Member Notes

Member Notes

Member Notes

Union Friendly? On April 30 LERA member and University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations professor Bob Bruno was interviewed on WBEZ Chicago public radio station on "Is Illinois Still a 'Union-Friendly' State?" Here's what Bruno had to say: "'[Illinois] Gov. Quinn doesn’t get elected without the labor movement. That’s no secret there. He absolutely needed them ...' Bruno said the state’s fiscal crisis is bound up with rising Medicaid costs, costs for state pensions and public jobs. It’s enough to cause some friction in the once happy marriage of unions and Illinois Dems. 'At the end of the day, it certainly does leave organized labor fighting with its friends just as it fights with its political enemies and that has certainly made labor relations in a state like Illinois much more hostile.'" You can access the story and the audio file here. Bruno is director of the University of Illinois' School of Labor and Employment Relations Labor Education Program in Chicago. Bruno was back in the news in a Chicago Sun-Times story about how Caterpillar Inc.'s record profits announcement a week before 780 employees at the company's Joliet plant went on strike over a contract with no wage or cost-of-living increases. Here's an excerpt: "What’s happening in Joliet is not unique, said Robert Bruno, a labor studies professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Unions that make concessions in lean years are finding that they don’t gain back what they lost once the company profits. 'Unions begin to believe this is not a short-term sacrifice. This is the new normal,' Bruno said. 'Employers are trying to impose a new wage structure. ...You either surrender to it or wage some kind of last stand.” You can read the whole story here.

Job polarization: Past LERA president Eileen Appelbaum, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Employment Policy Research Network researcher, is blogging for U.S. News and World Report's Economic Intelligence section. In her April 10, 2012 blog, "Low-Wage Jobs to Blame for Slow Economic Recovery," she writes: "Many of the ills of the labor market have been attributed to a supposed hollowing out of the job distribution — to 'job polarization.' Indeed, the claim that middle-skill/middle-income jobs in the United States are disappearing while jobs at the top and bottom of the occupational ladder are growing has been put forward as the explanation for four decades of wage stagnation for men. Today, the claim that employers have good jobs but can't find workers with the right skills to fill them has gained currency in the popular press. Yet such an imbalance between supply and demand would cause wages to rise in those occupations, and no such increase in pay can be observed." She credits the job-polarization thesis to research by LERA member and MIT economist David Autor in his paper, "The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market." Like Appelbaum, he is an EPRN researcher. You can read Appelbaum's job polarization blog on EPRN. You can access Appelbaum's other U.S. News blogs here.

Macro economic policy: LERA past president Stephen R. Sleigh has been appointed to the Federal Reserve Bank's Baltimore Board of Directors. The announcement was made by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The latter serves the Fifth Federal Reserve District, which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, most of West Virginia and Washington, D.C. There are 12 regional Federal Reserve banks. The Federal Reserve Bank manages the nation's money supply and is in charge of regulating financial institutions. The Fed's mission is to strengthen the economy and keep inflation under control. Sleigh, whose tenure officially began Jan. 1, 2012, and will serve the remaining year of an unfilled term. Sleigh is the director of the IAM Pension Fund in Washington, D.C. To read the news release from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, click here.

Labor prof on Fox Business News? You read it here first (or second). Monica Bielski Boris, assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign School of Labor and Employment Relations' Labor Studies Program, was quoted in a Fox Business News Story, "Pros and Cons of Joining a Labor Union." Here's some of what Bielski Boris had to say: "Employers' relationships with unions have become more acrimonious since the 1970s, Bielski Boris says. And nowadays, some governors of revenue-starved states are blaming public-sector unions for their woes and aggressively attempting to reduce benefits and curtail collective bargaining rights. (Public sector unions account for more than half of all union members in the United States.) 'The political climate can often turn against unions and their members,' Bielski Boris says. The political attacks, combined with declining membership rolls, could weaken gains made by unionized employees." Here's the real news on the piece. It's remarkably "fair and balanced." Check it out.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Sustainable capitalism: LERA member and Employment Policy Research Network researcher Christian Weller a U-Mass.-Boston economist, contributed to Challenge magazine and EPRN a compelling article, “On Uneven Ground.” Weller and co-author Luke Reidenbach detail reforms needed in corporate governance and executive incentives to encourage long-term, sustainable company growth, increased productivity, better wages and a generally more prosperous economy. The subtitle of the article is "How Corporate Governance Prioritizes Short-term Speculative Investments, Impedes Productivity Investments and Jeopardizes Productivity Growth." Among the substantive reforms the authors suggest: Tie managerial compensation to long-term company productivity growth and stock performance, limit share buybacks and dividend payouts and empower independent boards of directors and shareholders vis à vis management to balance disproportionate managerial power and influence.


