Millennials Bring New Hope to Besieged Unions

As a PhD student and graduate employee at the University of Connecticut, Cera Fisher was on her way to a successful career. But she and her colleagues were having a hard time making ends meet. Their stipends were swallowed up by fees; their healthcare was cut back; and they were required to teach more courses without extra pay. “We felt they [the administration] could change our conditions on a whim,” she recalls.

“Norma Rae Moment.” In what Fisher calls their “Norma Rae moment,” more than 2,100 research and teaching assistants organized with the UAW and won improved pay, healthcare, and fee policies.

  • They’re among tens of thousands of “millennials”—America’s largest living generation, aged 22 to 37, who account for three-quarters of unions’ membership gains.
  • Young people are joining together across the economy from academia and digital media to fast-food restaurants and retail outlets.
  • Millennials’ energy, ideas, and numbers are needed more than ever now that unions are besieged by a Supreme Court case to weaken public service employees, “right-to-work” laws that cost workers $6,109 a year, and the Trump administration’s attacks on job safety, overtime protections, retirement security, and other crucial issues.

Historic Support for Unions. Americans are supporting unions in record numbers, and young people are leading the way.

  • Sixty-one percent of all Americans hold favorable views of unions—the highest approval in a decade-and-a-half.
  • Among Americans under 30, unions’ approval ratings are soaring to 76 percent.

Security in an Uncertain Economy. Having come of age during the financial crisis and the recent recession, millennials are joining and organizing unions in order to gain strength and security in an uncertain economy. As we have previously reported, younger workers face numerous challenges, including:

  • The part-timing of jobs;
  • Stagnant wages;
  • Unpaid internships;
  • Contract work;
  • Shrinking healthcare coverage and vanishing pension plans; and
  • “Noncompete” clauses that make it more difficult to move to better jobs.

Delta Tells Workers: We Talk, You Listen

When Delta’s cargo and ramp workers began to organize with the Machinists union, the airline posted an anti-union video on YouTube, Facebook, and other online media.

  • Boss-splaining. The video features executives explaining to workers why a union could interfere with their “direct relationship” with the airline as well as disrupt “the very culture that makes Delta different.”
  • Shut Up, They Explained. But, apparently that relationship is a one-way street—as in, the company speaks, and the workers listen. When the video was first posted to YouTube, comments were permitted. However, after workers started commenting, Delta shut down the comment section altogether.
  • Silencing Social Media. Delta also issued a Social Media Policy for employees forbidding posts that are “inappropriate” or have “the ability to harm Delta.” The airline advised employees that concerns about “pay, job duties, coworkers, issues with company policy or general criticisms about Delta are best directed to your manager.”
  • High-Flying Airline. While Delta seeks to silence them, its cargo and ramp workers would benefit from the stronger voice that a union provides in decisions about the future of their airline. Notably, the company made $5.5 billion in profits last year, and their stock value is soaring, enriching executives and investors.
  • Unions Improve Consumer Service. Airline travelers will also benefit from improved services because unionized airline employees have less turnover, more training, and access to more resources than their non-union counterparts.

Janus Case: An Attack on All Workers

On Monday, February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that will determine whether working Americans can join together to bargain for better pay, healthcare and retirement benefits, working conditions, and career opportunities.

At first glance, the legal action, Janus v. AFSCME, would weaken public-employee unions. But the billionaires, corporations, and foundations who are funding the case have a larger goal: weaken workers’ organizations in the private sector, as well as public service. It’s an effort to further rig the economy and every level of government in favor of the wealthy and well-connected.

If they win, you lose. In a study of Janus’ supporters, the Economic Policy Institute found some familiar folks, including the anti-worker National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and foundations funded by the far-right Koch brothers. These groups oppose raising the minimum wage, expanding health coverage, protecting health and safety at work, and providing paid family leave.

The one-two punch. These groups attack workers from every sector with a one-two punch. First, as in Wisconsin, they rollback public workers’ bargaining rights. Then they enact “right-to-work” (for less) laws, which makes it more difficult for private-sector workers to organize and bargain, costing workers an average of $6,109 a year in lost wages. In recent years, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia have joined the so-called “right-to-work” states. However, it’s not all bad news; Ohio subsequently repealed “right-to-work,” and Missouri voters will have an opportunity to do the same this year.

Tearing down the ladder of opportunity. Weakening public employees will block a path to the middle class, especially for Americans who have been held back by discrimination. Almost 20 percent of African Americans work in federal, state, and local governments and in public education, and black women account for 18 percent of public employment.

