America Can Attain Full Employment with a Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency

Apr 9, 2014Jeff Madrick

A new report from the Rediscovering Government Initiative lays out 15 ways the government can create more and better jobs starting right now.

A new report from the Rediscovering Government Initiative lays out 15 ways the government can create more and better jobs starting right now.

After five long years, the economy has at last produced enough new jobs to compensate for the 8 million lost in the Great Recession of 2009. But in that same period some 7 million more Americans reached employment age, and we have only produced about half the jobs we need to keep up with population growth. To make matters worse, the jobs created during the recovery pay on average much less than those lost. Yet rather than pulling out all the stops to create more and better jobs, too many politicians and economists tell us we can’t move too quickly. They cite limitation after limitation: inflation fears, budget deficits, skills mismatches, and so on. Americans deserve better than this defeatism. We deserve bold action.

In a new report, A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency, the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative offers fifteen ideas that could get us back to true full employment and at the same time build a foundation for rapid economic growth in the future. We are demanding a full-court press to recreate the economic opportunity that America once offered. We emphasize some ideas that have been heard before, but many that are forced to the back seat or are hardly talked about at all.

There are taboos among policymakers that are holding us back. Above all, we must take fiscal stimulus seriously again. Today’s economy operates far below its growth potential. The fiscal stimulus we need should not only make the social safety net whole but also be tied to aggressive investment in transportation, communications, and clean technologies that have been badly neglected.

The federal government can itself create useful, good-paying jobs in transportation, teaching, and health care. A carefully crafted federal job creation program, as was successfully enacted under FDR, can work today. Fifty billion dollars worth of new jobs could go a long way toward helping Americans.

The repressive effect on jobs and wages that results from aggressive Wall Street practices is all but invisible in Washington. Academic economists are almost as bad as the Washington think tanks in paying too little attention to how big finance can undermine both jobs and wages. Our report highlights the findings of researchers such as Eileen Appelbaum, formerly of Rutgers, and Rosemary Batt of Cornell, who show that the leveraged buyout and privatization crazes have on average led to many lost jobs and significantly less spending on R&D. It also showcases the work of William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, who has long called attention to how massive corporate stock buybacks may help shareholders in the short run but hurt the American economy by diverting investment.

Poor wages are also part and parcel of America’s economic failure. Today’s typical household earns no more after inflation than it did almost 20 years ago. Only 44 percent of Americans think they are middle class, the lowest level recorded. However, until fairly recently, raising the minimum wage has also been taboo. The bill before Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 may still not pass, but intelligently designed studies suggest such a hike could lift not just 1 million, as the Congressional Budget Office has too conservatively estimated, but 6 million people out of poverty and provide raises for about 25 million people. Similarly, we need an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless adults, which the president supports.

Most tragically, we neglect our young. Six million or so Americans ages 16 to 24 are neither in school nor have a job. Dozens of local agencies have been created to place these “opportunity youth” on a middle-class track. But they badly need to be scaled up, and federal support is the only way to do so.

The new interest in funding pre-kindergarten in New York City and elsewhere is welcome. But help has to come much earlier in the lives of children in poverty. One in every five America children under the age of six live in poverty, the second-highest rate in the rich world. A growing body of research shows unambiguously how poor children are cognitively and emotional deprived—and how bleak their futures inevitably are. In America more than in any other rich country, inequality begins at birth. We need to address this crisis to begin building the economy of the future.

If America wants a strong future, it had also better invest more in technological research. Government research has been the heart of the innovation economy, as economists have increasingly shown. But Congress mindlessly cut such research last year. It must be revived and expanded. Other recommendations in our report include investments in energy, national paid family leave policies, and re-vamped workforce training.

The decline of work is not inevitable, and there are more ideas than the 15 we present in our report. We calculate that we can get the unemployment rate below 5 percent and raise wages with a combination of such programs, without incurring a dangerously growing budget deficit.

But bankrupt ideology, narrow politics, and bad economics are robbing the nation of its confidence and hope for the future. A comprehensive jobs plan is not even being attempted in America. Failure becomes contagious. Let’s end the fatalism about employment in America now and win back the nation’s hard-won optimism. 

Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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Daily Digest - April 9: The Social Safety Net is Popular Because It Works

Apr 9, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The One Part of the Charity vs. Social Welfare Argument That Everyone Ignores (The Week)

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The One Part of the Charity vs. Social Welfare Argument That Everyone Ignores (The Week)

Building on Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal's piece in Democracy Journal on the myth that private charity could replace government, Matt Bruenig argues that the status quo bias – "let's hold on to what works" – protects social safety net programs once they're in place.

Bill to Restore U.S. Unemployment Insurance Likely to Deadlock in Congress (The Guardian)

Dan Roberts reports that John Boehner will not allow a vote on extended unemployment insurance, which lapsed in December, without provisions to encourage job growth, though the GOP hasn't offered any big ideas.

Labor Department Intervenes on Behalf of Hearst Interns (ProPublica)

In its first amicus brief in an unpaid internship lawsuit, the Labor Department urged the court to use stricter standards to determine whether an unpaid internship is permissible, writes Kara Brandeisky.

Banks Ordered to Add Capital to Limit Risks (NYT)

Federal regulators will increase the leverage ratio, which measures the amount of capital a bank must hold against its assets, writes Peter Eavis. Supporters say this rule is simpler and easier to enforce than other parts of financial reform.

Fed Gives Banks More Time on Volcker Rule Detail (Reuters)

Douwe Miedema reports that banks will get two additional years, through July 21, 2017, to sell off collateralized loan obligations, which the Volcker Rule deems too risky for banks to invest in.

The Unexpected Benefit of Telling People What Their Coworkers Make (The Atlantic)

On Equal Pay Day, many spoke up for pay disclosure as a way to reduce the wage gap. Emiliano Huet-Vaughn's research shows that pay transparency also significantly increases worker productivity.

New on Next New Deal

Is Short-Term Unemployment a Better Predictor of Inflation?

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues that we should not ignore long-term unemployment while analyzing how the economy is doing. That makes the Great Recession data make more sense, he says, but isn't applicable today.

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Daily Digest - April 8: Equal Pay Still Isn't a Reality

Apr 8, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Why the GOP is Wrong About the Pay Gap (MSNBC)

With President Obama signing executive orders to fight the pay gap on Equal Pay Day, Irin Carmon lays out the shortcomings in the current system for fighting pay discrimination.

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Why the GOP is Wrong About the Pay Gap (MSNBC)

With President Obama signing executive orders to fight the pay gap on Equal Pay Day, Irin Carmon lays out the shortcomings in the current system for fighting pay discrimination.

Cities Advance Their Fight Against Rising Inequality (NYT)

Cities are working to fight inequality locally because they aren't willing to wait on the federal government, writes Annie Lowrey. Seattle, which is debating a $15-an-hour minimum wage, is a prime example.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong gave the closing remarks at Seattle's Income Inequality Symposium on March 27.

Maryland Set to Increase Its Minimum Wage to $10.10 by 2018 (WaPo)

Jenna Johnson reports on the final agreement on the minimum wage in the Maryland legislature. Maryland is the second state to take President Obama's advice and lead the charge for a $10.10 minimum wage.

Congress May Extend Corporate Tax Breaks But Not Unemployment Benefits (National Priorities Project)

Mattea Kramer points out a case of classic Washington illogic: Congress is preparing to extend corporate tax breaks worth $700 billion, but won't extend unemployment insurance because it would add $10 billion to the deficit.

GOP Grapples With The Unsettling Fear That Obamacare May Succeed (TPM)

Sahil Kapur says the 7 million Americans and potential voters who registered for insurance on the exchanges during open enrollment create a challenge for Republican candidates, whose base still supports repeal.

Yes, Rubio's Antipoverty Plan Would Cut Benefits to Working Parents (TNR)

Danny Vinik writes that it's mathematically impossible for Senator Rubio's plan to increase benefits for childless working adults and remain deficit-neutral, as his office has claimed it will, without reducing benefits to parents.

Workers on the Edge (TAP)

David Bensman looks at the difficulties faced by workers whose employers misclassify them as independent contractors. Employers do this to avoid paying workers' compensation, overtime, and even some taxes.