Re-defining poverty. From the new Wealth and Poverty Desk on American Public Radio's Marketplace Morning Report, a Feb. 28 feature, "What is Poverty? Think Beyond the Official Numbers," LERA member Randy Albelda, was the expert source. Albelda, an economist at U-Mass, Boston, explained that poverty indeed was not just a dollar figure and family size as it's usually reported. "You’re poor when you can’t buy what you need. When you cannot afford to pay for your rent, you can’t afford to buy food, you can’t afford clothing. ... For a single mom, who also has a lot of relatives who are also low-wage or low-income, especially if she works and she’s got young children, $24,000 may not even come close to the sets of costs she would face, even being as frugal as she possibly could be. ... A car breaking down can have enormous consequences — like losing your job." Click here to listen to the segment and view photos.

 LERA international: LERA and the LERA Philadelphia Chapter are welcoming the 16th World Congress of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association July 2-5 in the city of Brotherly Love. From the ILERA web site: "The 16th World Congress will provide academic and practitioner participants with a forum for discussion of policies and research findings on a wide range of topics related to labour and employment relations. Sessions, workshops and symposia will cover topics such as globalization, new technology, gender, HIV/AIDS, employee involvement, occupational safety and health, industrial relations, labour law, human resource management, international labour standards, social dialog, labour administration, the informal economy." Early-bird registration (by April 1) is $475; the regular registration rate is $625. Student registration is $300. Tom Kochan and the Employment Policy Research Network are planning a panel discussion at the 16th World Congress. ILERA president is LERA's Janice Bellace (Wharton, pictured above left); LERA's Anil Verma is ILERA academic program coordinator.

Booking it. Plenty of LERA authors in the currently running New Books Received list. The champ is the new Cornell ILR Press book, From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization: Markets, Workers, and the State in a Changing China (cover) with four (count 'em) LERA members: two editors, Sarosh Kuruvilla (Cornell) Ching Kwan Lee (UCLA); and two contributors, Mingwei Liu (Rutgers) and Lu Zhang (Temple). Quite the interdisciplinary, cosmopolitan and international working group. LERA's Michael Zweig, director of the Center for Working Class Life, economics department, SUNY-Stony Brook, has the second edition of his The Working Class Majority: America's Best Kept Secret out. He also contributes an essay to Michael D. Yates' Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back. LERA member Stephanie Luce, associate professor of labor studies at the Murphy Institute at CUNY, contributed the essay, "What Can We Learn from Wisconsin?" to Wisconsin Uprising. Brigid O'Farrell is represented with her new-in-paperback Cornell University Press book She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker (cover above left). Virgina Doellegast, a LERA member at the London School of Economics, is out with Disintegrating Democracy at Work: Labor Unions and the Future of Good Jobs in the Service Economy. Media-savvy Paul Clark at Penn State is out with a  new video Labor Arbitration The Suspension of Nurse Kevin. Also out is the monumental American Political Economy in Global Perspective  from the Cambridge University Press by the late Harold L. Wilensky (UC-Berkeley, pictured at right) who finished the 40-year project nine days before his death.

