In this issue:
- AI and Risk Assessment?
- Autonomous Vehicles & Unions
- Could This Thinking Spread?
- Auto Workers, SEIU Watch, Insight and more…
The bottom of each story contains a link to the individual post on our site.
Labor Relations Insight by Phil Wilson
What’s The Plan?
We’ve had a string of interesting campaigns over the last couple of months where a big issue has been how to educate younger workers on the realities of unions. I’ve never really bought into the whole “you have to communicate different to [insert group name here]” especially when it comes to a topic like unions. Let’s face it - the realities of collective bargaining and what unions (don’t) deliver haven’t changed much in decades.
Union organizers are experts at selling union membership. In a world where very few people actually belong to unions, organizers know the best approach is to sell the idea of a union, not the reality of union membership. The big flaw of that approach is the reality is so different from the idea. Most of the time you just point this out and the answer becomes obvious: joining a union is a bad deal for workers.
But younger audiences just don’t seem concerned at all about the reality of unions. At the same time they are VERY sold on the idea of a union. Probably more than the people trying to organize them. That creates a difficult communication challenge.
As I’ve wrestled with this problem my admiration for this younger generation has grown a lot. It is fashionable to bash so-called “millennials” (and now “Gen Z”) as lazy, coddled, sheltered and naive. But as I reflect on their formative years and compare them to my own “Generation X” youth, I see a different picture.
While I generally agree with Steven Pinker that comparing today against the last several hundred (or even several thousand years) things look pretty rosy right now. Important measures like extreme poverty and life expectancy have never been better. But if you tighten the frame to the last 75 years or so (post World War 2 let’s say) it is a different picture.
Over this shorter period it is safe to say that younger workers received a heaping pile of garbage from preceding generations. In the aftermath of World War 2 America was tasked with rebuilding most of the world. We had an effective monopoly on making and building things for several decades. Unions became powerful during this time because they had tremendous leverage (and companies could basically agree to anything because they were effectively monopolies). Life was good.
The story gets a little worse during the 1970’s and 80’s. The rest of the world caught up with the US. We suffered through some big recessions and an energy crisis. We eventually won the cold war, but we did it primarily through huge deficit spending (especially on the military and entitlements). Markets opened up around the world and companies started collapsing under the weight of promises they made when they were a monopoly. Unions lost their leverage and begin a several decade decline.
Around the turn of the century - the formative years for today’s younger workers - things really started to unravel. Notwithstanding attempts to protect these kids (former “latch-key” kids are now helicopter parents) the world was a pretty scary place. These kids watched the biggest terrorist attack on American soil live on television. They entered the workforce around the time of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, with unprecedented student debt and no way to repay it. The politicians they’ve watched have done little to inspire confidence. Heck, even the planet they’re left with is heating up with no political will to do much about it.
That’s why I’m inspired to see that this younger generation is so idealistic and has a “get out of our way, we’ll make it happen” attitude. They have very little trust of companies, politicians, or institutions. They are very confident and certain they can do things better (and may have a point - they couldn’t do a lot worse). They have zero tolerance for “the way we’ve always done it” and aren’t waiting for their turn.
Which brings us back to unions. These younger workers have no practical experience with unions (almost nobody does these days). And this lack of practical experience is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because the idea of a union becomes a convenient container for all that idealism about how the economy should work and all that skepticism and mistrust of companies.
But it’s also a curse. Because younger workers are so confident they can overcome any obstacle you put in their way they quickly dismiss any facts that counter their idealistic views about what a union can do. They just say, “we’ll be in charge, our union will be different.” End of debate. Organizers must love this.
The irony of all this is that labor unions and the labor law that creates them embody just about everything that young workers hate about their situation. There is really no institution (other than Congress) that is so set on “the way we’ve always done it” or waiting your turn. The illusion that “we are the union” or that the members have any say or control doesn’t really set in until it’s way too late.
Unions are all about politics. Not just participation in national, state and local political elections, but internal politics as well. All of the skepticism about government or trusting the people pulling the strings applies more to unions than about any other political group.
