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  • Reviving Labor After Wisconsin: Unions Need A New Approach Emphasizing Civil Rights

    Written on June 11, 2012

    Our guest authors today are Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, and Moshe Z. Marvit, a civil rights attorney. They are authors of the book Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy By Enhancing Worker Voice.

    Conservatives are calling the failure of public sector unions to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker labor’s “Waterloo.”  Just as private sector unionism has declined from a third of the workforce in the 1950s to less than 7 percent today, Charles Krauthammer writes in the Washington Post, “Tuesday, June 5, 2012, will be remembered as the beginning of the long decline of the public-sector union."

    This forecast seems an exercise in hyperbole (many voters don’t think recall elections are an appropriate response to policy disputes) but the setback for labor was indeed serious.  One of the lessons of Wisconsin is that if public sector unions want to survive, they need to find ways to help revive trade unionism in the private sector.

    The fates of the two sectors are deeply intertwined.

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  • Rethinking Affirmative Action

    Written on May 16, 2012

    Affirmative action has been defined as "voluntary and mandatory efforts undertaken by federal, state, and local governments, private employers and schools to combat discrimination, foster fair hiring and advancement of qualified individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity and gender; and to promote equal opportunity in education and employment for all." It is also a highly controversial policy, with few fans and many detractors.

    Some of this is due to the history of expedient implementation, where affirmative action came to mean a ham-handed system of quotas. But much of the unease is due to disagreement with the policy’s intent.

    Many conservatives argue that fairness requires that we do away with preferences and treat everyone exactly the same way. Meanwhile, some liberals criticize nondiscrimination statutes for their focus on race, religion, and gender to the exclusion of socioeconomic factors that can be more limiting. How, they argue, could you consider the son of an African-American neurosurgeon to be more disadvantaged than the son of an illiterate white sharecropper?  It’s a very good question.

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  • Jobs And Freedom: Why Labor Organizing Should Be A Civil Right

    Written on April 13, 2012

    Our guest authors today are Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Norman Hill, staff coordinator of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Velma Hill, a former vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is also the former civil and human rights director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). They are currently working on a memoir, entitled Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain.

    Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit have done a great service by writing Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice, an important work with the potential to become the basis for a strong coalition on behalf of civil rights, racial equality and economic justice.

    In the United States, worker rights and civil rights have a deep and historic connection. What is slavery, after all, if not the abuse of worker rights taken to its ultimate extreme? A. Philip Randolph, the founder and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, recognized this link and, as far back as the 1920s, spoke passionately about the need for a black-labor alliance. Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, Randolph’s protégé and an adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr., joined his mentor as a forceful, early advocate for a black-labor coalition.

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  • An Uncertain Time For One In Five Female Workers

    Written on March 26, 2012

    It’s well-known that patterns of occupational sex segregation in the labor market – the degree to which men and women are concentrated in certain occupations – have changed quite a bit over the past few decades, along with the rise of female labor force participation.

    Nevertheless, this phenomenon is still a persistent feature of the U.S. labor market (and those in other nations as well). There are many reasons for this, institutional, cultural and historical. But it’s interesting to take a quick look at a few specific groups, as there are implications in our current policy environment.

    The simple graph below presents the proportion of all working men and women that fall into three different occupational groups. The data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they apply to 2011.

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  • The ‘Snob’ Debate: Making High School Matter For Non-College-Bound Students

    Written on March 7, 2012

    Our guest author today is James R. Stone, professor and director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education at the University of Louisville.

    The current debate about “college for all” centers on a recent speech made by President Obama in Troy, MI, in which he argued that all young people should get at least some post-high school education or training. Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum, in a misreading of Obama’s remarks, responded with a focus on four-year degrees alone—suggesting, among other things, that four-year college degrees are overrated and that the president’s emphasis on college devalued working people without such degrees. The political chatter around this particular back-and-forth continues, but the issue of “college for all” has rightly raised some serious issues about the content and direction of U.S. education policy both at the high school and post-secondary levels.