Still on the (Previously noted) list is Ellen Pinkos Cobb's Bullying, Violence, Harassment, Discrimination and Stress: Emerging Workplace Health and Safety Issues.  Cobb is a LERA member and attorney with the Isosceles Group, an environmental management and health- and safety services company in Boston. Longtime LERA editor Charles Whalen is the editor of Financial Instability And Economic Security After The Great Recession. In a similar vein is editor Steven Kates' The Global Financial Crisis: What Have We Learnt? with an essay by the above-mentioned Charles Whalen. From Down Under LERA member Greg Bamber sends up International and Comparative Employment Relations. Then there's president emeritus of the United Steelworkers and LERA's Lynn Williams' One Day Longer, A Memoir (cover above left). John Budd's The Thought of Work inspired a session at the January LERA 64th Annual Meeting in Chicago and will be reviewed in the next issue of LERA's Perspectives on Work due out in October. Rounding out the list is Wage Policy, Income Distribution, and Democratic Theory by Oren M. Levin-Waldman, a LERA member at Metropolitan College in New York. Send review copies of new books to Mike Lillich at LERA's offices at the University of Illinois Labor and Employment Relations school: 115 LER, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 504 E. Armory Ave., Champaign, IL 61820. (217) 244-0725.

Political consensus on minimum wage? LERA's Michael Reich (UC, Berkeley and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, pictured at left) was quoted in a Jan. 24 Fortune article, "A new day for the minimum wage?" Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has suggested tying the minimum wage to inflation, according to the story. Also in favor of a raise are Republicans New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The story quoted Reich: "'There would be a multiplier effect in the economy,' maintains Michael Reich, economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley, who has conducted several studies on the minimum wage. He agrees that the wage increase would trigger a decrease in hiring, 'but that is offset by other factors such as reducing employee turnover, so net employment is the same.' Hiking the basic wage means more competition for jobs, he says, but cautions that ... 'it could also be an incentive for people to come across the border.'" Click here to read the Fortune story.

Encouraging January unemployment numbers. When the January unemployment figures showed the second straight of better-than-expected gains, Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and LERA member, was quoted prominently in the Feb. 3 New York Times story, "U.S. Jobless Rate Falls to 8.3 Percent, a 3-Year Low": “Today’s unemployment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” said Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in a statement. “It is critical that we continue the economic policies that are helping us to dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the recession that began at the end of 2007.” The Times article said the last time the unemployment numbers were this good was in February 2009, President Obama's first full month in office. Krueger is a Princeton University labor economist and former Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Click here to read the New York Times story.

Poaching hi-tech talent? Longtime LERA stalwart Daniel J.B. Mitchell, UCLA professor emeritus (pictured, left), posted a link on the LERA-L listserv to a Jan. 28 Associated Press story, "Suit claims no-poaching-talent plot" describing alleged collusion among hi-tech companies against poaching much-in-demand programmers and engineers from each other's companies. The companies included the heaviest of hi-tech heavyweights. Mentioned prominently in the story is the late Steve Jobs. Here's the beginning of the story: 

"SAN JOSE - In Silicon Valley's white-hot competition for tech talent, programmers can face a daily barrage of calls from recruiters seeking to woo them to rival companies with offers of better pay and perks.

"But workers for some of the biggest names in the business claim their phones fell silent because of a conspiracy among their employers. And they claim the world's biggest tech icon was at the center.

"A lawsuit filed in federal court in San Jose claims senior executives at Google Inc., Intel Corp., Adobe Systems Inc., Intuit Inc., Lucasfilm Ltd., Pixar and Apple Inc. violated antitrust laws by entering into secret anti-poaching agreements not to hire each other's best workers. In doing so, the suit contends the companies were able to keep wages artificially low by preventing bidding wars for the best employees.

"The plaintiffs also claim that company emails show Steve Jobs himself sought and orchestrated at least some of the so-called "gentlemen's agreements" while Apple's CEO." ...

An attorney who works in this area of law is quoted as saying the plaintiffs had little chance of winning their suit.

