Q1 2019

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 10 of 75

9 Q1 2019 / CINEMONTAGE GET TING ORGANIZED by Rob Callahan L ast June, my column in these pages invoked the cinematic trope of the cli anger to describe a moment in which organized labor in the US teetered precariously between potential catastrophe and potential renaissance. That column was motivated in large part by the then-looming Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The decision itself, once the Court handed it down, outlawed union security clauses in the public sector, rendering all public-sector employment "right-to-work." (So-called "right to work" laws discourage strong unions by mandating "open shops," in which individual employees can opt out of the unions representing them.) Janus had been widely anticipated to deliver a devastating — potentially even mortal — blow to our labor movement. While last June we saw in Janus our looming doom, the state of trade unionism, I asserted, could be characterized as two-faced. On the flip side, several trends appeared to signal that organized labor in the US, long on the decline, could conceivably rebound. These included a significant uptick in private-sector organizing, increased pro-union sentiment in public opinion polling and, most remarkably, the eruption of militant worker actions best exemplified by the #RedForEd movement — in which tens of thousands of teachers nationwide defied expectations, the law and sometimes even their own unions to shut down schools and demand a reinvestment in public education. So if the labor movement then could be seen as dangling from a cliff face, poised between a precipitous fall and a dramatic comeback, how has that suspenseful situation been resolved? The short but unsatisfying answer is that it has not been resolved. We continue to face down grave — possibly even existential — threats. Emboldened by anti-union forces' victory in Janus, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a right-wing group widely credited with having orchestrated the legal rollback of union rights in Wisconsin, Michigan and other states a decade ago — has unveiled a new raft of anti-union legislation it intends to push. Labor's enemies also continue to attack in the courts; Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Association, currently on appeal to the Supreme Court, could outlaw public employees' election of unions as their exclusive representatives, upending the legal mechanisms for public-sector bargaining. Meanwhile, anti-union outfits have sought to maximize the damage of Janus. Union antagonists such as the Freedom Foundation and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy have used public records to identify and contact public employees, aggressively soliciting them to renounce their union memberships. "You now have a real choice," read one such solicitation, e-mailed to 500,000 New York state public employees by the group New Choice NY. "For decades, public employees in New York were told to pay the union or quit their job. Those days are over." The long-term impacts of such lobbying and counter-organizing remain unclear. A little more than half a year after I advanced the metaphor, the notion of a cli anger remains apt. We're still hanging… Still hanging, but we're not yet hanged. Indeed, the way in which we are hanging in has exceeded even some of the more optimistic inklings I included in my column last summer. Although some union members have indeed quit in the aftermath of Janus, there hasn't yet been nearly the epic exodus of defections that many predicted. In advance of the ruling, some unions had braced themselves for losses exceeding 10 percent. Hard data on the impact of Janus to date are hard to find, but most observers agree that union members have not begun to renounce their memberships in droves. Many public sector unions rethought and redoubled their organizing efforts in anticipation of Janus, and several are reporting that the new members drawn in by those efforts more than offset those lost to defections. When co-workers are having earnest conversations in the workplace about the importance of remaining unified, those relationships effectively blunt any potential effect of a piece of junk mail from a right-wing think tank, ballyhooing how much money workers can save by stopping dues payments. Not only have we not seen dramatic attrition in the half-year since Janus, not coincidentally we have seen dramatic action. In the private sector, probably the most prominent example of militant action in the latter part of 2018 was the eight-city, 8,000-worker strike against Marriott Hotels. It drew upon broader struggles for justice — namely, the Fight for 15 and #MeToo movements — to frame the workers' demands for living wages and protections from sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. The hotel workers won big, securing both dramatic raises (housekeepers in San Francisco saw raises of roughly 17 percent) and stronger protections against workplace abuse. OUT OF THE CLASSROOM AND ONTO THE STREETS But the most dramatic example of recent labor militancy has come, again, from teachers. Inspired by prior #RedForEd actions and frustrated by two years of unproductive negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), upwards of 30,000 A Teachable Moment Lessons Learned from the UTLA Strike

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of CineMontage - Q1 2019