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Daily Digest - April 7: Monopolies are a Net Loss for Economic Growth

Apr 7, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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How to Build a High-Speed Broadband Network in Seattle (Seattle Times)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how Internet service provider monopolies limit the Seattle mayor's goals for economic growth, and how the city could go about installing high-speed fiber.

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How to Build a High-Speed Broadband Network in Seattle (Seattle Times)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how Internet service provider monopolies limit the Seattle mayor's goals for economic growth, and how the city could go about installing high-speed fiber.

Not Your Grandpa’s Labor Union (Boston Globe)

Leon Neyfakh looks at efforts to reshape labor organizing in light of precarious relationships between employees and employers. He speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren about the approach he and colleagues take with the Future of Work Initiative.

  • Roosevelt Take: The Future of Work Initiative recently released a white paper on labor regulation and enforcement by Fellow Annette Bernhardt, and a report on worker organizing by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch.

U.S. Adds 192,000 Jobs in March as Unemployment Rate Remains at 6.7% (The Guardian)

Job growth was lower than economists expected, says Heidi Moore, which seems to confirm that the U.S.'s economic recovery is, as Fed Chair Janet Yellen put it, "far from complete."

Labor Secretary: Long-term Unemployment Keeps Me up at Night (Five Thirty Eight)

Ben Casselman speaks to Tom Perez following the release of the March jobs report. Perez says government needs to do more for the long-term unemployed, but the cost of such programs is challenging.

Obama To Sign Executive Orders On Equal Pay (HuffPo)

Laura Bassett reports that the president's orders will mirror the likely-to-fail Paycheck Fairness Act, which is meant to hold contractors more accountable for sex- or race-based salary differences.

Under Pressure, Wal-Mart Upgrades its Policy for Helping Pregnant Workers (WaPo)

Unfortunately, writes Lydia DePillis, while Wal-Mart's new policy is an improvement, it still might not be enough to ensure the company accommodates pregnant workers on the job instead of forcing them out of work.

New on Next New Deal

Labor Law for All Workers: Empowering Workers to Challenge Corporate Decision Making

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch concludes his series on his new report on labor reform by discussing additional policy proposals that push back on the major challenges of organizing workers in today's economy.

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Labor Law for All Workers: Empowering Workers to Challenge Corporate Decision Making

Apr 4, 2014Richard Kirsch

This is the sixth and last in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers to Ensure Prosperity for All." The report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class.  Today’s post outlines possible policy solut

This is the sixth and last in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers to Ensure Prosperity for All." The report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class.  Today’s post outlines possible policy solutions to several major challenges to organizing workers in today’s economy. Over the next year, the Future of Work project will be exploring many of these ideas in depth. Their inclusion here is to begin surfacing ideas, rather than as final recommendations for reform.

If we are to give American workers the ability to bargain for a fair share of the wealth they create, we need strengthen labor law – as discussed in my last post – and bring in 34 millions workers (one-in-four) who are now excluded from the National Labor Relations Act.  These include domestic workers, farmworkers, front-line workers with minimum supervisory responsibilities, and public employees. The law should also be extended to include many workers now considered “independent contractors, ” even though an employer effectively determines their pay and working conditions. Examples range from truck drivers and cab drivers to adjunct faculty.

Some of the most innovative and effective organizing of low-wage workers is being done by new types of worker organizations. Worker centers and other groups can and often do perform public services, such as job training, occupational safety and health training, monitoring compliance with labor laws and enrolling workers in a variety of public programs. Government funding should be awarded to the worker groups for these services. Public entities could also bargain directly with worker groups, such as those representing home health care workers. And when government directly or indirectly pays for workers – for example home health care workers are funded by Medicare and Medicaid, – it should require that workers have decent wages and benefits, and provide sufficient funding.

We should also imagine broadening the scope of traditional labor law in the United States, to challenge traditional corporate prerogatives in the economy. When corporate growth comes at the expense of workers, it slows down the economy, because workers have less to spend. Corporations hurt communities when they relocate to seek lower paid workforces and lower taxes, or lobby against worker protections. When corporations lobby for lower taxes, they shirk their responsibility to pay for public services – from the roads on which they transport their goods, to the schools that educate their workers – resulting in deteriorating services and higher taxes on individuals and other businesses that do not get tax breaks.

