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Subject: Minority Union Bargaining - the Blue Eagle at Work

 AS US UNIONS HAVE grown increasingly desperate an array
 of proposed technical fixes have appeared. These are
 generally tinkering at the margins that do not address
 the fundamental problems that are destroying
 unionization. Among these proposed technical fixes is
 the idea of minority unions.

 It may be that in some instances, radical energized
 unions, such as the UE are able to make use of
 structures that represent less than a majority of a
 bargaining unit. But for most unions, this is not only
 not a fix, it is deadly. I say this not based on theory,
 but based on reality and evidence.

 Take New Zealand - a country whose experience with laws
 that promoted minority unions and other labor law
 reforms I have studied for 15 years. Under its 1991 law,
 which was modeled on Chicago School ideas, union numbers
 plummeted from about 45% to under 20% in under 5 years.
 There were a lot of features of that law that could have
 explained the destruction of unionization in New Zealand
 besides minority unions.

 But about five years ago, New Zealand replaced that law
 with what was intended to be a union-friendly labor law.
 It included many features, such as union access to the
 workplace, that should have made organizing and
 representation easy and turned the tide. But it
 continued the practice of minority unions.

 The result has been a continuing slide in union
 membership. The reasons for this are obvious. Nonmembers
 free ride on the contracts unions negotiate, and this
 despite the law's forbidding free riding. Employers use
 the minority structure to divide and conquer, playing
 members and nonmembers off against one another. And
 finally, it is clear that New Zealanders just are not
 that interested in joining unions in reality, regardless
 of what they tell pollsters.

 This experience tells me that at a minimum minority
 unions are not a panacea and may even be the nail in
 labor's coffin.

 What must labor do? What must we all do? In my opinion,
 the fundamental problem for unions is that the values
 that unions need to survive are community, solidarity,
 industrial justice, fair wages and working conditions,
 workplace democracy, worker empowerment, and social
 democracy. When we look around, it is clear these are
 not values commonly found in mainstream America these
 days. Instead, we see an acceptance of workplace and
 social totalitarianism and dictatorship, and hyper-
 individualism. When the Department of Homeland Security
 was declared a union-free zone, the message was that
 unions are unpatriotic and dangerous to our security.
 And yet there was deafening silence and no rebuttal, not
 even by and for those union brothers and sisters who
 risked and gave their lives on 9/11. How low labor has

 I believe that there is a hunger in the US for union
 values, but no one is speaking for unions in terms of
 union values. Change will not come easily. There must be
 a collective effort to speak out in favor of these
 values of democracy, dignity, and inclusion at every
 turn and to commit to do this over the long haul.

 Decades ago, the Right lost the war of ideas. As it
 turned out that was only a battle, and since they have
 regrouped and been winning battle after battle. It took
 years and decades. The lesson is that this can be done,
 but we must be dedicated and ever vigilant, letting no
 opportunity slip away to change hearts and minds.

 Ellen Dannin
 Professor of Law
 Wayne State University
 Detroit, MI

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