The worst part of all this is that the idealism can blind young workers to the stark realities of collective bargaining. It feels great to say “we’ll have a seat at the table” or “we’ll force this big corporation to sit down and listen to our concerns.” But it just doesn’t happen that way. Almost none of the bargaining unit members ever sit at that table. The few who do are told to shut up and wait their turn (or told not to come back). You don’t bargain with the “corporation” - you bargain with people. Often the same local managers you could just deal directly with today.
And while it is easy to confidently say “our union will be different” it raises a really important question. What’s the plan?
I think it’s important to ask an idealistic and inspired person who thinks their situation will be different than others who’ve gone before, “what’s the plan?” We’ve had young workers bring up examples of other inspiring leaders (like Martin Luther King or Ghandi) who would not sit still for the “way we’ve always done things.” They say, “others told them they couldn’t do it too.” And that’s right. But they also had a plan.
Martin Luther King didn’t just have a dream. King had a plan. So did Ghandi. So does anyone who makes an impact on the world.
And if the dream is to remake the way labor unions represent workers, you have to have a plan. Specifically, what will you do different to make sure you have a “seat at the table” and the union bosses actually deliver what you want? How will you “force the corporation” to listen or do something different? How will you resolve (the inevitable) situation where the interests of your teammates differ from the institutional interests of “your” union? What’s the plan?
While I am inspired by this younger generation, I am also a little puzzled about their attraction to unions (and socialism… but that’s an entirely different subject). I feel like this is one case where their confidence overwhelms their natural and understandable skepticism and mistrust of institutions. That’s why I think it is important to ask, “What’s the plan?” Any true reflection on this question focuses attention where it should be - on the realities of union representation. It won’t take much reflection to understand that unions are rarely a good solution for the problems they claim to solve.
Union Bailout Update
The National Labor Relations Board rejected another Obama-era “balancing test” in favor of moving back to a “bright line” rule. In United Nurses & Allied Professional (Kent Hospital), the board ruled that lobbying costs of all kinds are not considered part of a union’s statutory collective-bargaining obligations under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and, therefore, unions cannot compel support. According to the 1988 Beck Supreme Court decision, a union may compel nonmembers to contribute fees deemed necessary to “performing the duties of an exclusive representative of the employees in dealing with the employer on labor-management issues.” Unions can no longer make the case that lobbying can be consided as “necessary.”
The NLRB also found that a group of dispatchers working for an energy company are considered supervisors and cannot be unionized. Because the dispatchers use individual judgment to assign workers, the IBEW was prohibited from organizing them. The US appeals court had returned the case to the board for judgment.
The DOL Wage & Hour Division proposed a new rule adjusting the overtime exemption regulations for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales and computer employees. The target moves from $23,660 to $35,308 (annualized). The 60-day comment period is now open. Go here to submit comments.
Labor attorney Jennifer Abruzzo has been floated by the AFL-CIO as a nominee to fill the vacant seat on the NLRB. Business interests have advised the administration to leave the seat vacant on the chance that William Emanual may feel the need to recuse himself from additional cases.
In the gig-economy world, Uber has agreed to settle lawsuits in California to the tune of $20 million. The settlement covers 13,600 drivers who weren’t covered by arbitration agreements. The original suit included 385,000 drivers, but when Uber’s arbitration agreements were upheld the numbers dropped significantly.
Tens of thousands of California truck drivers may soon be reclassified from contractors to employees, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the California Trucking Association. The Association has stated it intends to pursue a separate legal challenge against a different ruling that also involved the classification of workers.
AI and Risk Assessment?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already deeply entrenched in the HR systems of companies worldwide, with 83% of U.S. companies using AI in some form. Globally, current uses include:
- Using chatbots to look up information such as company policies or benefits (56 percent).
- Identifying the best candidates based on publicly available data, like social media profiles (44 percent).
- Providing recommendations for learning and training to employees (43 percent).
- Using chatbots to engage with candidates during recruitment (41 percent).
- Screening and assessing candidates during recruitment (40 percent).
