MARY CATT: --who's the Jack Sheinkman professor of collective bargaining at the ILR School at Cornell University. He's also the director of the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution, and we're here in the studio today to talk about his new book. He's the lead author of An Introduction to US Collective Bargaining and Labor Relations, 5th Edition. He's written the book with Professor Alex Colvin, also of the ILR School, and Thomas Kochan of MIT.
Today we're going to discuss new and emerging developments in the world of collective bargaining, and as always we welcome your questions. You'll see on your screen where you can submit them. We'll take as many as possible towards the second half of the conversation, which will last at least 30 minutes, so please stay with us. We'll go even longer if we have enough questions to fill out the hour.
So I'd like to start by asking you, professor-- and thank you for coming to be with us today.
HARRY KATZ: My pleasure.
MARY CATT: Why did you read the new edition? It's your fifth. Why now?
HARRY KATZ: Well, Tom and Alex and I had produced four editions of the book, and the last edition was in 2008. And we were looking at what was happening in the US economy, and it just seemed to us that collective bargaining still matters.
Even though unions are having a hard time expanding their representation, they're still a really important force in the economy. I was just thinking today about how I'm teaching my current 120 students here at ILR in their introductory required collective bargaining class, and I was just talking with them last week about the negotiations at Boeing with the IM, the machinists union.
And, as you know, reading the press, 10 days ago the New York Times had a story saying Boeing stock price is skyrocketing, and that's been driving the rise in the Dow. Boeing's profits are rising. And the story went on to say, one of the key reasons Boeing was doing so well was because of a collective bargaining agreement they had negotiated a couple of years ago with the machinists, a 10-year long agreement that included some sizable concessions, but also has led to substantial improvements in their productivity. They're producing Dreamliners and other planes in good speed. And so labor relations really matters.
Just one other example. Just today, this morning reading The New York Times there was a big story about the recent suspension of the running back of the Dallas Cowboys, the rookie of the year, Ezekiel Elliott, was suspended for the first six games of this NFL season by Commissioner Goodell. And the story was about the fact that the union representing Elliot-- unions represent all the major professional sports athletes in the United States-- the union was contesting that suspension. And the procedures that regulated the suspension were in the collective bargaining agreement that the union there negotiates with the league.
So there, again, unionism really still matters, even though sometimes people are quick to say, oh, unions are irrelevant because of the nature of the high-tech economy.
MARY CATT: Mm-hm. Well, it's interesting that you bring up the sports angle. As you know, on September 18 ILR is hosting a sports leadership summit. And labor, of course, is at the heart of sport. And this will be discussed by many of the top names in the industry. So, you know, it's interesting how labor drives professional sports and so many other industries.
HARRY KATZ: Right. Yeah. Yeah. And did you know, one of the reasons we're so active-- ILR is in the sports sector now-- is because two of the commissioners of the major sports, Gary Bettman in the NHL, Rob Manfred in baseball, come from ILR. Why is it that ILR is producing commissioners? It's because the labor issues, as you said, are so central to what's going on in the league, the issues of discipline, of drug testing, of concussions, the salary negotiations, free agency. Those are all issues that come up in labor relations.
MARY CATT: And negotiation, of course, at the heart of labor relations. And that's such a big part of sports. Well, this text is your fifth on this particular issue. You've written many other books, of course, including another one we're going to get to in a little bit.
HARRY KATZ: Right. Yeah.
MARY CATT: But this is a bit more innovative than the previous four editions.
HARRY KATZ: Yeah. No, it's nice of you to ask about that. Yeah. This book-- here's a copy. I got my first copy 10 days ago. They're now hot off the presses. We're doing this book with Cornell ILR Press. The other four editions were done with a commercial publisher, Mcgraw-Hill. You know, we were satisfied with McGraw-Hill but we wanted to do some new things, like you're saying.
One thing, honestly-- we wanted to reduce the price. Working with Cornell Press and ILR Press we're able to produce the book at a more reasonable price for our students. We've also-- thanks also to the agreement of my co-authors, Tom and Alex, all the royalties of this book are going to the ILR School.
And then there's other innovative features. In addition to just updating all the current events and news stories we have introduced with this book an open-source instructor manual. So up on the web now there's an instructor manual all instructors have access to and can contribute to. We have outlines of the chapters. We have a test bank. We have news stories. I just put two news stories up today that were just in the press related to collective bargaining.