Organized workers can serve as a powerful antidote to the concentration of corporate power. The law should block corporations from transferring jobs from unionized to non-unionized facilities and from making long-term investment decisions that modernize non-union facilities at the expense of union facilities. Under current law, these practices are banned only when the NLRB can prove that the employer was motivated by anti-union bias, a high bar that is difficult to reach.

The law should require unionized employers to recognize the union as the representative of new workers at any new facilities that the employer establishes or acquires. Unionized employers should not be allowed to close their business or specific facilities without first offering them for sale on the market. Bankruptcy courts should not be able to change union contracts without permission from the union.

The scope of subjects over which employers are currently required to bargain with their employees could be expanded to a number of other subjects that impact workers and communities, including the introduction of new products, decisions to invest in new facilities, pricing, and marketing. In that way, the welfare of workers - not just the interests of shareholders and executives – would be considered in business decisions. Strikes could also be allowed over a broader range of corporate policies, including decisions that impact communities and consumers.

Workers could also be given more of a role in corporate decision-making by requiring employers to allow the formation of “works councils,” an organizational form common in European countries. Works councils are established jointly by employers and worker organizations to represent workers in decisions in the workplace, ranging from personnel and management decisions to policies governing working conditions and major investments and locations. The current provisions in the NLRA, which are designed to block the formation of employer-controlled unions, may need to be amended to clarify that works councils may be set up when the workers approve of the councils and are not objectively dominated by the employer. Another measure would require that corporate boards of directors include representatives of unions, who would have full access to all corporate data.

Local, state, and federal governments could leverage public contracts and subsidies to require employers to comply with workers’ rights to organize. For example, they could prohibit employers from running anti-union campaigns and they could require the recognition of card check elections or other forms of establishing majority support. Government could also require that firms that receive public contracts and subsidies meet standards for pay and benefits, as President Obama has done with his recent executive order establishing a $10.10 minimum wage for workers of federal government contractors.

I’ll conclude with an observation about the politics of the variety of purposely-ambitious policy ideas I’ve outlined in the last two posts in this series. Good ideas can play a key role in organizing workers and in the other ways of making change. It is much easier to get where you want to go if you know where you want to go. Good ideas give people hope that there can be a better world and help them see the way forward.

But the power to win these policies will come through organizing people at work and in their communities, through changing culture and the public’s understanding of the importance of organized workers in moving the economy forward. The most important of these will be organizing workers to demand that they receive a fair share of the wealth they help create.

We hope that the ideas and discussion generated by the Future of Work in America will inspire Americans to ensure that every job respects the dignity and value of every worker, as we build an America of broadly shared prosperity.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - April 4: McCutcheon Makes Money Speak Louder

Apr 4, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Big Money in Politics (ABC World News)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Soros speaks with Brian Ross about political spending in the post-McCutcheon era, with no limits on aggregate campaign contributions.

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Big Money in Politics (ABC World News)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Soros speaks with Brian Ross about political spending in the post-McCutcheon era, with no limits on aggregate campaign contributions.

Supreme Court Decision Opens Floodgates for More Campaign Cash (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson discusses how the McCutcheon decision will affect American democracy. He says that without public campaign financing, just a few people get to control the system.

Fast Food Workers Will Protest Again Today. Here's What They're Up Against. (MoJo)

When fast food workers rally for a $15-an-hour wage, they're facing a well-funded and well-coordinated restaurant industry. Erika Eichelberger runs through the numbers from a new report on the restaurant lobby.

Emails Show Sen. Corker’s Chief of Staff Coordinated with Network of Anti-UAW Union Busters (In These Times)

Mike Elk reports on leaked documents showing that members of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and Governor Bill Haslam's staffs worked directly with anti-union groups during the union drive at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.

Ryan Budget Gets 69 Percent of Its Cuts from Low-Income Programs (Off the Charts)

With $3.3 trillion of the budget's $4.8 trillion in non-defense spending cuts coming from programs that support low-income Americans, Richard Kogan questions the rhetoric of the Ryan budget helping the poor.

