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What Unions No Longer Do

What Unions No Longer Do

Jake Rosenfeld
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    What Unions No Longer Do
    Book Description:

    From workers' wages to presidential elections, labor unions once exerted tremendous clout in American life. In the immediate post-World War II era, one in three workers belonged to a union. The fraction now is close to one in five, and just one in ten in the private sector. The only thing big about Big Labor today is the scope of its problems. While many studies have explained the causes of this decline,What Unions No Longer Doshows the broad repercussions of labor's collapse for the American economy and polity. Organized labor was not just a minor player during the middle decades of the twentieth century, Jake Rosenfeld asserts. For generations it was the core institution fighting for economic and political equality in the United States. Unions leveraged their bargaining power to deliver benefits to workers while shaping cultural understandings of fairness in the workplace.What Unions No Longer Dodetails the consequences of labor's decline, including poorer working conditions, less economic assimilation for immigrants, and wage stagnation among African-Americans. In short, unions are no longer instrumental in combating inequality in our economy and our politics, resulting in a sharp decline in the prospects of American workers and their families.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72621-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Business, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    Today the only thing big about ʺBig Laborʺ is its problems. By the early 1970s, organized labor had already begun its decades-long decline, but still nearly a quarter of all private-sector employees belonged to a union. The late 1970s and 1980s proved especially brutal for Big Labor, with unionization rates halving during the period. The nationʹs journalists and intellectuals covered this phenomenon extensively, linking union decline to the transition to a postindustrial economy increasingly open to global trade. Recent trends have garnered less press attention, yet private-sector unionization rates nearly halved again between 1990 and 2009, settling firmly in the...

  4. 1 The Collapse of Organized Labor in the United States
    (pp. 10-30)

    Speaking in 1972, the long-standing leader of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) couldnʹt see what was right around the corner for his organization. The ʺsize of the membershipʺ shrank at an accelerating pace throughout the 1970s and 1980s. And what Meany said mattered. Even late into his nearly three-decade reign, a rival labor leader admitted, ʺMeany is the boss … he has achieved centralization of authority,ʺ a feat previous labor leaders failed to accomplish.² Meanyʹs opinion of and attitude toward organizing set the tone for much of the labor movement. This complacency about organizing...

  5. 2 Government Is Not the Answer: Why Public-Sector Unionism Wonʹt Rescue the Labor Movement
    (pp. 31-67)

    On February 18, 2005, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich signed an executive order granting collective bargaining rights to nearly fifty thousand child-care workers. The order represented the culmination of a multiyear lobbying campaign by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The union had backed Blagojevichʹs 2002 gubernatorial bid early, contributing valuable manpower and financial resources to the then-congressmanʹs primary effort in the crowded Democratic field. Blagojevich eked out a narrow victory and, once ensconced in the governorʹs mansion, granted one of SEIUʹs long-standing wishes: the ability to unionize child-care workers. Previously categorized as independent contractors, those workers whose clients received state...

  6. 3 Wages and Inequality
    (pp. 68-83)

    Chapter 2 examined the implications of a labor movement increasingly dominated by its public-sector members. But despite dramatic reductions in union rolls, many private-sector American workers remain organized. After all, a 7 percent organization rate in an economy with over one hundred million private-sector workers translates to millions of unionized individuals.¹ Similar to decades past, the remaining pockets of the private sector that are organized tend to be concentrated in particular industries in particular areas. Research has found that nonunion workers in these heavily unionized sectors often benefit from a strong union presence.² In this chapter I focus on what...

  7. 4 Strikes
    (pp. 84-99)

    In the fall of 1980, leaders of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) drew up a list of contract demands to present to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Membership was restive. During the prior decade, even as compensation for other federal employees outpaced inflation, the purchasing power for the average air traffic controller fell. According to labor historian Joseph A. McCartin, President Jimmy Carterʹs administration ʺhad been disastrous for air traffic controllers,ʺ allowing real wages to decline and simultaneously stripping the workers of early retirement and a popular program that granted immunity to controllers who reported violations to the...

  8. 5 The Timing Was Terrible: Deunionization and Racial Inequality
    (pp. 100-130)

    The decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century proved inauspicious for the emergence of a strong African American presence in the labor movement. Early growth in U.S. unions coincided with often violent attacks on African American nonunion workers.¹ Increases in low-skill immigration from Europe resulted in intense competition for jobs among immigrants and U.S.-born whites, leading many native workers to organize in unions to protect their privileged economic position. This growing competition between European immigrants and native whites would lead to violence against African Americans, given black workersʹ subordinate position in the economy and their nearly universal exclusion from...

  9. 6 Justice for Janitors? Deunionization and Hispanic Economic Assimilation
    (pp. 131-158)

    Eliseo Medina was born in 1946 in Central Mexico, the son of migrant farmworkers. His family made the journey north in the mid-1950s to pick fruit in the fields of Delano, California. After finishing eighth grade, Medina quit school to join his siblings and parents in the grape, orange, and tomato farms that dominated the California countryside, farms that relied heavily on foreign workers. There he toiled away his adolescence, until a strike led by the legendary leader of the United Farm Workers (UFW) Cesar Chavez galvanized Medina. He quickly joined the union, launching a career in organized labor that...

  10. 7 The Ballot Box: Deunionization and Political Participation
    (pp. 159-181)

    The labor movement has been active in elections for well over half a century. The passage of pro-union legislation in the aftermath of the Great Depression, most notably the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, laid the legal foundation for laborʹs rapid growth and bonded the nationʹs emergent unions to the Democratic Party. Throughout the decades following the Depression, many unions emptied their coffers and exhausted their organizing muscle during election drives, providing a counterweight to the campaign efforts of the nationʹs business lobby. Labor leaders enjoyed privileged access to top Democratic officials and served as key advisers, helping to...

  11. 8 The Past as Prologue: The Labor Movement Pre-New Deal, Today, and Tomorrow
    (pp. 182-200)

    By the close of the 1970s, innovative tactics adopted by management and used against organizing drives and existing unions shattered the relative labor peace that had predominated for decades. Traditionally protected U.S. industries, industries like auto manufacturing, opened up to competition from abroad, leading many firms to downsize and move to jurisdictions less labor friendly. The deregulation of other once heavily unionized industries brought on increasing competition from within, raising the costs of unionization for employers. The employers acted accordingly. Worried about the resultant drop in unionization rates in the private sector, the economists Richard Freeman and James Medoff ended...

  12. Appendix: Data and Methods
    (pp. 201-232)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-254)
  14. References
    (pp. 255-270)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 271-272)
  16. Index
    (pp. 273-279)