And we've got other visual aids that instructors are using, and we're trying to take advantage of the web to make this kind of a live resource. And also one that will live on, we hope, beyond the fifth edition. You know, we're from the ILR school, and the ILR school is a central place where labor issues are addressed, and we're hoping through this textbook and the website that we'll spread knowledge about labor issues, but also bring into prominence the role of the ILR School.
MARY CATT: And ILR is is a place where student engagement is a huge part of what we do, and I know that you tapped the expertise of some students for their insight on how to structure this book. And can you talk a little bit about that, why you went to students?
HARRY KATZ: Yeah. To be honest, I did a lot of the work on the book when I was in my administrative role phase. You know, I was dean of the school and then interim provost for a stretch. And I was able to continue working on this book and the other international text that's available.
I couldn't have done it without students. I have terrific students in the classes I teach, so does Alex and Tom. And we use students in two ways. We use students in developing the text material, the cases, the examples, the data. A lot of that information is now up on the internet, and the students-- even better than us three-- are really adept at finding out the information that's now available on the internet so we could cover developments, not only in the sports sector but this book also includes information about developments in other countries and how they compare and contrast to what goes on in the US, and to resource and research those other countries we needed the help of the students.
The students also helped us develop the instructor manual to help put those materials up on the web, to develop the material. Again, I couldn't have done it without their help.
MARY CATT: We were able to get an interview with a couple of students, so I'd like to roll that in if we could.
MATTHEW GALLANTY: --more about unions. I think regardless of where you're standing on a political spectrum, unions serve a certain purpose, and learning more about the history of them and what they've done for workers in general is just super important. So that's really what I've gotten out of the experience.
Professor Katz would provide me with a chapter, and I would read over the chapter, see all the key points, all the different main aspects that could be taught in a classroom setting, and I would create PowerPoints, the test book, the questions, anything more or less that a professor could use in a different setting, whether it's in the ILR School in future years or in a different college that decides to teach a course on collective bargaining in general.
HANNAH CHO: It was just a really great honor for me to be able to contribute to such a great subject.
I never knew what, really, labor relations was until I came to ILR. So first classroom exposure, of course, was great, but I think also being able to actually read through the textbook, kind of working on behind-the-scenes, I guess, before the play is out was really great.
And it was also a really great experience where I was able to gain skills. And just also being able to think about the next step in when students are contemplating the kinds of questions that they ask about the textbook or even the content, like just being able to analyze it on a more deeper level, because I was trying to think of questions that I would ask, maybe. Even if it was just for a test or just for further reference for instructors, I think it was just beneficial for me to have that exposure and be able to really think on that deeper level.
MATTHEW GALLANTY: I think having the exposure to work with someone of such prestige as Harry Katz is just a great opportunity, period. Whether it's going to be actually working with him on the textbook and that whole side of things of what I was doing for him, or the actual just building of that relationship and seeing who he knows and learning more about just anything that he has to offer, I think that that is just an opportunity that I've never had in my academic career. And coming from such a small school like ILR, that opportunity is so fantastic, that I can't say more about it.
HANNAH CHO: I think having this exposure and being able to work on the textbook also helped me in my internship in my further career in Denver, so I'm very thankful for Professor Katz, and I hope to work with him again soon.
MARY CATT: Thanks for watching. We are back to our conversation with Professor Harry Katz. And again, I would like to encourage you to send in your questions via your screen. We've already had a few come in, but we'd like to get more, and we will get to as many of those questions as we possibly can. So back to you, Professor.
HARRY KATZ: Yeah.
MARY CATT: We're talking about your new book, An Introduction to US Collective Bargaining and Labor Relations, 5th Edition. But you wrote another book a couple of years ago that I'd like to have you talk about, because it's going to give this new book some context. That book was called Labor Relations In A Globalizing World, also written with Thomas Kochan and Alex Colvin.
HARRY KATZ: Yes. What happened is, I learned-- while I was dean of the ILR School I was visiting a number of countries where we were forming new associations and alliances so our students could go study in those countries. And I was on such a trip in Beijing at Renmin University in China, and they wanted me to deliver a lecture as part of my visit. I did that.
