What Unions Do
American labor unions have declined in membership and influence for almost 40 years. Today, less than 11% of workers are represented by unions – and just over 6 percent in the private sector. Yet polls consistently show that a majority holds favorable attitudes toward unions and believes this decline has been very bad for the country and for working people. A union election at a huge Amazon warehouse in early 2021, and the introduction of a federal legislation dramatically reforming labor law, have renewed critical questions about unions.Are they obsolete organizations? Or are they vital to a democratic society? Has their decline accelerated polarization and economic inequality?
This class will look at the basics of why unions are organized and how they work, and we’ll delve into some of the more controversial aspects of labor organization. Do unions speak for all working people or only for their own members? Are they democratic organizations or essentially corrupt? Do they have power through inclusiveness or exclusivity? How have they played a role in defining our concepts of justice? What kind of economy do they promote? What do we learn from studying important turning points in labor history?
Whether your interests are in management, social justice organizing, or public policy and law, you’ll find this inquiry engaging and relevant.
For students enrolled in the class, faculty will be willing to sponsor half-time for-credit internships with labor unions, human resources departments, public agencies concerned with workplace issues, or related advocacy organizations.
Course Reference Numbers
Management, social justice and labor organizing, public policy and law