New on Next New Deal

In the Wake of McCutcheon, Can Democracy Tame Capital?

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch ties the McCutcheon v. FEC decision to Thomas Piketty's new book, Capital in the 21st Century, as the Supreme Court has just increased the power of wealth in this country.

Farewell, Campaign Finance Restrictions, and Hello, Mega-Donors

Jeff Raines, Chair of the Student Board of Advisors for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, looks at the McCutcheon decision and the state of campaign finance law and considers what's to come in the 2014 elections.

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Labor Law That Would Support Organizing in Today’s Economy

Apr 3, 2014Richard Kirsch

This is the fifth in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute paper report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled the "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers for and Ensure Prosperity for All." The paper report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class.

This is the fifth in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute paper report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled the "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers for and Ensure Prosperity for All." The paper report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class. Today’s post outlines possible policy solutions to several major challenges to organizing workers in today’s economy. Over the next year, the Future of Work project will be exploring many of these ideas in depth. Their inclusion here is to begin surfacing ideas, rather than as final recommendations for reform.

For decades, organized labor has supported federal legislation that aims to correct the imbalances in the NLRANational Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which favor employers and block unionization. The most recent push was for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which President Obama supported when he ran in 2008. However, in the face of threatened filibuster in the Senate by Republicans and a handful of Democrats, the President never made the issue a priority.

The list of potential reforms to the NLRA is as long as the law’s weaknesses. The top priority inof the EFCA was requiring employers to recognize a union once a majority of workers in the workplace had signed a card supporting the union. Card check elections could be expanded to include mail ballots and confidential on-line ballots as methods for demonstrating support from a majority of workers.

Other potential policies focus on leveling the playing field in union elections. Employers could be required to allow union representatives to have access to workers on the employer’s premises and be given equal time to speak to employees, when equal to the time employers spend campaigning against unionization.

Other reforms would create meaningful disincentives for employers, such as substantial penalties for retaliating against workers, rather than the current virtually meaningless penalty of requiring employers to provide back pay. Employers could also be prohibited from hiring replacement workers during a strike or lockout. Indeed, lockouts could be outlawed altogether.

While the reforms above are aimed at correcting long-established imbalances in labor law, other polices would tackle a big challenge in today’s economy. The nation’s biggest employers, fast-food chains and big box stores, have thousands of locations, each with a relatively small number of workers. Organizing these huge employers could be facilitated by allowing bargaining at multiple worksites. This would give unions the right to define the boundaries of bargaining units, either combining the units that exist within a single corporation or bringing together workers who labor for multiple employers within the same industry.

Another approach would require the creation of multi-employer consortia for the purposes of bargaining, allowing for workers to organize for better wages and working conditions in an entire industry.

Another policy would expand the use of hiring halls to a number of industries, potentially modeled after the construction industry. In construction, union members typically work on short-term jobs for multiple employers. These construction workers are hired through union hiring halls, and they receive health and retirement benefits from a multi-employer insurance fund administered jointly with the union.

To build on this model, employers in other industries could be required to hire workers through hiring halls, run by worker organizations. Employers would be required to pay into a fund run by the worker organizations, which would administer portable benefits - – including health coverage, retirement accounts, and earned sick days, family leave, and vacation - – earned by individual workers through their work with multiple employers,

Another transformational policy would be to end the requirement that a union win majority recognition in a given bargaining, with the responsibility to represent all the workers in that unit. Instead, unions would could be allowed to represent only those workers who choose to join the union. Members-only unions could operate across numerous employers within an industry, within a region or across a supply chain. Repealing exclusive representation would allow members-only unions to collectively bargain for their members and to represent only their members in grievances with their employers. A hybrid system would allow members-only unions to function until such time that a majority of workers vote to establish a union with the responsibility of exclusive representation.

In today’s economy, many workers are employed by companies that are largely or wholly dependent on huge companies that drive national and global supply chains. Labor policies must enable workers to seek decent wages and working conditions from those big companies, even if they do not work for them directly.

