Worker Rights

  • The Institute sponsors seminars, discussions and publications that focus on free trade unions as the expression of the fundamental right of freedom of association--a right guaranteed in all major international human rights conventions and essential to the health and well being of democracy as well as the stability and equitable growth of the economy.

    These rights have been eroded in every region of the world, partly as a result of economic changes flowing from globalization, most prominently the emergence over the past four decades of globalized finance capital that has weakened business ties to local and national economies. This development has greatly diminished the leverage that workers and their organizations have with relation to employers. One of the results has been a massive redistribution of wealth to the top tiers of society, and the deep weakening of independent, free labor movements. The Institute's programs explore this phenomenon in research, publications and sponsored events, from three-person panel discussions to international conferences.

  • RE-UNION A Book Discussion About Sectoral Bargaining

    Event Date
    Book discussion on sectoral bargaining with David Madland, author, RE-UNION: How Bold Labor Reforms Can Repair, Revitalize and Reunite the United States; Larry Cohen, former President, Communication Workers of America; Lynn Rhinehart, senior fellow, Economic Policy Institute; and César F. Rosado Marzán, professor,University of Iowa College of Law. Watch the video.
  • The Future of American Labor: Initiatives for a New Era

    Event Date

    Sponsored by the ALBERT SHANKER INSTITUTE,THE CENTURY FOUNDATION & THE HARRISON INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC LAW. Co-Sponsored by The American Prospect, Dissent, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor Georgetown University, the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. Union activists and leaders, labor scholars and elected officials discussed the strategic lessons of the ‘Teacher Insurgency,’ the post-Janus work of public sector unions, the potential of sectoral bargaining, organizing among millennials and federal government legislative and policy initiatives on behalf of labor organizing. For more information and to watch the video, go here.

  • "TEACHER STRIKE!" Book Discussion & Reception

    Event Date

    A wave of teacher strikes in the 1960s and 1970s roiled urban communities. Jon Shelton illuminates how this tumultuous era helped shatter the liberal-labor coalition and opened the door to the neoliberal challenge at the heart of urban education today. Join us for a book discussion and reception on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 4:30 -6:30 pm. 555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. Register Here.

  • The Challenge of Precarious Labor

    Event Date

    December 5, 2016, 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001.  Co-sponsored by AFL-CIO | American Federation of Teachers | The American Prospect  |  DISSENT | Center for Innovation in Worker Organization, Rutgers University Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University | New Labor Forum |  United Association for Labor Education    More information and to view the conference sessions, go here.

  • New Visions of Collective Bargaining in American Education

    Event Date

    May 11, 2016. When the first collective bargaining agreements in American education were negotiated a half century ago, they were largely focused on wages, working conditions and due process. School district officials resisted the inclusion of educational issues as encroachments on “management prerogatives.” Meanwhile, the fledging teacher unions modelled themselves after progressive unions, such as the United Auto Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, using industrial-style contracts as a template for their own collective bargaining. But the democratic idea that teachers should have a collective voice in their educational workplace could not be contained within such limited parameters. For a generation, teacher unions have struggled, with increasing success, to expand collective bargaining into the professional sphere. Our panel will investigate some of the most promising efforts on that front around the country, as teacher unions find new ways to negotiate contracts for educational innovation and improvement and build new partnerships with community around that work. Watch the video.

  • Amazon Workers: The Struggle For Human Rights And Workplace Dignity

    Our guest authors today are Norman and Velma Hill, lifelong activists in the Civil Rights and Labor movements. Norman Hill served as the president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute from 1980 to 2004, the longest tenure in the organization’s history. He remains its president emeritus. His wife of 60 years, Velma Murphy Hill, was an assistant to the president of the United Federation of Teachers, during which time she led a successful effort to organize 10,000 paraprofessionals working in New York public schools.  She was subsequently International Affairs and Civil Rights Director of the Service Employees International Union.

    One of the most gratifying aspects of living a long life is realizing that the best history refuses to stay put as history. Nearly 60 years ago, we stood among the quarter of a million people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial as civil rights activists and organizers of the monumental 1963 March on Washington.

    What many may need to be reminded of today is that this demonstration of soaring speeches, righteous demands, and the power of broad-based and racially diverse coalitions, were as much about the second decade of the 21st century as they were about the midpoint of the 20th.