And at the end of the lecture a woman came up to me and said she had really been pleased to see me again. She reminded me that she had audited my class. She's a professor at Renmin and she had audited my class when she was on leave here. And then behind her back she brought out a book that had just been published in China, that's a word-for-word translation of the fourth edition of the US book.
And at one level I was really delighted to have the book translated. I knew it was in the works, but I just didn't know if it had been done and what form it would take. And then I went back and talked more with Tom and Alex and we decided, you know, it was nice that there was a translation of the US book, but that really didn't make sense as a guide for students in China to learn about labor relations. And they need to learn about labor relations. Labor issues in China are as big an issue as anything about their country's economic development and social path it will take.
And so we developed this book, as you mentioned, Labor Relations In A Globalizing World also with ILR Press, that focuses on labor relations but for those countries. It looks at sort of analytic principles that are common across all countries, but in particular how those principles play out in countries like China, India, Brazil, and South Africa-- are the four we focus on. We also talk about countries like Korea and others that are kind of transitional or emerging countries where the labor relations system is still in flux.
Now, what's similar about these two books is that they use the same analytic framework. That framework is a three-tiered structure, a framework differentiating between strategic levels, functional collective bargaining levels, and the workplace levels. I developed that framework really with Tom Kochan and Bob McKersie in a book we published, now 30 years ago, called The Transformation of American Industrial Relations.
So both of these books rely on that framework, but try and bring the framework to life by looking at contemporary issues in labor relations. This book more about how those issues surface in developing countries, emerging countries, and then the US book obviously focused more on the US with some discussion about how the US system compares to that in other countries.
MARY CATT: A lot of changes in the US when it comes to collective bargaining. And huge impacts, of course, on labor management and government policy. Can you talk a little bit more about those changes?
HARRY KATZ: Sure. I mean, you know, that's the other key reason we wrote the book, is to try and understand those changes, what was happening, what they meant, what they mean for workers, employers, what they mean for labor policy. And one of the key changes is, there's kind of a broader focus to collective bargaining, an engagement of more actors.
To some extent that's because unions' traditional source of leverage-- strike leverage-- has declined. It's not been eliminated, but it's declined. And unions are turning to alliances with other groups, community groups, rights groups. Think of those latter groups as various forms of NGOs, non-governmental organizations. And although in the international book we talk even more about NGOs because they matter enormously about labor rights issues-- you know, at FoxCon's assembly plants in China-- there's a lot of controversy and a lot of activity by labor rights groups.
But even in the United States. That's what's interesting. Even in the United States there's labor rights groups that matter ever more in influencing labor conditions and labor policy. The groups focusing on the living wage, the Fight for 15 minimum wage. Groups focused on trying to expand organizing rights within Uber and Lyft and other computer-mediated work environments. Other groups, the Immokalee workers in Florida you may have heard about, who picked tomatoes. There was a campaign involving rights groups putting pressure on McDonald's and other fast food restaurants who make use of those tomatoes to provide rights to those workers, even though those workers don't yet have collective bargaining rights.
So in some cases what we're seeing is forms of association that don't yet coalesce into collective bargaining. That's an area where rights groups are mattering. But even where unions exist, and even in the United States and other advanced economies, you have established unions aligning themselves with rights groups. And that changes the nature of collective representation and labor relations.
Another issue that's surfacing in bargaining is just kind of a more practical one, in that the agenda has shifted. In the United States a lot of the focus on collective bargaining, where it still involves agreements and negotiations, is on health care cost containment, or in ways in which pension systems are being revised or refashioned in the face of various economic pressures.
And so in our writings-- and again, in the research that was helped enormously by those students you saw and others they work with-- we were trying to understand how, for example, negotiations surrounding health care cost containment was changing the nature of collective bargaining and how it was playing out and influencing events.
MARY CATT: Time for a couple of questions.
HARRY KATZ: Sure.
MARY CATT: All right. This one came in from an anonymous sender. And please do add your name, if you can. It's great if you can because that way we know who we're talking to and we can get back to you if need be in a follow-up. So this person writes in, "how would you describe the difference in European labor relations and US labor relations? US sites with European headquarters have unique dynamics because the view of labor relations is so different here versus as in Europe."