What is more interesting is what companies are targeting to do with AI in the near future. These include:
- The ability to identify employees who are disengaged or at risk of leaving.
- Suggestions of job openings or career paths for current employees.
- Help in the performance management process.
- Customization or improving benchmarking in compensation.
How soon will labor relations “heat maps” be produced by AI so we can focus on strategies to stay out front of festering issues?
Autonomous Vehicles & Unions
You saw this coming, didn’t you?
Unions are already fighting tooth and nail to curb the rise of ride-hailing companies. As autonomous vehicle technology advances, so will the angst and activity of Big Labor.
The Transportation Trades Department (TTD), the umbrella of unions that represent transit workers inside the AFL-CIO, has released a statement exposing its plans to fight the technology. Facing the possible loss or repositioning of up to 1.7 million jobs in the commercial transportation industry alone, Big Labor only sees the loss of dues revenue rather than the contribution to industry and society (can you say progress?) that the technology promises. To quote from the position statement:
We do know that automated shuttles, micro-transit, and ride-hailing pilot projects are already on the ground in a growing number of American cities and more of these deployments are on the way. We also know that Congress and the Administration are setting policies and regulatory frameworks designed to facilitate the further deployment of AVs and it is imperative that workforce impacts and mitigation strategies are considered and addressed in these debates. Good union jobs in the transit sector cannot be jettisoned or ignored simply to satisfy the demands of tech companies or Wall Street investors.
Yep - it’s only tech companies and investors that stand to gain from such innovative technologies. Really?
The SEIU Headquarters in Washington D.C. is gearing up for a strike by its own staff members. Employees of the union, represented by OPEIU Local 2, say they are fed up with SEIU’s ongoing practice of hiring cheaper, outside contractors instead of union laborers.
Meanwhile, SEIU Vice President, Dave Regan, is the most recent in a string of SEIU leaders being accused of sexual misconduct. The Dave Regan accusation originated from the blog, “Sternberger with Fries,” an anonymous publication we’ve often cited here with an obvious source inside the SEIU. The union has subpoenaed Google to identify the owner of the site.
Who are the winners (and losers) of the labor movement? Don’t guess, just check the LRI Scoreboard
View this month’s scoreboard (archives also located here).
It’s All Academic
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this month that there was a “major problem” with the NLRB’s 2014 determination on organizing adjunct faculty at the University of Southern California. Specifically, the appeals court said the NLRB “wrongly concluded that any subset of faculty members seeking to unionize, rather than the entire faculty, must have a high degree of control over university policies in order to be considered managers who cannot unionize.”
The House of Representatives is expected to meet any day to discuss raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour.
This comes after a vote earlier this month in favor of the bill by the House Committee on Education and Labor. The bill, introduced as the Raise the Wage Act, would establish a $15 minimum wage to be initiated by 2024. It would also phase out the so-called “subminimum” wages for tipped workers, young workers and workers with disabilities.
Could This Thinking Spread?
We have covered the recent trend of organizing among media companies over the last few years. This story of the first podcast company joining this wave has some interesting implications.
First, Gimlet, which was recently acquired by Spotify, is now considered a cross between a tech company and a media company, and tech companies have been notoriously resistant to organizing.
More significantly, the usual reasons for organizing didn’t seem to play as motivators in this case. Instead, the desire to be unionized appears to stem more from “principle” and any specific disenchantment with how employees have been treated. To quote from the article:
It would be imprecise, in my view, to interpret this organizing campaign as a consortium of Gimlet workers seeking targeted remedies for specific problems or structural inequalities (e.g. a system of “perma-lancers,” etc.) that company leadership had persistently failed to solve. It’s my understanding that Gimlet generally delivers above-average conditions and policies to its workers, and that it will continue to do so under the governance of its new Swedish overlords at Spotify. Plus, as Ward told me, Gimlet management has been fairly responsive to change requests in the past, having moved quickly on things like reducing dependency on less-protected contractors.
