LaborTalk for October 21, 2011

Trumka Describes How New Corporate Models
Avoid Dealing with Unions on Worker Rights
National Taxi Workers Alliance Gets AFL-CIO Charter

By Harry Kelber

At a "Future of Work Forum," AFL-CIO Richard Trumka described new ways that employers exempt themselves from dealing with unions and the rights of their employees. The corporate anti-union model that is increasing in use is to shift the responsibilities of dealing with unions to contractors, leaving the company free from any obligations to their workers.

It becomes more complex and confusing for union organizers when companies hire numbers of sub-contractors— to produce their products or services.

Trumka notes that many companies are now using temp agencies, as a standard work force, freeing them from accountability to their workers. Other companies are getting rid of their obligations to employees by having them misclassified as independent contractors, as in the case of the taxi industry.

To avoid paying health care, pensions, paid overtime and other benefits, companies are also relying on part-timers. And of course, in many industries, tens of thousands of good American jobs are outsourced every year without much protest.

Trumka concedes there is a "decline in control, and ultimately in living standards, for workers who are having a harder time coming together for collective power in the workplace. It's pretty ominous," he says.

Does the AFL-CIO Have an Organizing Plan to Fight Back?

The short answer is: "No." But Trumka emphasizes the positive. "Real signs of hope are emerging, as working people are pushing back and coming together with a determination to use collective action to protect their individual rights and to lift the lives of the collective workforce— even in the absence of laws or formal standing to do so," Trumka said.

"We're all looking for new ways to help working people build the power to lift their lives— and that is something we can only do together," Trumka added.

The forum was mostly a celebration of the taxi drivers and their union, the National Taxi Workers Alliance, many of whose members attended the event. Representatives of the taxi drivers, hospital workers, domestic workers, writers union and a university professor served as panelists and spoke mostly of their organizing problems and experiences.

* * * * * *

Trumka presented his views on the future of work, but there were no other national labor leaders present to discuss the subject. The forum had nothing to say about the effect of technology on the future of work. Many workers will face the fact that they are no longer needed in the workplace, that their jobs have been eliminated by structural changes in their industry or that they no longer have the necessary skills that their job requires.

There was no discussion of the impact of globalization on the job market, or the physical changes that will increasingly be made in the nation's workplaces. Or what changes the existing unions will have to make, if they intend to grow in the future.

Clearly, we need a broad conference of decision-makers on the hazards and opportunities of expected changes in the nature of work, so we can be prepared to deal with them.

Let's remember: when we talk about the future of work, we are also talking about the future of the labor movement.

LaborTalk will be posted here on October 25, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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