    The movement’s leadership, characterized in iconic figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Walter Ruether of the United Automobile Workers union, and A. Philip Randolph, himself a storied labor leader, could not then specifically see a behemoth employer called Amazon, or a valiant struggle of thousands of its warehouse workers in north-central Alabama. But men and women like King, Ruether and Randolph could see, with crystal clarity, the inextricable binding of economic insecurity with the most persistent, virulent forms of racial discrimination and disparities of justice and opportunity. They understood, as we do, that free and independent labor unions are essential to this nation’s democratic society.

  • Strikes And Power: Reflections On The "Black Lives Matter" Strike Of NBA Players

    The NBA players "Black Lives Matter" strike has been criticized by some on the left, suggesting that the "radical action" of the players was co-opted by the "neo-liberal" Barack Obama, much of it riffing off the discussions described in this article. This criticism makes me wonder about the depth of understanding of how strikes and collective action operate. And behind that lack of understanding are some naïve conceptions of power—what it is, of how it is built, and how it can be used.

    Strikes are one form of collective action, an organized withdrawal of labor. The strike is designed to generate leverage that can compel action on the part of other actors—almost always, an employer. (Strikes can also be against the government, but most often they are against the government as employer—think of the Teacher Spring Strikes or safety strikes against government compelling teachers to provide in-person education in unsafe conditions.) Consequently, strikes almost always come with specific demands, and the leverage they generate is used to achieve as much of those demands as is feasible.

    Strikes can have a symbolic component, an assertion of dignity by the strikers. Think, for example, of the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, with the famous picket sign "I Am A Man." (Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 while supporting that strike.) The most powerful strikes have this component. But the symbolic component of a strike does not exist on its own: it rests on the foundation of the actual demands. In the case of the Memphis sanitation strike, the demands about the terms and conditions of work gave meaning and content to the assertion of dignity. Once this symbolic statement has been made, a decision to remain on strike should be based on what can be done to create maximum leverage and win as much of the demands as possible.

  • The Early Years Of The New York City Teachers Union

    New York Citys Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation (GVSHP) has published an appeal to grant protected landmark status to the “12-story Beaux Arts style office building” at 70 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The building was built in 1912 for George Arthur Plimpton, a publisher of education textbooks, a collector of rare books, a philanthropist and a peace activist. For many years, the GVSHP tells us, the building was a haven for radicals and liberals.” I immediately recognized the address as that of the offices of the New York City Teachers Union (TU) for two decades. There is an intriguing story behind that address and the Teachers Union, and it provides a revealing window into the political history of early teacher unionism.

    In the same year as 70 Fifth Avenue was built, Henry Linville and a small number of New York City teacher comrades launched a publication, The American Teacher, to report on the economic and professional status of the educator workforce and the politics of American public education. Linville was a biology teacher of some note with a Ph.D. from Harvard; one can still find copies of influential science textbooks he authored. He was a democratic socialist and pacifist who had a particularly close relationship with Norman Thomas, the longtime leader of the Socialist Party. The two worked together in an unsuccessful effort to oppose American involvement in World War I.

    In the early twentieth century, there was a great deal of trans-Atlantic cross-fertilization between British and American leftists, with London and New York as the two intellectual centers in this exchange of ideas. From the Womens Trade Union League and the settlement house movement to Fabian Society proposals for reform and the idea of labor party, from anti-imperialist support of Irish and Indian independence to militant suffragist tactics and campaigns for birth control, sex education and the decriminalization of gay sex, New Yorkers often drew inspiration from their British counterparts. The American Teacher followed the development of the National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom, and New York teachers on the left increasingly looked to it as a model of what could be done in the United States.

  • The Size And Legitimacy Of Gender And Motherhood Pay Gaps In Cross-National Perspective

    Gender pay gaps receive due attention in high quality academic (e.g., England 2005) and non-academic research worldwide (e.g., IWPROECD), as well as in the media. It is often overlooked, however, that the size of the gap (and the gender difference in other labor market outcomes, such as career interruptions and their length) varies by job characteristics, such as occupational status, as well as by individual characteristics, such as age and, as discussed below, parenthood status. 