HARRY KATZ: That's a great question. I could ask that on my exam. [CHUCKLES] I do ask questions like that on my exams in that course, as I just mentioned. Well, one key way that labor relations in European countries differ from that in the US-- it also is a way in which labor relations in these emerging countries differs from that in the US-- is that in Europe and in emerging countries labor relations involves much more direct political action. Governments are more directly involved, either intervening directly in strikes or in organizing campaigns, or in other ways taking steps that directly affect wages and work conditions.
In the US the government has an indirect role. You know, there were laws and regulations that matter-- the National Labor Relations Act being the most important. But you don't see so much direct government intervention in labor relations in the US. And that direct political intervention in other countries is often tied to the existence of labor parties, or the link between labor movements, unions, and political parties.
That's much stronger in Europe and in emerging countries, whereas in the US we have to go back into history to find brief moments when there was any real close links between unions and political parties. I mean direct links, not just, oh, the unions typically support Democratic Party candidates. It's that in Europe and developing countries labor unions often are a key funder and a key part of political parties. That's a key way that things differ.
And, of course, governments matter more. In my class I was already just talking about the fact that in Germany-- as an example of how labor relations works in Europe-- there's a principle called "legal extension." So the labor minister extends collective bargaining agreements that were reached by lead firms to all parts of an industry, all parts of a sector. So you can have a firm operating in Germany-- and often do-- where there isn't a single worker who belongs to a union, and yet through legal extension that firm is obligated to follow the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that's negotiated by an employer association and lead firms in that industry.
There's no such thing like that in the United States. Our system is contractual-based. You're formally either in the union or not. There isn't anything like legal extension. It's another key way in which European labor relations differs from that in the US.
MARY CATT: Well, Sam [? Ansun ?] sends in a question that has to do with that difference between the European and US systems. He says, "what can be done to reverse the slide of union representation in the US, and what is the cause of low union representation here?"
HARRY KATZ: That's another great exam question. You know, there's lots of potential causes. And we researchers are always trying to see if, through one research technique or another, we can figure out what's the most important cause.
So some of the potential explanations of why unions have had such trouble organizing on the US are the nature of our laws. They make it easier for employers to aggressively resist unionization. Firms are also more engaged in positive actions. And in our textbook we talk about sophisticated human resource management, communication strategies, attitude surveys, kind of preemptive actions not done in the context of an organizing drive, but done to shape human resource management practices that have diluted worker interest in unionism.
So those things matter. Changes in our economy. Clearly the shift towards more service and white-collar work has moved work somewhat away from its blue-collar manufacturing focus where unions had their traditional locus.
At the same time, one of the reasons-- you asked, why am I writing this book. You know, we talk in this book a lot about workers that engage in what's now referred to as computer-mediated work. Just what does that mean? It means Uber workers, Lyft drivers, workers who work as subcontract cleaners and roam across different households and aren't tied to any particular employer. There's a lot of interesting organizing efforts underway to try and represent those workers.
Some of those activities-- again, that's part of this book. Some of them occur outside of collective bargaining. You may have heard, in New York City there's an effort by the Teamsters to create an association that represents the Uber drivers that doesn't initially engage in collective bargaining. So one of the key questions will be is, can that strategy overcome the problems unions have faced in the US, whatever their reason? Can it overcome the problems unions have faced in the US in expanding their organizing? Kind of new forms of association, possibly linked with those NGOs that I was talking about.
MARY CATT: OK. Well, great.
HARRY KATZ: Yeah.
MARY CATT: That ties into a question here from ILR professor Lowell Turner. He says here he gave the examples of Boeing and professional sports to show the continuing relevance of collective bargaining, and writes, "OK, but pro-sports only accounts for a tiny fraction of the workforce, and Boeing is a remaining stronghold from the days when manufacturing employment was much greater than today. So are unions now reduced only to representing celebrities and remaining strongholds? Can innovative--" as you reference-- "coalitions in organizing drives in non-union industries such as fast food turn the tide? Or are unions just going to go down fighting?"
HARRY KATZ: Well, I mean, I don't know exactly what's going to happen. I mean, and I read a lot of Lowell's work to help me try and guess about what's happening. He's very articulate on this. You know, unions are not irrelevant. They still represent about 10% of the total unionize-able workforce. They represent about a third of all the public employees. We haven't even talked about them yet. The schoolteachers, particularly in the two coasts, on the East Coast, the West Coast, or in the north central area of Chicago and elsewhere. Unions in the public sector really still matter.