Arbitration video available: LERA member and EPRN researcher Paul Clark, professor and head of Penn State's labor studies and employment relations department, on Jan. 30 posted on the LERA-L listserv the availability of  a labor-arbitration instructional video, "Labor Arbitration — the Suspension or Nurse Kevin." It's a joint project of PSU and the National Academy of Arbitrators. Here is part of what Paul posted on the listserv: "Most of the arbitration films available today are dated. Depictions of hearings set in the 1970s and 1980s are not helpful in conveying the message that arbitration can play an important role in the modern American workplace. Using a case written and enacted by actual union and management practitioners and an experienced arbitrator, the film replicates, to the greatest degree possible, the experience of observing an arbitration hearing. Shot in a documentary style, the film enacts an arbitration hearing involving the suspension of an employee for insubordination." The DVD is is 66 min. long. Click here to view a trailer. The video is available for $149 ($99 for non-profits and educational institutions). Click here for ordering info.

No free lunch? LERA member Michael LeRoy, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations and its College of Law (pictured at right), was quoted in a Jan. 17 Good Morning America Show story about Sharon Smiley. She was an administrative assistant who was fired for working through her lunch break one day at the Chicago real estate company where she had worked for 10 years. To add insult to injury, her unemployment benefits were denied. Finally after two years, an Illinois appeals court ruled that denial of her unemployment benefits was "clearly erroneous." But, according to LeRoy, the happy ending to the story wasn't a slam dunk: " ... Illinois is an employment-at-will state, which means the employer can fire someone for a good reason, no reason, or a bad reason, as long as it is not discriminatory." Here's a link to the ABC News story.

Multiple job syndrome. Ellen Ernst Kossek (Michigan State) was quoted in a Jan. 12 MSNBC online article, "Few part-timers, but more are working multiple jobs": “'I hate to be a cynic, but I want to look behind the numbers,'” said Kossek, a human resources professor at Michigan States University’s School of Labor & Industrial Relations. 'Are they making the same money they did before, or did they take full-time jobs at lower wages? It’s about the quality of those jobs.' In addition, she pointed out that more and more employees are taking on multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. 'A lot of companies are holding the line on wages for hourly workers and on overtime,” she said, and that’s forced many people to take on additional work. More than 7 million Americans were working two or more jobs in December, according to the BLS. That ups from 6.8 million in 2010 and 6 million in 2009. 'Multiple jobs means increased stress and complexity for workers and that’s not good for health and families,” she maintained. “Longer term, we need better quality jobs, economically.'” To read complete article, click here.

NLRB ruling angers business. LERA's Alex Colvin was quoted in a Jan. 6 Steven Greenhouse New York Times story, "Labor Board Backs Workers on Joint Arbitration Cases." The board ruled that employers' requiring that all workers pursue claims individually through arbitration denied workers' rights to engage in collective action. The ruling covered a broad swath of workers, including both union and non-union employees, restaurant workers and highly compensated Wall Street employees. Colvin: "'This is a big deal,' said Professor Alex Colvin, an expert on mandatory arbitration agreements who teaches at the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations. 'Mandatory arbitration agreements are so widespread, and this would suggest that many of them violate labor law by barring class actions. I also think the business community will be up in arms because you have federal labor law being applied in a nonunion setting.'” Click here to read the Greenhouse story.

Labor Law, Economic Justice and Political Rhetoric: LERA member Wilma Liebman (at right) began her post-National Labor Relations Board career at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations 2011 Derber Lecture on Dec. 1. School of Labor and Employment Relations professor and dean, Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld introduced Liebman as "perhaps the most-accomplished chair of the National Labor Relations Board." The title of Liebman's talk was "Labor Law, Economic Justice and Political Rhetoric." Click here to view a video of Liebman's 2011 Derber Lecture. She also gave the keynote speech at LERA's 64th Annual Meeting in Chicago. (Click here to read a story about her Chicago speech.) Then Liebman and Cutcher-Gershenfeld appeared in a long-form interview on WILL, the University of Illinois public radio station, on "The National Labor Relations Board and the Role of Collective Bargaining in Civil Society." The show streamed live on the Internet and is available for listening as a podcast by clicking here.

