January was another bad month for unions, and indeed for America’s labor relations system, and for workers of all kinds. On January 21 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported union membership fell significantly last year to the lowest level since 1916. The next day a court of appeals ruled that the National Labor Relations Board members were appointed illegally by the President without Senate confirmation and so all their decisions are now open to challenge. These include a call for an election to determine which union will represent over 40,000 employees of Kaiser Permanente, a decision protecting co-workers’ use of social media to discuss employer practices, and more than 200 other rulings.
These are but symptoms of a much deeper crisis in American labor relations: The system of union representation and collective bargaining built into the 1935 National Labor Relations Act is on its deathbed with no cure or replacement in sight. Repeated efforts to reform labor law have failed — from 1978 to the aborted effort to enact the Employee Free Choice Act during the first Obama Administration. A biological or social system that cannot reproduce and replenish itself with new participants is unsustainable. Labor lost not only this week’s battles but also the war itself and should throw off the chains of the current law and start afresh by experimenting with new ways of giving workers the voice they want and the economy and society so desperately need. ...
A shorter version of Kochan's "Next Big Ap" was first published online on Feb. 4, 2013, by WBUR public radio. Click here.
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