News & Commentary

October 23, 2022

Swap Agrawal

Swap Agrawal is a student at Harvard Law School.

On Thursday, October 20, George Goehl and Lauren Jacobs published ‘Using Policy to Reorganize Power,’ the next article in The American Prospect’s series on Countervailing Power. Goehl and Jacobs argue that structural reforms are needed to enable effective community organizing. They point to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) as two policies that gave organizers leverage to win resources and power for communities. However, Goehl and Jacobs emphasize that structural reforms generally result in compromises that require further struggle to effectively democratize power. For example, the NLRA facilitated the rapid expansion of the labor movement, but many unions therefore accepted limitations in the legislation including its exclusion of many Black, brown, and women workers. Today, these limitations have been devastating to the labor movement, as corporations have exploited exclusions to reduce union density across the workforce. Goehl and Jacobs also argue that even the best laid structural reforms are unlikely to succeed without investment in good organizing infrastructure. Specifically, they argue that the CRA could have led to more significant structural change if a base of organizers were sufficiently trained and prepared to take advantage of political openings such as the 2008 financial crisis. The Countervailing Power series was inspired by a Yale Law Journal article by Professor Ben Sachs and Professor Kate Andrias proposing that organizers push for the development of durable institutions that can act as countervailing powers against the power of organized capital.

On Friday, October 21, Modern Healthcare reported on a union’s campaign to raise the minimum wage at private healthcare facilities in California to $25 an hour. The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) represents 100,000 healthcare facility support staff in California, including nursing assistants, technicians, security guards, and janitors. Despite the increased risk of working in healthcare due to the pandemic and rising costs of living, wages at many private healthcare facilities have remained stagnant. SEIU-UHW began a 10-city campaign to win ballot measures for a minimum wage increase in this sector. The California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, a ballot issue committee funded by Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, Adventist Health, Cedars-Sinai, Dignity Health and other private hospitals and health systems in California, has campaigned against the minimum wage by calling it an “unequal pay measure” as compared to pay at public hospitals. SEIU-UHW has spent nearly $11 million across all 10 cities, while private health facilities have also spent almost $11 million to defeat the proposals. SEIU has long fought for workers through minimum wage and sectoral legislation. Its Fight for $15 campaign resulted in California being the first state to adopt a $15 minimum wage, a graduated measure that as of this year applies to all employers with 26 or more workers. Recently, SEIU won passage of the FAST Recovery Act, a measure that empowers fast food workers to play a role in setting minimum industry standards and wages across the state. The union continues to rely on this strategy as fissured workplaces make collective bargaining at individual workplaces increasingly difficult.

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