    The existence of wage cuts incurred by working mothers across countries and welfare regimes (henceforth “motherhood penalties”) is a well established, albeit not always well understood, phenomenon (e.g., Budig et al. 2016Abendroth et al. 2014). In Poland, for example, there is a common misconception that mothers do not incur such penalties. One major reason for this is that OECD reports systematically show that Poland has one of the smallest gender pay gaps (GPGs) among all OECD nations. This leads many to infer that, since the gaps are small, there must not be motherhood penalties. 

    The problem is that these data do not control for important productivity characteristics, such as education, working hours, and experience. For example, in Poland (and elsewhere), women are better educated than men, which means that simple unadjusted estimates would understate gender pay gaps. The simple approaches are also misleading insofar as they do not control for occupational prestige, job complexity, and income. Studies conducted in the U.S., for example, show that the size of the gender pay gap is correlated with these variables (England et al. 2016). That is, women in high prestige, more demanding, and better-paying jobs experience higher penalties, especially when they become mothers, than women in low and medium level occupations. 

    So, is the situation in Poland as rosy as the OECD estimates make it out to be?

  • Teacher Insurgency: What Are The Strategic Challenges?

    The following post was the basis for a talk by Leo Casey, the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute, which was delivered at “The Future of American Labor” conference held February 8th and 9th in Washington, D.C. 

    There is every reason to celebrate the “Teacher Spring” strikes of 2018 and the more recent strikes in Los Angeles and Chicago’s charter schools. They provide ample evidence that American teachers will not acquiesce to the evisceration of public education, to the dismantling of their unions and to the impoverishment of the teaching profession. A powerful new working class movement is taking shape, with American teachers in the lead. But to sustain the momentum of this movement and to build upon it, we must not only celebrate, but also reflect and think strategically – we must address the strategic challenges this movement now faces. 

    Today, I want to focus on two strategic questions posed by this “Teacher Insurgency:”

    • First, how mobilization differs from organization, the changing relationship between the two and what that means for our work; and
    • Second, the relationship between protest, direct action and strikes, on the one hand, and the struggle for political power, focused on elections, on the other, as well as the role both play in our work.

    At the outset, I want to be clear that my approach is a broad one, viewing the current movement not only through the lens of labor history and working class struggles, but also as part of the history of protest movements as a whole, with a particular emphasis on the civil rights movement. There are many reasons for this approach, but one particularly compelling reason lies in the intimate connections between the civil rights movement and America’s public sector unions, including teacher unions. We know, of course, that Martin Luther King was an ardent supporter of the labor movement, and was assassinated in Memphis while he was organizing support for striking sanitation workers in an AFSCME local, and that A. Philip Randolph was both a labor leader and a civil rights leader. But what is perhaps less understood is that the leaders of the teacher unions and public sector unions in the 1960s, the period during which they became established, formidable forces, were often veterans of the civil rights movement. And most of these leaders drew upon their experiences as civil rights activists as they organized their unions.

  • The Casual Cruelty Of Privilege

    Our week began with yet another profoundly disturbing chapter in the Trump Administration’s treatment of immigrant and refugee children. The New York Times reports that hundreds of underage Latino youth are being taken under the cover of darkness from their foster homes and shelters across the country and shipped off to a “tent city” in Texas near our southern border. These children will no longer be able to attend school, their access to legal services to pursue their immigration claims will be dramatically reduced, and their new settingswill not be licensed and monitored by the state child welfare authorities who ensure the safety and education of children who have been separated from their families.

    The justification for these nighttime evacuations is that the government has run out of space in appropriate facilities. There is no choice, we are told, but to subject these children to the trauma of being torn, yet again, from places where they enjoyed some minimal level of normalcy and being taken to (what must be properly called) an internment camp. Yet the current crisis is not a result of increased immigration – since the numbers of those crossing the border have remained steady – but the predictable consequence of the Trump’s Administration’s draconian immigration policies. These policies have reduced the willingness of relatives to come forward for fear of their own deportation, thus lengthening the time it takes to place these youth with caregivers. The Trump administration apparently anticipated the consequences of these policies, yet made no preparation to deal with them.

    This latest episode comes at the same time that hundreds of Latino children, who were forcibly taken from their parents by the Trump administration earlier this year, still remain separated from them months after a court ordered deadline for reunification. In most of these cases, the Trump Administration has deported parents, while keeping their children; it now claims that it cannot locate the parents. Children were taken from parents seeking asylum without any thought, much less a plan, on how, when and under what circumstances they would be reunited.