At the same time-- I mean, Lowell's right. And other questions are bringing that out. Unions have had a hard time growing. That's another thing we talk about in the book. You know, I mentioned Boeing. Well, there was an organizing effort by the machinists that led to a representation election a couple months ago in North Charleston, where Boeing now has a factory that assembles Dreamliner 787 wide-body jets. And the workforce decidedly voted not in favor of union representation there.
There was another important election-- one close to my interest, in that it occurred in an automobile assembly factory. As you know, I've long studied the auto sector-- at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, where workers had initiated an organizing drive. Followed up another, even more recent election, in an auto factory in Mississippi of Nissan.
And in both of those cases, in those two auto plants, workers-- like the workers at Boeing's North Charleston plant-- voted against union representation. So unions are even having trouble expanding representation in traditional strongholds. I don't want to minimize that at all. At the same time, they're having trouble growing as the economy shifts to more white-collar tech-service work.
But, as Lowell's question suggests, I don't think the die is cast. Unions are trying a lot of really innovative strategies. That's another thing we try and cover in the book, all the innovative efforts at organizing that are occurring, some of which have some success. I've been, in the recent period, looking at unionization in the health care sector-- so among nurses and other health care workers-- in a rapidly growing sector there is some interesting organizing going on, led by the SEIU among other active unions.
And so I don't think the die is cast. At the same time, I don't want to gloss over the fact that, as Lowell's reminding us, unions have had a hard time expanding their jurisdiction beyond traditional sectors. No doubt about it. That's an issue in the US, and there are some signs of similar trends beginning to emerge in the Western European economies. Even in Germany there are signs of firms that were traditionally part of strong employer associations leaving those associations. And even in the emerging countries it's obviously really difficult to organize in the apparel sector, in the electronic sector in those economies.
Nonetheless, you know, that's what these books are about. That's what our field is about. Labor rights still really matter as an issue. Conflict still rears its head. So we at ILR have a lot to say, even though the events may be taking new forms and going in directions where it's really hard to predict exactly what will happen from those actions.
MARY CATT: John [? Felan ?] writes in about social media. He says, "the rapid growth of social media. What have you seen as a significant impact on collective bargaining strategies and outcomes as a result?"
HARRY KATZ: So, social media is really interesting in the sense that, even in the midst of traditional collective bargaining, there's new uses for social media. I'll go back to some of the examples that I've studied more closely.
In the Boeing negotiations with the machinists Boeing was very aggressive at communicating directly with its workforce about its contract offers, not just waiting for those offers to be communicated by union officials. Now, there are some legal issues in the US. You know, the companies can't go too far and bypass purposefully the union at the bargaining table. But they find ways to use social media to communicate.
Boeing actually put up on the website a contract calculator so an individual worker could plug in their own characteristics, their age and their job classification, and then find out how much of an increase in pay and benefits they would get from the latest Boeing offer. And they would normally only hear that, if at all, through the union negotiator. Now they were hearing about it directly from Boeing. So that's a way in which bargaining is changing.
And also on the organizing front. Again, those efforts to organize-- as Lowell's mentioned-- you know, the fast food sector, whether it's McDonald's or Burger King and others, you see in those campaigns use of social media. People trying to talk to one another, create solidarity, movement activity through social media communications. Again, we're not quite sure how that's all going to play out, but it's certainly something to look at.
MARY CATT: Do you think the use of social media by unions is a direct attempt to appeal to the younger people in the union, or doesn't that matter?
HARRY KATZ: No, I think that's a part of it. I mean, when I want to do something new on my iPhone I have to ask one of my kids. They're the only ones in my household that know how to really do that stuff. And it's clear-- I mean, I see that when I teach the undergrads. They're more adept. They're more active in making use of social media. So I think that's a part of it.
But again, to be honest, you know, those Boeing machinists are not young kids. You know? I have the pleasure of serving also on the UAW public review board and, interestingly, a number of our cases in recent years involve social media. A worker making a complaint about the company or a union representative through social media or vice versa. Without getting into the details, we've had cases where union representatives say something about a worker on the union's website and it gets communicated widely in a plant, and it's raising new issues for the unions.