Janus Case Targets Public Unions – and All Workers

This Monday (February 26), the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that would make it much more difficult for public-sector workers to bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Billionaires Behind the Case. In Roman mythology, Janus was two-faced, and so is this case. While hiding behind individual workers, the legal action is bankrolled by the same far-right billionaires who are attacking Social Security, Medicare, bargaining rights, and other benefits for all working Americans.

African-American Women at Greatest Risk. An unfavorable ruling by the Court would disproportionately hit African-American women since they account for 17.7% of public-sector workers. Black women are paid only 65 cents of the dollar that their white male counterparts receive. Unions narrow that wage gap by seven cents on the dollar.

Will the Middle Class Grow or Shrink? The real issue is whether working Americans can still earn middle-class livelihoods. Just think how many working families may have dads in private industry and moms in the public schools. Wisconsin has weakened public and private-sector unions, while neighboring Minnesota is taking the high-wage road. The result: Wisconsin leads the nation in middle-class decline, while Minnesota is in the top five states for the middle class.

Why Muzzle Middle-Class Workers? Weakening unions will make the political system even more rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected. Working Americans thrive with public employees—like Minnesota teachers advocating for smaller class sizes—are able to speak up for improved public services.

Building Better Lives through Union Apprenticeship Programs

Working at a retail job she found “boring,” Lindsay Gustafson used to live from “paycheck to paycheck.” She worried that, “If anything ever happened to me, I would have been in major trouble.”

Jobs with Health & Pension Coverage. But then she enrolled in a joint labor-management apprenticeship program, becoming a licensed union plumber at the MGM resort-casino in Springfield, Massachusetts. As a single mom, she can now support her two-year-old daughter and enjoys the security of health and pension benefits.

New Opportunities for Women. Gustafson is one of many women who have found better-paying jobs in construction through the Northeast Center for Tradeswomen’s Equity (NCTE), which works with unions and employers to open new opportunities for training and employment. For instance, Contina Brooks, another woman actively promoting the program, now works as a union operating engineer at the MGM site after having struggled to earn a living in the social services field.

Throughout the Economy. These workers are among millions of women and men who are participating in union education, career training, and professional-development programs in sectors from construction to the auto, steel, aerospace, retail, and telecommunications industries, as well as teaching, healthcare, and state and local governments.

Real Preparation for Real Jobs. These programs have proven records at training and placing workers because unions and employers know what skills and credentials jobs require—and also which occupations are in demand. Few participants are left asking the all-too-common question, “Training for what?”

Young Workers Lead Unions’ Growth

At your next family get-together, youthful members of the “millennial” generation just might have something in common with their elders – union cards.

  • Unions Growing Again: Last year, the nation’s total number of union members grew by 262,000. And three-quarters of these gains (198,000) were among workers aged 34 and under, even though these young people account for less than 40 percent of total employment.
  • Young Workers Make History: In 2017, only about 7.7 percent of workers 16–34 were union members, compared with 12.6 percent age 35 and older. After many years of young people having lower union-membership rates than older workers, younger workers are now driving a historic shift. Of the 858,000 net new jobs for workers under 35, almost one in four (23 percent) was a union job.
  • Strength Amidst Uncertainty: Having entered the workforce during the last recession, younger workers are joining and organizing unions in order to gain strength and security in an uncertain economy. As the Economic Policy Institute reports, younger workers face the part-timing of jobs, stagnant wages, unpaid internships, contract work, diminishing benefits, and “noncompete” clauses that make it more difficult to move to better jobs.


It Takes More than Tax Break$ to Save Jobs

Remember when Donald Trump stood outside the Carrier heating and air conditioner plant in Indianapolis and promised to save more than 1,100 jobs in return for $7 million in state and local tax breaks?
Unfortunately, Trump’s promises fell apart. About 340 Carrier workers lost their jobs in July, and another 215 workers are being laid off on today.
Despite the human tragedy at Carrier, Republicans slashed taxes on businesses by $1 trillion in their new law and claim it will lead to more jobs.
While Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, made over $7 billion in profits in 2015, it was lured by low wages in Mexico. Represented by the United Steelworkers, which Trump shut out of negotiations, three quarters of Carrier’s Indiana workers make about $26 an hour, and many earn more than $70,000 a year with overtime. But the base pay for the workers in Mexico will be only $3.00-an-hour.
The lesson: It takes more than closed-door deals, media events and corporate tax breaks to save workers’ jobs.

Watch: Carrier workers say they’ve been betrayed.