Companies like Walmart often contract with warehouse companies that almost exclusively handle Walmart-bound products. Policy changes to hold a dominant employer accountable for the companies that it effectively controls, would make a company like Walmart accountable for the conditions in those warehouses and require them to bargain with the warehouse workers. Similarly, it is common in the garment industry for a major retailer to require garment factories to produce items to the retailer’s specifications. The major company would be held accountable to the workers in those subcontracted garment factories. The dominant employer would be responsible if the controlled company violates labor laws, including labor standards, worker organizing and occupational safety and health protections.

Another approach would be to address the now-common practice of employers misclassifying workers as “independent contractors” in order to reduce compensation costs to employees and to exclude those workers from federal labor law protections. If workers are misclassified, all of the employers up the supply chain could be held legally responsible. Anti-trust and labor law should be changed to remove any barriers to worker organizations reaching agreements with a dominant employer that would apply to other firms in the supply chain.

Restoring the right to organize boycotts or strikes of companies in the supply chain, would be another tool for unions to pressure companies upstream or downstream from the company being organized.

Taken together, these measures would level the playing field for workers who now face a huge economic and legal imbalance as they seek a fair share of the enormous wealth being produced by huge, global employers.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - April 3: Once Upon a Time There Was No Safety Net

Apr 3, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Faith in Values: The Conservative Fairy Tale About Government (CAP)

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Faith in Values: The Conservative Fairy Tale About Government (CAP)

Sally Steenland draws on Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal's argument against "the voluntarism fantasy" to argue for the strength of the progressive narrative, in which government and private entities work together to help society.

  • Roosevelt Take: Mike debunked the idea that private charity could take the place of government in fighting poverty in Democracy Journal.

The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting (The Nation)

Connecting the dots between yesterday's decision in McCutcheon v. FEC and other recent decisions on voting and campaign finance, Ari Berman says that the same groups are favoring secret money and voting restriction.

  • Roosevelt Take: Jeff Raines, Chair of the Student Board of Advisors for Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, argued in October that McCutcheon was really about how much influence we allow the wealthiest Americans to have over our elected officials.

Will Disclosure Save Us From the Corrupting Influence of Big Money? (TAP)

Paul Waldman raises the question of whether campaign finance disclosure is enough to limit political corruption, because he thinks the courts could one day use disclosure as justification to eliminate all contribution limits.

Are The Views Of America's Wealthiest Undermining Democracy? (Forbes)

A new study on the opinions of the top 0.1 percent of Americans shows that they hold substantially different political views, and their high rate of campaign contributions may mean those views get more attention from policymakers.

A Union Aims at Pittsburgh’s Biggest Employer (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on the Service Employees International Union's efforts to unionize the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where workers say great benefits don't matter when they can't afford the health insurance.

New on Next New Deal

Labor Law that That Would Support Organizing in Today’s Economy

In the fifth piece in his series on his new report on labor reform, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch begins to lay out some of the possible ways to strengthen labor laws.

Taking on Big Business Wage Theft

Harmony Goldberg, the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Future of Work Initiative, argues that government needs to strengthen enforcement and change laws so that workers aren't forced to sue in order to get their fair wages.

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The Challenges to Organizing Workers in Today's Economy

Apr 2, 2014Richard Kirsch

This is the fourth in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute paper report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Ensure Prosperity for All." The report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class.

This is the fourth in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute paper report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Ensure Prosperity for All." The report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class. Today’s post identified the major challenges posed by the changes in how employment is structured, which new policies must address.

When you consider what it would take, under American labor law, to organize the nation’s biggest employers, you understand the huge challenge unions face to organize workers and win a fair share of the nation's economic progress.

Today, the largest employers in the country (Walmart, McDonalds and Yum Brands – owner of major fast-food chains like KFC and Pizza Hut) – employ a small number of workers, primarily low-wage, at each of their thousands of locations. Walmart - which employs approximately 300 workers at each location - is the largest of these. Unions would need to collect the signatures of half of the workers at each of thousands of locations, so organizing a major share of the company’s employees is daunting.

After a union did get the support of a majority of workers at any location, the company could warn its employees against voting for the union while they were on the clock, but the union would need to find and talk to each employee outside of work. The only penalty the company would face for firing union activists or supporters would be to pay back-pay, a nominal amount when wages are so low, and only after a protracted regulatory and judicial process.