We've been encouraging the UAW-- and they've been looking at this-- to look at some innovative things the other workers have done. The CWA is an interesting case where they have a social media policy that they've adopted to regulate their own internal communications. So it's raising those kind of issues internal to the Union, as well as the question about, can unions make use of social media to enhance their organizing.
MARY CATT: Well, that's what William Welkowitz writes in about. He said, "how do you see the increased use of social media potentially affecting the manner in which unions organize?" So do you think, from the ground up, they're going to be able to pull in new members with social media?
HARRY KATZ: Well, you know, with computer-mediated workers, whether they be it Uber or for cleaning companies or others, clearly they're geographically dispersed. They don't come together into a common workplace. Again, traditional strongholds, whether it be an auto factory or Boeing or in schools, the workers, the employees were all there together. That helped breed the solidarity and communitarian values and actions.
So the question is-- and again, that's a great question. Can social media fill the gap, help replace the kind of more everyday interaction that often was a key part of organizing and mobilization? And again, we see some signs of experimentation with social media in that regard. It's just still unclear how it's going to play out. And in part it's unclear for the very reason that you ask.
The younger workers make greater use of social media than we did, that we do now, and so more and more of these campaigns and efforts are going to involve those younger workers. And it's something that we'll have to watch to see what the answer to that really good question is. Does it really make a difference in union strength where unions exist? And does it really help unions organize in places that they don't have formal recognition yet?
MARY CATT: Really still in its infancy, social media.
HARRY KATZ: Yeah. It's still early. I mean, it helps keep me up in the morning thinking about how collective representation is changing. And, you know, honestly I think when I started my class this semester-- it's formally called "Collective Bargaining"-- I said to the students, you know, it really ought to be called "Collective Representation." Because even in the United States, because of the role of NGOs and social media and affinity groups, you see collective forms of representation that are growing.
And it's still unclear what shape they'll take, but they're going to matter more and more. And we can't just restrict ourselves to discussing collective bargaining, where there are formal collective bargaining agreements, to recognize the important roles of collective action.
Again, that's what we're here to study at ILR, is collective action, conflict resolution. And those things are taking new forms, no doubt about it.
MARY CATT: Joseph Malloy writes in, "I've found unions to be enormously resistant to pay for performance, an important component of modern compensation. It's a way to hold everyone accountable for driving results. Why do you think unions won't engage in this practice?"
HARRY KATZ: Well, actually I think the answer is more mixed than that question suggests. I've studied plants and collective bargaining agreements that do have pay for performance. Just up the road here at Corning and the glassworks, the flint workers accepted pay for performance both at the plant-level, at the corporate level.
In the auto agreements that I was studying starting in the early to mid-1980s on to the present, there was a profit-sharing plan. And down at the plant level there is a pay for performance in a number of the plants that have team systems.
So it is growing as a form, but unions do have some hesitance about pay for performance. They honestly worry that it's a vehicle through which management favoritism can creep back in. Supervisors can decide-- use the discretion they have in judging performance to reward their friends and punish their enemies. Unions worry about the imbalance where some workers, for whatever reason, are going to have pay increases way above the increases received by others. They just are bothered by that, in principle.
They also do worry-- sometimes I think-- somewhat mistakenly, because this can be corrected-- they sometimes worry that the management is going to find ways to cook the books, to fix the numbers. I heard that in the auto sector when I was first studying this in the '80s and '90s when it was being introduced at the big three. But their auto unions have made an adjustment. They have union auditors that are funded by the union to audit company financial performance to make sure that they can't cook the books, to make sure workers are entitled to.
Again, just another example close to my heart. Due to the success in recent years at some of the auto companies because of the rebound that's occurred, autoworkers in some years have gotten checks as large as $8,000 per person through the profit-sharing plans that they have. So, now, that doesn't mean every year they got $8,000, but that's part of the volatility that you get. Again, that's on top of the base pay and cost of living increases they're entitled to through the contract.
So I think the picture on performance pay is more mixed. I honestly think-- although this is often the answer I give-- if management communicates well with the workforce, if it works in partnership with the union leadership, you can often see workers in unions accepting things that they might at first blush reject when they're in a more adversarial and arm's-length relationship. So what really often matters is kind of the nature of the relationship that exists between labor and management.
