Monday, September 20, 2010
I just finished reading Restoring The Power of Unions It Takes A Movement by Professor Julius G. Getman (University of Texas Law School) and I could not put it down. The book is a must read for students of labor law, labor history and practicing labor lawyers. I suspect that it will shortly become required reading in many labor relations and labor law classes.
The book, which spans 326 pages, is exceptionally well written, well researched and footnoted. Quite simply, the book is quite readable and a pleasure. One of the reasons why it is an easy read is because it is composed of 25 relatively short chapters. The book really is actually like two books. The first, documents the rise and success of HERE (Hotel Employees Rest. Employees) (now UNITE-HERE) and its President John Wilhelm whom I had the pleasure of recently meeting. Getman details the success of Wilhelm's labor philosophy and in particular, the 1980's Yale University organizing campaign and strike. To my amazement, Wilhelm's philosophy involves the total avoidance of NLRB conducted elections and involves the utilization of salts (called interns in the hotel industry) and corporate campaigns designed to convince the employer to agree to a neutrality and card check election agreement.
The second "book" involves Getman's critique of the current state of labor law. Getman, who is one of the leading labor scholars in the country, is very critical of the union access decisions and the MacKay doctrine which allows strikers to be permanently replaced. To my surprise, Getman is also not a fan of the Employee Free Choice Act which organized labor has been pushing for some time.
Getman, however, does not call for the abolishment of the NLRA and believes that it is worth saving. Getman believes that the Labor Board decisions are often the product of partisan politics and the Board needs to be composed of nonbiased experts whose independence and neutrality has been tested. Who would these Board members be? Labor arbitrators- of course. He also calls for amending the NLRA by increasing the Board's remedial power, mandating that unions be given equal time to respond to employer campaign speeches and by essentially outlawing permanent replacements. Finally, Getman calls for a specialized appeal tribunal that would hear appeals from NLRB decisions.
Getman's central theme is something that we often loose site of. Unions have to return to their roots. Unions are composed of workers and therefore, unions should be about the workers and run by the workers. Indeed, Getman in this wonderful work interviewed organizers and quoted from them extensively as he believes that they have the most important and difficult jobs within unions. With regard to this book, he did not merely conduct interviews with senior level union leadership.
Getman concludes as follows:
"For organized labor to play its proper role in turning the American dream into reality, the labor movement must be not only for the people, as most unions are, but also of the people, in ways that most unions are not. . . Members must believe, on the basis of established facts, that they have the opportunity to shape the union's actions and priorities. This is what Vinnie Sirabella practiced and preached. It is what he passed on to John Wilhelm. It is at the heart of UNITE-HERE's approach to organizing and bargaining."
Mitchell H. Rubinstein