State of the Unions 2020

The 2020 “State of the Unions” report Ruth Milkman and I write each Labor Day is out.

This year, we took a look at the impact of Covid-19 on some of the largest unions. Between furloughs and layoffs, Covid infections, and deaths, the numbers are devastating.

Union density continues to decline overall and in New York City. But despite the attacks on public-sector unions, public sector density went up in New York City. This may be evidence that the unions’ efforts to do serious internal organizing paid off.

Over 60% of all union members in the city, and over 70% of all members in the state, work in just three sectors: education, health care, and public administration.

Unions and Racial Justice

How can unions go beyond statements of support for racial justice? I interviewed Rob Baril from 1199 SEIU-New England, Pam Galpern from CWA 1101, and Maryclare Flores and Lea Serena from the Boston Teachers Union to hear more about what their unions are doing to advance the struggle and tell their stories at Organizing Upgrade.
Rob Baril represents health care workers. “There are a lot of ways in which Black Lives don’t matter,” he said. “Whether you can’t breathe because a cop has a knee of your neck, or because you have to use a trash bag for PPE, you are just as dead.”

Digital Media organizing

Five years ago, workers at Gawker Media voted to form a union with the Writer’s Guild of America, East. That set off a wave of unionization among digital writers and podcasters. In five years, the Guild has organized 21 shops and over 2,000 workers.

In honor of the 5 year anniversary, Haley Shaffer and I interviewed Guild members and organizers to hear how much the union has accomplished. See the report and website display here!

The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes How Fragile Capitalism Already Was

In my latest piece for Labor Notes, I argue that the pandemic didn’t cause the economy to crash: it was only a trigger. You could say that the real economy was already immune-compromised and had little ability to withstand disruption.

The pandemic is exposing just how dysfunctional our economic system was to begin with. Capitalism is ideologically based on the principles of individualism and competition, but it becomes completely clear in a pandemic that what’s needed is solidarity: collective solutions that help everyone.

It Didn’t Have to Be Like This

We are being told we have to choose between saving lives and saving jobs.

I wrote this article for Labor Notes arguing we have other choices.

We can continue on the same path: privatize more of the health care system; bail out the rich, the banks, and the corporations; make drugs and vaccines available only to the highest bidder. We can blame China and escalate our trade war. We can continue sanctions on Iran and contribute to high rates of illness and death there. We can act as if diseases and treatment follow borders.

Or we can move quickly to ease the burden and rebuild, and be prepared for the next pandemic and the climate crisis which is sure to come.

Vietnam, COVID-19 and Public Health

I wanted to learn more about how Vietnam has managed to keep Covid under control. I was able to interview Professor Le Vu Anh, a public health leader and professor in Vietnam. Thanks also to Cathy Dang-Santa Ana for adding more background.

I learned some incredible things, including how the country learned from SARS to prioritize public health education and transparency. They have public health workers at the commune level. The government pays all costs for hospitalization and quarantine (including food!) for all.

The Working Families Party and Warren

There is a whole lot of debate out there about the WFP endorsing Elizabeth Warren. I offer some thoughts about that this week in Organizing Upgrade.

I am not surprised many Bernie supporters are angry about the decision, and I think political critique is fair. Debate about candidates and strategy can strengthen the left. But I’m discouraged by the personal attacks flying about, and the focus on the endorsement process. This is destructive (and in fact, makes many wonder if this is an orchestrated attack from outsiders on the right). Alicia Garza offers a powerful statement in response here.

State of the Unions 2019

Our annual Labor Day report on the state of unions in New York City, state and the U.S. is out. For the past few years, New York City was holding its own, maintaining union density and even growing slightly. That changed this past year, with the city seeing a sizable drop in membership – all in the private sector. Interestingly, density in the public sector rose slightly despite the Janus ruling. Indeed, the Janus ruling may have spurred the public sector unions to step up their organizing efforts to stay alive.

We also take a look at the changes in employment since the recession. We find that we’ve had strong job growth in New York in the past 10 years but the majority of growth is in sectors that pay less than a living wage.