    Statistics seem to show that the college-educated  graduates of four-year institutions earn more money and experience less unemployment than their non-college-educated peers. This has fueled the argument is that college is the surest path—perhaps the only path—into the middle class. But the argument confuses correlation with causality. What if every U.S. citizen obtained a community college or university degree? Would that really do anything to alter wage rates at Starbucks, or increase salaries for home healthcare aides (an occupation projected to enjoy the highest demand over the next decade)? Of course not.

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  • Apprenticeships: A Rigorous And Tested Training Model For Workers And Management

    Written on March 1, 2012

    Our guest author today is Robert I. Lerman, Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute and Professor of Economics at American University. Professor Lerman conducts research and policy analyses on employment, income support and youth development, especially as they affect low-income populations. He served on the National Academy of Sciences panel examining the U.S. post-secondary education and training system for the workplace.

     

    In a recent Washington Post article, Peter Whoriskey points out the striking paradox of serious worker shortages at a time of high unemployment.  His analysis is one of many indicating the difficulties faced by manufacturing firms in hiring enough workers with adequate occupational skills.  As a result, many firms are having serious problems meeting the demand for their products, putting on long shifts, and turning down orders.

    The article cites a survey of manufacturers indicating that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled.  The skilled jobs going begging include machinists, welders, and machine operators -- jobs that pay good wages.  So what happened?

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  • The Indiana Model

    Written on January 27, 2012

    Indiana is well on its way to becoming a ‘right-to-work’ state this week, with the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives approving new legislation and the Senate poised to follow suit. The legislation weakens union protections and enables individual workers to refuse to pay their share of union representation costs, even if a majority of their coworkers have voted for union representation and the union is legally obligated to pay to bargain for and protect their rights on the job. It is the first Midwestern manufacturing state to pass such a bill, though other Republican-dominated state legislatures are considering similar legislation.

    One of the most interesting things about this move is just how unpopular it is. According to the AFL-CIO, only one-third of Indiana voters favor the legislation and more than 70 percent of them want the question submitted to a vote, via a state referendum. So why, in an election year, have Republican politicians decided to push forward?

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  • Why Do Most Americans Support "Assistance To The Poor" But Oppose "Welfare"?

    Written on November 17, 2011

    Politicians and other public figures spend a great deal of resources – time and money – on crafting their messages so as to elicit a desired response. A famous example is the effort to relabel the estate tax as the death tax – the former conjures images of very wealthy people paying their fair share, whereas the latter obscures this limited applicability, and invokes outrage at being “taxed just for dying."

    As everyone knows, words matter, and these efforts pay off. You don’t need to look at the results of too many surveys or polls to realize that people respond very differently depending on what you call something or how you describe it (e.g., see this post on attitudes toward teacher tenure).

    One other particularly interesting – and important – example of this description-based divergence of attitudes toward social programs for the poor.

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  • Americans Do NOT Want To Cut Government Programs

    Written on November 9, 2011

    Conservatives sometimes assert and often imply that Americans want to cut government spending on social assistance and other programs. This is a myth.

    In fact, when it comes to the types of programs that get most of the attention in our national debate, almost nobody supports spending reductions and, in many cases, there is strong support for increases.

    Take a look at the figure below, which presents General Social Survey data for 2010. Each bar presents the distribution of responses to questions of whether the U.S. spends too much (red), about the right amount (yellow) or too little (green) on several different types of programs and public resources.

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  • The False Conflict Between Unionism and Professionalism

    Written on November 8, 2011

    Some people have the unfortunate idea that unionism is somehow antithetical to or incompatible with being a professional. This notion is particularly salient within education circles, where phrases like “treat teachers like professionals” are often used as implicit arguments against policies associated with unions, such as salary schedules and tenure (examples here, here, here and here).

    Let’s take a quick look at this "conflict," first by examining union membership rates among professionals versus workers in other types of occupations. As shown in the graph below, if union membership and professionalism don’t mix, we have a little problem: Almost one in five professionals is a union member. Actually, union membership is higher among professionals than among any other major occupational category except construction workers.

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