A Pro-Union Year in Review of the Labor Movement

According to a pro-union labor organization’s year in review, workers made more gains in legislation, administrative rulings, and some courts – including the court of public opinion – than they had made since before the Reagan years. I guess that’s one way to spin the fact that unionization rates remain dismally low.

According to the report, workers have increasingly turned to street protests and state ballot initiatives to get minimum-wage hikes and a number of other worker-friendly policies. That is true. And, the momentum for shaping workers’ rights into civil rights has begun. So, too, has the fight against “wage theft” (a labor term for misclassifying non-exempt employees as exempt or independent contractors and not paying them overtime wages). The report continues, arguing that the labor movement needs to decide if its goal is to improve working conditions or to build a more powerful working class. The report says these are related, but require different strategies and structures.

Notably, increasing unionization rates, earning additional dues revenues, and organizing the unorganized is not part of the labor movement’s first tier strategy moving forward. Is this labor’s way of reminding us that running successful businesses is not something they endeavor to do? Or do they believe that by passing local ordinances requiring higher minimum wages, or paid sick leave, or project labor agreements will somehow provide them with a bump in dues paying members? My job is to represent companies against unions, and even I don’t know the answer to those questions.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.

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