News & Commentary

September 5, 2023

Iman Masmoudi

Iman Masmoudi is a student at Harvard Law School.

Unions continue to use social media to bring the public into their negotiations, a new interview with labor organizer Jane McAlevey offers tips for effective negotiations, and the Nation opinion section covers the recent NLRB decisions.

On Twitter, more and more unions are sharing direct updates on the proceedings of their contract negotiations, to mobilize members, increase transparency, and shame companies while garnering support. In the most recent example, Half Price Books Workers United in Minnesota provided a bargaining update on their contract negotiations. The union said the company has been offering the same wages since May, which equates to a 1% annual raise and the elimination of profit-based bonuses, amounting to a 6-7% pay cut. When asked if they could afford fair, livable wages, the company responded that they could but simply wouldn’t. Moreover, the company displayed a lack of regard for long-term employees, suggesting that experienced workers were replaceable and that paying them more than new hires didn’t make economic sense. The union is urging supporters to express their displeasure with the company by tagging @halfpricebooks on social media and calling the corporate number at 800-883-2114 to demand fair wages for the workers.

In a new interview with the LA Times, labor organizer Jane McAlevey discussed the importance of transparency in labor negotiations and shared insights from her book, “Rules to Win By: Power and Participation in Union Negotiations.” She emphasized that workers can achieve significant wins through effective organizing and strategies, but it’s crucial to focus on building worker power. McAlevey highlighted the need for greater transparency in labor negotiations, including not signing gag orders, allowing members to be directly involved in negotiations, and using ratification votes for contract proposals to avoid conflicts and disappointments.

She also discussed the challenges faced by the labor movement, particularly the important shift from organizing to contract negotiations, where the choice of negotiators who understand how to build worker power becomes crucial. McAlevey stressed that negotiations should be open and democratic, with workers involved in the process, as this leads to better understanding of contract language and therefore effective enforcement of hard-won rights. She criticized some instances where unions kept different worker units divided during negotiations, but overall emphasized the reasons for hope and that workers can continue to ‘win big.’

While we’ve covered the recent NLRB decisions here, here, and here, The Nation today released an opinion piece on those decisions and their implications for workers’ rights which may be influential. It covers Cemex [and its non-Joy Silk loophole] as well as the restoration of many Obama-era “fair election rules.” It argues these changes are positive steps for labor rights, but that they are not a panacea, and the hard work of building strong worker organization and power remains crucial. The piece is part of a growing consensus that legal changes alone are insufficient to address inequality and improve workers’ lives.

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