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May 17, 2012

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Georgetown University Workers and Students Build a Union and Build Community

September 15, 2011

On Tuesday, September 13th, the Kalmanovitz initiative for Labor and Working Poor brought together Georgetown University Aramark workers, students, and faculty to tell the story of their successful campaign to organize a union of Aramark food service workers with UNITE HERE. Two workers from the union organizing committee, two student activists, and historian Michael Kazin (who wrote a piece on the campaign in The New Republic) spoke on a panel moderated by the Kalmanovitz Initiative’s Executive Director, Joe McCartin.

Each panelist shared moving stories of a campaign that began by quietly building organization among workers, students, faculty, and faith leaders; gained support within the university administration; and with union recognition is building a more inclusive campus community. This community manifested itself at the event, as many workers and students in attendance were moved to add their stories to those shared by panelists. Faculty present also contemplated what this campaign could mean for colleges and universities beyond Georgetown—whether it might encourage both similar organizing campaigns and administration adoption of policies recognizing workers’ choice to form a union. Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy is an example of such a policy.

For more detail on the event, see articles written by students Sankalp Gowda and Madeline Howard. This event was co-sponsored by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, Georgetown College Democrats, MEChA de Georgetown, Center for Social Justice, and is the first in a series of Kalmanovitz Initiative events exploring the state and future of collective bargaining, the Collective Bargaining Project.

-Seth Newton Patel

New Report Provides Insight into AAPI Workforce

August 10, 2011

Last month, the Center for Economic and Policy Research released a report that provides a detailed look at Asian American and Pacific Islander workers in the United States.  Written by Hye Jin Rho, John Schmitt, and Nicole Woo of CEPR and Lucia Lin and Kent Wong of the Center for Labor Research and Education at UCLA, the report provides a portrait of a community that is both diverse and subject to many of the same forces and trends that impact the broader workforce.

With 7.4 million workers, AAPIs make up 5.3 percent of  the overall workforce in the United States.  The report highlights three broad themes vis-à-vis this community.  First, AAPI workers are very diverse.  They come from a variety of countries, speak many languages, work in a multitude of industries and have divergent levels of education.  One of the most striking findings of the report is that while AAPIs have a greater level of educational achievement than whites, blacks and Hispanics, they are also less likely than whites to have a high school degree.  Another interesting finding is that fully three-quarters of AAPIs are immigrants.  By way of comparison, only 54% of Hispanic workers were born outside the United States.

A second broad theme the report highlights is that AAPIs face myriad challenges in the labor market.  For example, AAPI workers have higher earnings inequality than all other racial/ethnic groups.  They are also much less likely to be homeowners than white workers.

A third theme that emerges is that many of the challenges that AAPI workers face are in fact reflective of trends affecting all workers.  The declining level of employer-sponsored health insurance for AAPIs is part of an across-the-board pattern affecting workers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.  Similarly, AAPI workers struggle with high unemployment rates.

Joe McCartin on the 30th Anniversary of the Patco Strike

August 3, 2011

The KI’s Executive Director, Joe McCartin, writes about the legacy of the PATCO strike in today’s New York Times:

THIRTY years ago today, when he threatened to fire nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the world of the modern workplace.

More than any other labor dispute of the past three decades, Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.

By firing those who refused to heed his warning, and breaking their union, Reagan took a considerable risk. Even his closest advisers worried that a major air disaster might result from the wholesale replacement of striking controllers. Air travel was significantly curtailed, and it took several years and billions of dollars (much more than Patco had demanded) to return the system to its pre-strike levels.

But the risk paid off for Reagan in the short run. He showed federal workers and Soviet leaders alike how tough he could be. Although there were 39 illegal work stoppages against the federal government between 1962 and 1981, no significant federal job actions followed Reagan’s firing of the Patco strikers. His forceful handling of the walkout, meanwhile, impressed the Soviets, strengthening his hand in the talks he later pursued with Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Yet three decades later, with the economy shrinking or stagnant for nearly four years now and Reagan’s party moving even further to the right than where he stood, the long-term costs of his destruction of the union loom ever larger. It is clear now that the fallout from the strike has hurt workers and distorted our politics in ways Reagan himself did not advocate.

Although a conservative, Reagan often argued that private sector workers’ rights to organize were fundamental in a democracy. He not only made this point when supporting Lech Walesa’s anti-Communist Solidarity movement in Poland; he also boasted of being the first president of the Screen Actors Guild to lead that union in a strike. Over time, however, his crushing of the controllers’ walkout — which he believed was justified because federal workers were not allowed under the law to strike — has helped undermine the private-sector rights he once defended.

Workers in the private sector had used the strike as a tool of leverage in labor-management conflicts between World War II and 1981, repeatedly withholding their work to win fairer treatment from recalcitrant employers. But after Patco, that weapon was largely lost. Reagan’s unprecedented dismissal of skilled strikers encouraged private employers to do likewise. Phelps Dodge and International Paper were among the companies that imitated Reagan by replacing strikers rather than negotiating with them. Many other employers followed suit.

By 2010, the number of workers participating in walkouts was less than 2 percent of what it had been when Reagan led the actors’ strike in 1952. Lacking the leverage that strikes once provided, unions have been unable to pressure employers to increase wages as productivity rises. Inequality has ballooned to a level not seen since Reagan’s boyhood in the 1920s.

Although he opposed government strikes, Reagan supported government workers’ efforts to unionize and bargain collectively. As governor, he extended such rights in California. As president he was prepared to do the same. Not only did he court and win Patco’s endorsement during his 1980 campaign, he directed his negotiators to go beyond his legal authority to offer controllers a pay raise before their strike — the first time a president had ever offered so much to a federal employees’ union.

