelm later recalled Sirabella’s “insistence that we can organize successfully in spite of all the obstacles, his impatience with those who blamed the lack of organizing on external forces, like the NLRB.” Sirabella, doubtless unfairly, considered the...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 325-326)

    For organized labor to play its proper role in turning the American dream into reality, the labor movement must be not only for the people, as most unions are, but also of the people, in ways that most unions are not. Workers should be involved in organizing and bargaining and in the selection of their leaders. They should feel that the union is theirs and is worthy of their devotion, support, and participation. This does not mean that union leadership must come solely from the workforce, but it does mean that workers should take part at every level of leadership....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 327-366)
  14. Index
    (pp. 367-381)