  • In Memoriam: Eugenia Kemble

    It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Eugenia Kemble, the founding executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, after a long battle with fallopian tube cancer. “Genie” Kemble helped to conceive of and launch the institute in 1998, with the support of the late Sandy Feldman, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Endowed by the AFT and named in honor of the AFT’s iconic former president, the Albert Shanker Institute was established as a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research reports and fostering candid exchanges on policy options related to the issues of public education, labor, and democracy.

    A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Manila, Genie entered the teacher union movement as part of a cohort of young Socialist Party activists who were close to Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. She began her career in 1967 as a reporter for the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the AFT’s New York City local, and became a top aide to then UFT president Albert Shanker. She was a first-hand witness to the turbulent era during which Shanker served as UFT president, including the UFT strike for More Effective Schools in 1967, the harrowing Ocean Hill Brownsville strike over teachers’ due process rights in 1968, the remarkable UFT election victory to represent paraprofessionals in 1969, and the masterful bailout of a faltering New York City government through the loan of teacher pension funds in the mid-1970s.

  • Where Al Shanker Stood: Labor Law Reform

    This month marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was working in support of the union rights of striking African American sanitation workers. We thought it was an opportune time to reprint this July 17, 1977 piece, in which Al Shanker turned over his weekly column to his friend and mentor Bayard Rustin, advisor to King on nonviolent protest strategies, chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and founding president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

    The nation's labor laws need to be reformed to give workers a fair chance to organize. Enlightened opinion has long recognized that unions are essential if workers are to have any hope of dealing on an equal basis with their employers.

    The nation's basic labor relations policy was expressed in the Wagner Act of 1935 as "encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining" and "protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization and designation of representatives of their own choosing." The Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin amendments to the Wagner Act undermined those principles by creating an imbalance in favor of employers.

    Although companies no longer employ the brutal anti-union methods of the past, many have adopted a sophisticated arsenal of devices -- legal, illegal, and extralegal -- to interfere with and frustrate the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

  • Remembering Memphis

    February marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tenn., a unionization attempt by public sector workers that drew support from civil and labor rights leaders across the nation. Martin Luther King, Jr., in town to organize a march in support of those strikers, was assassinated on April 4th of that year. This post is the first in a series, commemorating these anniversaries and the historic links between civil rights and worker rights, especially at a time when the right of public sector workers to unionize is being argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. This post is excerpted from a forthcoming memoir, Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain, by civil rights and labor activists Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill.

    Even as a young man, A. Philip Randolph understood that the economic wellbeing of workers and the political rights of African Americans were inextricably linked. It is one of the reasons why, in the 1920s, he agreed to organize and operate the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first black-led labor union to receive a charter from the American Federation of Labor.

    It was his recognition of this coalescence of black economic and political interests that led him to threaten the first March on Washington in the 1940s; which was only preempted when President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to issue Executive Order 8802, banning discrimination in Civil Service and World War II defense industries. And it was why he named the iconic 1963 march on Washington, which he organized and led, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The complete title wasn't an accident. Randolph understood that the economic component was essential in obtaining freedom and equality for black people.

  • For A More Just And Prosperous America

    Our guest author today is Michael Maccoby, an expert in leadership. His most recent books are The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow and Strategic Intelligence. He is a member of the boards of the National Coalition on Health Care and the Albert Shanker Institute.

    It can be argued that President Donald Trump’s marketing skills accounted for a large part of his electoral success. He fashioned an ideology embracing right-wing values and a vision that connected with his supporters’ anger, fear, resentment and hope. In contrast to Trump’s message, which was weak on facts and policies but strong on emotional appeal, Hillary Clinton’s was strong on facts and policies, but weak on vision and emotional appeal. Although she ended up with the larger popular vote, Clinton failed to connect with key voters in the Midwestern states that gave Trump his electoral college victory.

    Recent polls report 31 percent of voters identify themselves as Democrats, 24 percent as Republicans, and 42 percent as Independents. By appealing to Independents as well as Democratic voters in this year’s congressional election, Democrats might be able to take a large step toward bringing this country closer together.  Given the recent negative messages of the Republican Party, Independents could be especially likely to vote for Democrats who offer an inspiring vision and compelling ideology based on the best of American values and who present their policies in a framework of progressive adaptation to a changing world, emphasizing human values as well as economic growth.