As president of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), Dave Regan is well aware that over the past several decades, the number of American workers who are part of a labor union has declined fairly steadily — and the scales of power have continued to tip from workers to corporations.
“For most Americans we’re looked at as, at best, a mystery,” he acknowledges, “and, at worst, a problem and completely irrelevant.” To change that, he is calling for a major shift in the labor movement.
Regan’s new plan to help unions “regain their relevance” is a reversal of what he argues has been happening for years: Unions have played defense, as politicians and business have worked to weaken them — and focused heavily on policies and rules that help their own members. Instead, he believes, it is time for the labor movement to “play offense” and focus on large scale action to help not just union members but working people across the country. And he proposes to do this by using the ballot initiative process available in 24 states.
Commentary by The Secular Jurist: This is a long overdue shift in priorities for the labor movement; however, telegraphing their intentions by publicizing it may not be so wise.
To be successful, the first thing a national labor movement needs to do is to repeal the anti-union Taft Hartley Act, owing to the major restrictions in imposes on grassroots union organizing and the right to strike: http://stuartjeannebramhall.com/2014/02/23/where-have-all-the-unions-gone/
Repealing Taft Hartley was an important part of Ralph Nader’s platform when he ran for president in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
That’s a very informative article, and I urge everyone to read it.
I think that this movement is a postive step. I don’t know if it will work, but I think change may have more of a chance with ballot initiatives. The article says that it has lead to important reforms in some places, so I think it’s worth a try to continue to use this option.
I can tell you from personal experience that in the TV news industry, TV crew labor unions are looked at as a problem because they have many requirements that TV stations have to follow if they want to keep these workers. For instance, if a camerman works any overtime at all, he has to be payed a lot extra, to the point where TV stations have to constantly be worried about covering a story before the cameraman’s shift is up. The overtime pay is so high that many TV news stations have let go of most of their cameramen. TV news, and news in general, is not making as much money as it used to, so everyone’s cutting back There are also some wierd job duty rules that make it difficult for TV stations to know how to assign tasks to union members (required pay, hours, positions, and even job titles that must be met). I found this out when being given a tour of a NY-based news station with a journalism class. It’s unfortunate but true that in some industries, unions are seen as a hassle. Unions definitly need to improve their image.
Labor unions’ strategy to broaden their political appeal meshes perfectly with our “super group” plan attempted earlier this year. Coincidence?
I must disagree with your second point, Tanya. The TV news industry signed those collective bargaining contracts willingly and are obligated to its provisions just as the unions are. Blaming the latter for the former’s poor business performance does not seem fitting. It’s also, not surprisingly, a rhetorical meme frequently used by Republicans. Television news, once a robust not-for-profit journalistic duty of the broadcast media, was deliberately transitioned into a profit-making entertainment business through President Reagan’s deregulation agenda. Unions weren’t to blame for that. In our current state of economic inequality – where the gap between rich and poor is ever widening – American workers need more solidarity and bargaining power against huge greedy corporations, not less. Labor unions can provide that if they are supported by the people. This is just my “progressive” opinion.
I didn’t mean at all to say that what’s happening to unions is their own fault. I just think that TV news orgs seem to resent what the unions ask of them, as if they are asking too much. I think unions are extremely important- without them, the average worker has very little power or support against businesses.
I also feel that we should think about “getting in on” what this union group is doing. I intend for unions, and workers in general (as I’m sure you do, too) to be part of our base of supporters/participants.
Thanks for the clarification.