But that isn’t really the point of this push. By default, a workplace without a union often operates on a cultural assumption that employees should “trust” management to look out for their interests — which, you know, isn’t always going to be the case. Things change, managers change, business contexts change; so too, then, can the relationship between a given generation of management and staffers. Establishing a union, then, is a step toward introducing more structural protections should business conditions put management in less-forgiving positions. And given the volatile nature of the media industry these days, coupled with the general emergent nature of podcasting as a young business, it’s certainly possible that the good times at Gimlet could turn real quick.
As Eric Eddings, co-host of The Nod, told BuzzFeed News: ‘A lot of the benefits we were hoping Gimlet would codify and put in a contract, Spotify offers those benefits and then some. They’re often a little more generous in that particular area, but the same concerns we had still exist…It is a complicated field, and it’s a new field, and it’s moving really, really fast. And so it became immediately clear to a lot of the employees that we need to have a voice in that process.’
This is a novel argument – unionization as a kind of “insurance” against potential future problems – especially when the workforce already enjoys a generally positive relationship with management.
Big Labor Not Shouting So Loud Over NYC’s ‘Just Cause’ Protection
New York City’s recent bill proposing to ban the city’s fast-food restaurants from firing workers without ‘just cause’ is just the kind of thing we’d expect unions to rally behind (think Fight for $15), but Big Labor isn’t showing its typical enthusiasm. The reason, we can surmise, is that this kind of ‘just cause’ protection is one Big Labor’s most touted benefits to organizing. Should it become the status quo, well, why organize?
A West Virginia County Judge overturned the state’s right-to-work law late last month. While this decision is disappointing to many, the bright side is that we will most likely see the case move to the state’s Supreme Court. Once ruled on there, all West Virginians—and businesses considering work in the state—should finally have some clarity on the issue.
In Michigan, a Ford Motor Company employee, Lloyd Stoner, won his case against the UAW. The union was charged with continuing to deduct dues after Stoner revoked his authorization for dues deduction. Click here to read more on how the Auto Workers attempted to avoid honoring Stoner’s request, despite the fact that he’s employed in a right-to-work state.
The hits just keep on coming for the UAW.
After dealing with the aftermath of the FCA corruption case for the last year (speaking of, another former UAW leader was charged this month), investigators are now questioning whether “UAW leaders threatened to send high-level staffers back to the assembly line if they failed to contribute to so-called “flower funds” controlled by union presidents, vice presidents and regional directors.” The ‘flower fund’ was originally set up to establish funds to purchase flowers for auto worker funerals.
In other news, Trump made headlines this week when he called out the Auto Workers on how much they require members to pay in dues. Trump’s comments stemmed from the GM decision to close four U.S. factories—excessive dues payments, Trump says, is partly to blame. Whether it is or isn’t, the GM decision is huge; particularly in light of the upcoming Big Three Negotiations, which UAW President, Gary Jones, is gearing up for. Top UAW officials also met privately with U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, earlier this month to discuss.
550 casino dealers at Caesars Palace voted to join the UAW this month. That makes a total of over 10,000 casino workers in the Auto Workers union.
Labor Around the World
After two months of protests, 89 ‘maquiladora’ factories have agreed to a “20 percent raise and a bonus of 32,000 pesos (US$1,655)—half of the average yearly salary. A maquiladora is a factory in Mexico run by a foreign company that exports its products to the country of that company. This is a major win for Mexican workers. Read more here.
The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey Research Department (DİSK-AR) has released its 2019 Research Report. This report is chock full of data on the current state of unions in the country, starting with the fact that 90 percent of workers are not unionized. More details here.
Current charges or sentences of embezzling union officials:
- Terry Slaughter – UFCW: $62,315
- David Dauman – AFGE: $3597
- Darius Pourfazaneh – IATSE: $6,870
- Christopher Mulhall – IATSE: $57,310
Labor Relations INK is published semi-weekly and is edited by Labor Relations Institute, Inc. Feel free to pass this newsletter on to anyone you think might enjoy it.
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Contributing editors for this issue: Phillip Wilson, Greg Kittinger, and Meghan Jones
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