Sustainable Entrepreneurship: Five LERA members are part of the new Employment Policy Research Network research cluster on "sustainable entrepreneurship." Leading the new research group is EPRN co-founder Thomas A. Kochan (MIT, at left). Inaugural group members are Adam Seth Litwin (Johns Hopkins), Diane Burton (Cornell), James Rebitzer (Boston University), Barbara Dyer (Hitachi Foundation and MIT) and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld (Illinois). As reported in the last "Member Notes," the development of the new topic is supported by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, one of the nation's largest foundations and the world's largest foundation focusing on entrepreneurship. “Sustainable entrepreneurship" in contemporary parlance generally connotes green jobs, clean tech and socially responsible companies. EPRN, however, is taking an employment point of view on the subject. So the questions are what entrepreneurial startups need to do as they grow to be a continuing source of good jobs; how startups can attract, retain and manage employees effectively and build long-lived, thriving companies; how employers can value and fully engage employees as resources and not as costs; and how entrepreneurial enterprises can achieve the scale to drive a prosperous 21st century economy. While the Silicon Valley-style serial entrepreneur has been a high-riding, romantic capitalist hero for more than a decade, some startups, à la Apple and Google, need to grow and persevere to become large-scale excellent employers in the long term.

Kochan led an EPRN session on the preconference day (Jan. 5) at LERA's 64th Annual Meeting in Chicago that included a discussion of sustainable entrepreneurship, unemployment by Brandeis Dean Lisa Lynch and Columbia economist Till von Wachter. LERA's Barry Bluestone (Northeastern, at right) presenting his and Kochan's new paper, "Toward a New Grand Bargain: Collaborative Approaches to Labor-Management Reform in Massachusetts." What Bluestone described as a new "alternative model of public-sector, interest-based bargaining," includes the creation of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded academy to sponsor new age, state-of-the-art collective-bargaining workshops for all of the stakeholders in Boston's ongoing public-school contract negotiations. Click here to read “Toward a New Grand Bargain” and watch a video of a panel discussion on the topic. We will report on the progress of this ambitious project.

Then, Cornell and LERA's Rosemary Batt reported on her preliminary explorations into the arcane world of financialization in all its leveraging, arbitraging, private-equity, hedge-fund and sovereign-debt complexity. Batt and Kochan received a grant for LERA from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research to do two research papers and policy briefs on the financialization topic.

Holiday report. A few days after Christmas, Eileen Hoffman forwarded to the LERA home office an email from John "Jack" Buettner with a subject line "Time to go." Jack ended his almost 40-year career as Eastern Regional Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Independence, Ohio. A longtime LERA member, he was a Cleveland chapter member and was on LERA's construction and health care industry councils. Hoffman, also a LERA member, is project director at the FMCS' Department of International and Dispute Services Washington, D.C., office.

Manufacturing good newsbad news. Kochan and immediate past LERA president Gordon Pavy (pictured at left) were quoted in a very good Lou Uchitelle article, "U.S. Manufacturing Gains Jobs, but Wages Retreat," on Dec. 29. The good news in the story was that GE was bringing manufacturing jobs home from overseas. The bad news — wages for the new hires are $10 to $15 an hour less than current employees — with the additional concession that the newcomers will not catch up for the foreseeable future. Such union-endorsed contracts are also showing up in the auto industry, at steel and tire companies, and at manufacturers of farm implements and other heavy equipment, according to Gordon Pavy, until recently, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s director of collective bargaining. “Some companies want to keep work here, or bring it back from Asia,” Mr. Pavy said. “But in order to do that they have to be competitive in the final prices of their products, and one way to be competitive is to lower the compensation of their American workers.” Kochan: “My hope is that we will rebuild wages to their old levels over time as the economy strengthens and the demand for workers rises,” said Thomas A. Kochan, a management expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But that is by no means a certainty.”

(Send Member News, photos, books and story ideas to the editor Mike Lillich at LERA’s offices at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 504 E. Armory Ave., 115 LER Building, Champaign, IL 61820.)

To access previously published "Member Notes," click here.