But the impact of the Patco strike on Reagan’s fellow Republicans has long since overshadowed his own professed beliefs regarding public sector unions. Over time the rightward-shifting Republican Party has come to view Reagan’s mass firings not as a focused effort to stop one union from breaking the law — as Reagan portrayed it — but rather as a blow against public sector unionism itself.

In the spring, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin invoked Reagan’s handling of Patco as he prepared to “change history” by stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights in a party-line vote. “I’m not negotiating,” Mr. Walker said. By then the world had seemingly forgotten that unlike Mr. Walker, Reagan had not challenged public employees’ right to bargain — only their right to strike.

With Mr. Walker’s militant anti-union views now ascendant within the party of a onetime union leader, with workers less able to defend their interests in the workplace than at any time since the Depression, the long-term consequences continue to unfold in ways Reagan himself could not have predicted — producing outcomes for which he never advocated.


For more commentary on the legacy of the PATCO strike, check out McCartin’s book blog, or the coverage by Amy Davidson in The New Yorker, Adam Martin in the Atlantic Wire and Travis Waldron in ThinkProgress.

KI Executive Director Testifies before NLRB

July 21, 2011

On Monday, July 18 and Tuesday, July 19, the National Labor Relations Board held an open meeting on its proposed rule changes in representation cases.  These changes are designed to reduce litigation, streamline pre- and post-election procedures, and allow for the use of electronic communication and document transmission.  The Board heard comments from over 60 experts, including the Kalmanovitz Initiative’s very own Joe McCartin.

On Monday, Professor McCartin testified in support of the proposed regulatory changes.  Professor McCartin explained that the proposed rules would ensure workers’ access to timely elections by reducing unnecessary pre-election litigation.  By requiring employers to disclose full contact information to unions, the rules also work to level the playing field between management and unions so that workers can hear from both sides before they decide whether or not to join a union.  Additionally, the provisions of the proposed rules that would allow for electronic communication and document transmission would modernize pre- and post-election procedures, saving time and money.

In Professor McCartin’s own words, the proposed amendments represent:

“[A] good faith effort to respond to fundamentally significant changes in the context within which the labor law you are sworn to interpret and uphold operates.  To put it simply, history has moved on in ways that have made your existing rules increasingly arcane and inadequate…This changing context demands that rules be revised and updated in order to keep the fundamental balance between workers’ rights and employers’ rights that is called for in your governing statute.  This rule change is no radical revision.  Rather it provides a sober, fair, necessary, and timely modernization of procedures, one that keeps faith with the intention of the nation’s labor law.”

The proposed rules are still within the comment period, which ends August 22, 2011.  If you are interested, you may submit comments at or by mail to the NLRB’s headquarters.

Labor News Round-Up

May 11, 2011


GOP senators vow to block Obama’s NLRB nominees.

New Hampshire House approves right to work legislation.

Missouri Senate may vote on RtW bill soon.

Layoffs of Conn. state workers begin.

Nevada bills would make it easier to fire teachers.

Dispute over Kansas unemployment bill.

Unions sue Iowa Gov. Branstad over PLAs.

CA Teachers Association rallies against budget cuts.

Chicago Teachers Union objects to part of IL school reform bill.

OH teachers agree to dues hike to fight state collective bargaining law.

NEA endorses Obama.

AFSCME seeks yearly review of Exxon Mobil CEO compensation.

Pilots call for US Airways‘ VP for safety to be fired.

Washington Hospital Center, nurses ratify contract.

Tufts Medical Center, nurses reach TA.

Steelworkers, RG Steel ratify contract.

L.A. city union chief accused of theft.


UK: London Tube strike called off.

Kenya’s COTU plans strike over minimum wage.

S. Africa: Unions oppose Wal-Mart merger with Massmart.

Canada: Saskatchewan health workers back on job after one day strike.

Canada: Mexican Consulate accused of blacklisting union-sympathizing
migrant workers.
Pakistan: Power company, union trade accusations over Karachi blackout.

Transport unions reopen Senegal-Gambia border.

Labor News Round-Up

May 4, 2011


Labor rallies mark May Day in NYLA and Wisconsin

Mass. State House restricts bargaining rights of public workers

Republican state senators vote down Florida Gov. Scott’s anti-union bill

Iowa Gov. Branstad issues raise to all state employees

Minnesota bill would restrict union political contributions

CA State Senate approves contracts covering 51,000 state workers

Detroit Mayor seeking concessions from city unions

IAFF halts all federal campaign contributions

7 largest freight railroads reach deal with UTU

Autoworkers sue GM and UAW, alleging contract violations and seeking back pay

UAW may not name strike target in Big Three talks

Connecticut carpenters strike

Oregon millworkers authorize strike

Dearborn, MI teachers agree to cuts

200 jobs projected to be lost in Giant-Teamster contract

Thomson Reuters reaches deal with Newspaper Guild

SAG, AFTRA set to merge

Wilkes-Barre, PA hospital, nurses avert strike

Disputed election for grad students’ union at UCLA

NY Mag profiles Teamster presidential candidate Sandy Pope

New president for Michigan Education Association

Tom Morello releases labor benefit EP


Egyptians rally in Tahrir Square on May Day

AFL-CIO calls for trade pact with Bahrain to be suspended

China’s ACFTU considers representing workers

Canada’s Supreme Court rules farm workers can’t unionize

Canada: Saskatchewan teachers hold one day walkout

Air India pilots strike

Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions pledges support for
striking Turkish construction workers in Vladivostok ahead of APEC

NZ Council of Trade Unions launches big organizing drive

Argentina’s labor chief calls for cabinet positions and profit-sharing law

Swaziland unions merge into single labor federation