Labor Pains

I talk to veteran union critic Mike Antonucci about what’s next for unions, whether charter school teacher organizing is *a thing,* and whether he has any advice for teacher union heads Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia…

Image result for janusJennifer Berkshire: You’ve been predicting that it’s only a matter of time until the Supreme Court delivers a crushing blow vs. public sector unions. This interview has barely started and your powers of prediction are already being borne out. What happens next?

Mike Antonucci: Essentially agency fees [which require public employees who choose not to join a union to instead pay a fee to the union] will be banned regardless of what state you’re in. There’s no question it will be momentous change, but as long as there is collective bargaining it won’t be *the end of unions,* as some have claimed. I’ve used Florida or Nevada as the model for what public sector unions will all look like post-agency fee. Heck, before their recent problems, the Alabama Education Association was the dominant force in that state’s politics. So I don’t want to downplay it, but I think both sides are somewhat overstating the effect it will have externally. Internally there will have to be belt-tightening. That’s where we’ll see the real fireworks.

Berkshire: I want to dwell for a moment on the name of the gentleman at the heart of the case that now appears to be headed to the Supreme Court. It’s Janus, which is also the Roman god whose two faces look to the past and the future. This strikes me as a perfect metaphor for the state of unions right now: both stuck in the past, unable to adjust to the changing nature of work and workplaces, yet in many ways more necessary than ever.

Antonucci: The unions that we have now haven’t changed in any significant way since the late 70’s, and this is especially true of the public sector unions. They’re working in a world that no longer exists. I’ve written a lot about the lack of input from younger teachers and millennials in the teachers unions. The union is sincere about wanting to get more of those members into the leadership, and yet the paradox that I always see is that those teachers have different priorities, different ways of looking at things and different things that they want from the union. Some people are going to want to set up their own conditions of employment. They feel comfortable setting a value on their own labor and going to an employer and saying: *this is what I’m worth and this is what I want.* A lot of the economy works that way now. Other people are going to need representation of some sort, whether it’s a union or some other kind of agent. Some of them will bond together to make a larger group with unified interests so that they can negotiate as one to get what they want. All of those things will continue to be true into the future. Continue reading →