open shop america

Update, June 27: As expected, today the Supreme Court ruled against the union in Janus v. AFSCME District 31, invalidating agency fees. This makes the whole public sector open-shop. Coming soon: the Labor Notes guide to organizing in open-shop America.

One of corporate America’s next big goals might surprise you: passing legislation to prevent unions from having to represent workers who don’t pay dues. This is just the latest of many business-friendly labor law reforms proliferating across the country.

Hostile forces are poised to encourage public sector workers to ditch their unions as soon as the Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case in 2018. To stave off a big exodus, many unions are asking workers to commit to keep paying dues. If you’re active in your union, leaders may even be asking you to “sell” membership to your co-workers.

If there’s one lesson labor can draw from the events of 2017, it’s this—to survive and grow in the face of a nationally coordinated employer offensive, we’ll have to use the attacks against us as organizing opportunities.

New York City building trades unions are in a fight that hits at the very core of their jurisdiction: big commercial office buildings.

At $4 billion and 2.9 million square feet, 50 Hudson Yards will be the city’s most expensive and fourth-largest office building. And it’s just one of 16 skyscrapers slated for Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in U.S. history. This sprawling redevelopment of a former railyard is reshaping a section of Manhattan’s West Side, while employing an estimated 23,000 construction workers over the course of a decade.

Two years ago Tennessee’s billionaire governor Bill Haslam, then the richest elected politician in the country (now it’s Trump), quietly initiated the largest and most radical restructuring of public services in the state’s history.

His plan was designed in secret and written as an executive action, deliberately excluding legislators and the public. It would outsource every one of the state’s thousands of facilities management and service jobs—at campuses, parks, even armories—every custodian, maintenance worker, electrician, plumber, painter, and groundskeeper.

The whole public sector will likely become “right to work” next year, barring another miracle at the Supreme Court.

Once the conservative majority rules in Janus v. AFSCME, likely before June, life will change for unions in the 23 states that till now have rejected right-to-work laws. Public sector unions in those states will no longer be able to collect “agency fees” from workers whom they represent but who choose not to join their locals.

As right-to-work laws proliferate, it's worth remembering that they originated as a means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations in the South and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish conspiracy.

The final two decades of the 19th century, beginning with the great strike wave of 1877, and the first two decades of the 20th century were a period of intense class combat in the United States.

Postal unions, like all federal employee unions, are open shop. That means workers can get the benefits of union representation while opting out of paying dues.

Yet the postal unions generally maintain high rates of voluntary union membership—and Letter Carriers Branch 82 in Portland, Oregon, does even better than most. From 90 percent membership five years ago, it has “slowly up-ticked,” says Organizing Chair Willie Groshell, to around 95 percent of the 1,200 represented carriers.

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