Organized Labor Stakes Future Success on Non-Traditional Measures

As followers of Roetzel Recap: Labor Relations know, the labor movement is slowly shifting away from traditional boots on the ground union organizing to a more holistic approach of worker centers and getting municipalities to change ordinances to benefit unions, to name a few. At a recent conference geared toward union organizers, it was noted that if the labor movement is to survive, its leaders and members must expand their notion of what “bargaining” means beyond negotiating contracts to secure wage increases and better benefits. According to Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, who spoke at the Building Community-Labor Alliances conference, “we have to figure out how workplace fights are part of the broader community struggles.”

For support in how the labor movement should evolve, she cited Fight for $15, a national push by fast food workers for higher wages and protests spearheaded in recent years by nonunion workers at big box stores. Neither of these examples ended well for labor unions. Not a single fast food company has become union since the Fight for $15 campaign started a few years ago, and one company successfully obtained an injunction against unions from coming onto its property to engage in boisterous Black Friday protests – and that company, also, remains non-union.

Union-front groups have made some impact over the years, i.e. increased minimum wage in Seattle, and minimum wage increases with carve outs for unions in Los Angeles, but neither of these increased the number of people paying union dues. I’m sure there are other successes, too, but for unknown reasons Ms. Gupta chose to focus on two of the biggest non-factors, or failures, of the past few years.

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