Labor Embraces the New America

Labor Embraces the New America

Harold Meyerson
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
The Washington Post

 LOS ANGELES–Having banged its head against a wall for years with nothing to show for it but a headache, the American labor movement is devising a plan to bypass the wall altogether. During its quadrennial convention here this week, the AFL-CIO has acknowledged that the laws protecting employees who seek to join a union have been rendered so ineffectual that labor must come up with new ways to advance workers’ interests

With just 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce enrolled in unions in 2012, traditional collective bargaining has all but vanished from the economic landscape — taking raises, benefits, job security and much of the American middle class with it as it goes.
“We are a small part of the 150 million Americans who work for a living,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in his keynote address Monday. “We cannot win economic justice only for ourselves, for union members alone. It would not be right and it’s not possible. All working people will rise together, or we will keep falling together.”
There was a time when labor activists believed that the union movement would be the vehicle through which working people rose. For the time being, however, most labor activists don’t believe that’s possible. While they’re not abandoning traditional workplace organizing, they’re proclaiming a strategic shift.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren Addresses AFL-CIO Convention
Sen. Elizabeth Warren Addresses AFL-CIO Convention

“We are going to expand the idea of collective bargaining,” said Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco AFL-CIO. “You can have collective bargaining through legislation. You can have collective bargaining through ballot measures.”

Working in a coalition with community organizations, labor prevailed on San Francisco’s city government in 2008 to mandate that employers provide health insurance to their workers or pay the city to subsidize low-income residents’ purchase of coverage. This year, the coalition also persuaded a hospital chain seeking to build a new facility to staff it with union jobs and to provide affordable housing — in a city where such housing grows scarcer by the minute — as a condition for winning city approval to go ahead with its expansion.
By itself, labor could not have won these and kindred battles. “Even if all we cared about was our own contracts, we can’t even get those anymore without community assistance,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America.

Majority Sign UAW Cards at Chattanooga VW Plant

VW Chattanooga Plant
VW Chattanooga Plant

UAW: Majority at Tennessee VW plant have signed union cards

  • Bryce G. Hoffman
  • The Detroit News

Frankfurt, GermanyA majority of workers at Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga Assembly Plant in Tennessee have signed cards in support of union representation in creating a German-style works council, according to United Auto Workers President Bob King.

“We’ve gone through a very positive organizing campaign down there. Now, we’re going to work through the recognition process with Volkswagen,” King told The Detroit News on Wednesday, praising the German automaker for having “as much integrity as I’ve ever seen a global company have.”

UAW Pres. Bob King
UAW Pres. Bob King

A Volkswagen spokesman at the plant declined to comment on the UAW claim of having signed up a majority of workers, referring instead to a letter issued by the company last week that confirmed it is in talks with the union and stated: “Volkswagen values the rights of its employees in all locations to an operational representation of interests.”

If the UAW succeeds in winning recognition from VW, it would be a major victory for the union, which has tried with little success to organize foreign automakers’ factories in the South. Labor experts say it could also offer an important new paradigm for union-management relations — not just in the auto industry, but for other industries as well.

“It is a major achievement on two levels,” said labor expert Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “First, this really sets the stage for a Chattanooga model — a highly competitive, pro-union model that has implications for other non-union automakers in the U.S. Second we’re seeing the introduction of a new model that is highly successful in Germany that has implications for other industries.”

In Germany, unions negotiate wages and benefits for their members just like their counterparts in the United States. But German “co-determination” laws require the establishment of elected work councils to handle plant-specific issues, such as work rules and job security. Those same laws give labor half the seats on each company’s governing supervisory board.

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AFL-CIO Convention Call for Improvements to Affordable Care Act

Resolution 54: AFL-CIO Convention Resolution on the Affordable Care Act

Submitted by the Building and Construction Trades Department, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the American Federation of Teachers

Referred to the Resolutions Committee
Referred to the Executive Council by the Resolutions Committee with the Recommendation that It Be Sent to the Convention for Adoption
Referred to the Convention by the Executive Council with a Recommendation for Adoption

WHEREAS, in 2009, the AFL-CIO Convention passed two health care resolutions – Health Care Reform Now and the Social Insurance Model for Health Care Reform – which reaffirmed the labor movement’s commitment to health care for all, ultimately through a single-payer system. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA);

WHEREAS, the AFL-CIO continues to support the ACA’s goal of securing high-quality, affordable health coverage for all Americans; three years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we reaffirm our commitment to the goal of affordable, quality health care for all but recognize that the ACA remains a work in progress;

WHEREAS, the ACA’s expansion of comprehensive health insurance to 25 million more Americans, support for affordability through expanded Medicaid eligibility and premium subsidies and insurance market reforms are clear gains for working families. The new law also has eliminated some of the worst insurance company abuses, cut costs for seniors, and appears to be contributing to lower rates for individual coverage in states like California and New York;

WHEREAS, the federal agencies administering the ACA have interpreted the Act in ways that are threatening the ability of workers to keep health care coverage through some collectively bargained, non-profit health care funds. Republican governors in many states have refused to participate in implementing the Act and are even actively blocking efforts to provide health care to all through Medicaid expansion;

WHEREAS, for decades before the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, such quality, affordable health coverage has been provided to workers and their families through non-profit multiemployer health plans negotiated between unions and participating employers, including the approximately 20 million individuals covered by such plans today;

WHEREAS, the health coverage provided through multiemployer plans has met the goals of the Affordable Care Act by providing portable, affordable, high-quality coverage for workers who would otherwise be left out of typical employer plans, including participants in industries where employment is mobile or part-time;

WHEREAS, multiemployer health plans have been attractive to employers because they provide predictable, consistent and cost-effective long-term health coverage for workers;

WHEREAS, multiemployer health plans have been attractive to employees because they provide a consumer-oriented plan design, portability, stability and flexibility;

Continue reading AFL-CIO Convention Call for Improvements to Affordable Care Act