Of course, since many of the workers are part-time, job turnover is very high. As a result, the longer the store succeeds in delaying an election, the more workers will turn over, requiring the union to continually organize new crops of workers to win a simple majority. If the workers won the election and the store refused to negotiate in good faith, it could prolong the talks until only a few of the original workers remained. If workers did strike, the store could hire replacement workers and wait longer. Or they could decide to close the store – as Walmart did in Canada – because the loss to the company of one outlet among thousands has virtually no impact on its bottom line. And if by some miracle a union organizing effort was successful, the union would represent only the one store that employed only a fraction of the corporation’s workforce, making it difficult to influence broader industry standards.

When we look at the job categories that are adding the most workers today we see the same story. The organizing challenges of two groups of workers - retail sales and fast food - are captured in the discussion above. We also find other obstacles. Only one of the six job categories with the most job growth – registered nurses – has historically been represented by unions. A substantial share of workers in two other growing categories – home health aides and personal care aides – are not covered by the NLRA, whether because they work for the person they are assisting or because they are categorized as independent contractors.

We can group the major challenges facing labor organizing and policy into five categories:

Current labor law is tilted against unions. There are virtually no strong incentives for employers to recognize unions or to reach bargaining agreements. Government is ineffective in enforcing the laws on the books and powerful tools that unions might use to gain more power in the economy are prohibited.

Only a relatively small number of workers are employed at one site. As we described above, organizing workers at many of the nation’s large corporations now requires successful campaigns at thousands of worksites.

Industries are typified by diverse, global supply chains, in which a major corporation that sells goods to the public does not directly employ many of the workers who produce its products. As a result, the employer that is driving the price for the good or service being delivered is shielded from legal responsibility for the conditions of work, the compensation paid to many of the people who make the good or deliver the service, and responsibility for responding to unionization efforts.

Labor law does not cover many workers. Approximately one-in-four workers are not covered by the NLRA or other labor laws. These include domestic workers, farmworkers, supervisors and independent contractors.

Corporations have become much more powerful than unions and often more powerful than governments, making decisions that determine people’s well being and shape the national and global economy. Corporations use their power to cut wages and benefits, including by subverting labor laws.

A major goal of the Future of Work Initiative is to envision policies to address these challenges, in order to create a society of broadly shared prosperity. We seek policies to both reform and transform American labor law and policy. In the final two posts in this series, we will describe a wide variety of policy ideas to address the five major challenges listed above.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - April 2: Winning the Fight Against Inequality

Apr 2, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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5 Facts About Women’s History That Will Keep You Fighting (MTV Act)

Danica Davidson talks to Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Ellen Chesler about some of the most incredible accomplishments in women's history and the still-unfinished work of the feminist movement.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

5 Facts About Women’s History That Will Keep You Fighting (MTV Act)

Danica Davidson talks to Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Ellen Chesler about some of the most incredible accomplishments in women's history and the still-unfinished work of the feminist movement.

Paul Ryan’s Budget: Even More Austerity (MSNBC)

Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid will get more attention, but Suzy Khimm points out that Paul Ryan has proposed dramatic cuts to discretionary spending, including Pell grants and other programs targeted at low-income communities.

The Myth of Working Your Way Through College (The Atlantic)

A graduate student at Michigan State University has examined the data, reports Svati Kirsten Narula, and the costs of a year's tuition alone now exceed what a student could make working full-time at minimum wage.

Good News! Janet Yellen Speaks English, Not Fedspeak (The Nation)

William Greider praises the new Federal Reserve chair for her clarity when speaking to the public about the economy. He says she didn't dumb anything down while asserting the Fed's plans to support job creation.

New on Next New Deal

Why Inequality Matters and What Can Be Done About It

In his remarks to the Senate Budget Committee yesterday, Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz discussed the relationship between policy and inequality, calling on the senators to take action.

The Challenges to Organizing Workers in Today's Economy

In the fourth post in his series on his new report on labor reform, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch lays out the difficulties facing labor organizing today.

Reducing Flood Risks is Worth the Effort – and the Savings

Melia Ungson, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment, writes about the Community Rating System, a program that encourages communities to reduce flood risks in exchange for lower insurance premiums.

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