To have a good relationship they can introduce not only performance pay, but team systems and other things we call more integrative, problem-solving oriented mechanisms. That's always a central challenge in labor relations.
MARY CATT: There's so much going on in collective representation, whether you're a worker or you're a part of management, or you're a government policymaker. How does an individual get their hands on this book?
HARRY KATZ: Well, I mean, to just literally get the book you can order it through ILR Press, Cornell. ILR Press is a part of Cornell University Press. You can also purchase it on Amazon. I'm like an author. I got my first copy so I said, jeez, I wonder how anyone else can get the book. I went on Amazon and saw it's for sale there.
You know, and the other answer, honestly-- it's not just through this book. One thing I always say to my students, there are some terrific resources available to stay up with labor developments. BNA, Bureau of National Affairs, has something called the "Daily Labor Report," and it's what I read when I come into the office every morning. I first turn on my computer and look at the day's Daily Labor Report to find out what's happening. You know? No one can be directly informed by all the different sectors, all the different regions. So there's a variety of sources, again, principally now distributed on the internet.
MARY CATT: Mm-hm. OK. And another thing I'd like to remind people is that, in addition to these questions-- which are coming in fast and furiously, and thank you so much for sending them. We really appreciate your time. We won't be able to get to all of them probably, but we're going to try. We'll make these questions and answers really quick from here on out.
HARRY KATZ: Yeah, yeah. I should give you a shorter answer.
MARY CATT: [LAUGHS]
HARRY KATZ: We can get in more questions.
MARY CATT: It's all good. But I would like to remind people, if you've never been to one of our webcast conversations before, that we would love to get your feedback on the program. Maybe there are other features you would like us to incorporate. Perhaps there is another format style you would like to see us experiment with. But please, go to the "Ask A Question" button on your screen, and let us know your feedback. OK? Thank you.
HARRY KATZ: Let me also remind you-- I can't hesitate, this is a kind of dean observation. It's inbred in me now. This webinar, like many of the webcasts that we produce at ILR, are going to be archived on the ILR website. So if you want to see this again or use it or refer someone else to it, you can go onto the ILR website and find not only this, but a whole host of webinars-- you've been involved in them-- where faculty and other key actors are talking about dynamic issues in the broad scope of our field. There's many topics, and we try and cover as many as we can through these kinds of broadcasts.
MARY CATT: Yeah. Thanks, Harry. I appreciate you mentioning that, because our YouTube channel is a rich source of information about labor, about management, about just about any topic you can think of that's going on in collective representation or the world of work generally-- HR-- I mean, across the board. We've got dozens and dozens of experts here. And one way to access them is through our YouTube channel, so please go there.
Here is a question from Anthony [? Calen. ?] "Do you think greater unionization will be an equalizer or an answer when it comes to employer issues such as pay disparity, ban the box, and health care's rising costs? With the CBA controlling these issues, would that be a better solution than a court decision by decision approach to management strategies?"
HARRY KATZ: So there's been a lot of interesting recent research trying to understand the sources, the causes of the enormous rise in income inequality that we've experienced in the United States. And, by the way, also has surfaced in many other countries. And the evidence is that the decline of the coverage of unionization has had a role in the increased inequality. Because unions do tend to bring up the floor and also standardize wage rates where they have coverage.
And so I think one factor-- it's not the only factor. The evidence is that it has a role to play that's kind of on the scale of, 20% to 30% or so of the inequality can be explained by the decline in unionization and the decline in the strength of union power. But it's played a role.
Now, can unions counteract it? Well, they are a force for more standardization. They do bring up the bottom floor. But they're not going to reverse the larger-- some of the other factors, not just larger factors. It's hard to tell the size of each. You know, the fact that there's all these emerging countries with growing labor forces in those countries that are competing particularly at the lower end, and increasingly moving up that lower end. That's clearly driven down the wages for workers of only high school education. And that's enhanced the differential between the college-educated and the high-school-educated in the United States. So that's a factor.
There's some role for technology that's led to this increase in differential between high-skilled and middle-skilled employees. But again, back to the basics. We're here to talk about labor relations. The decline in the coverage and strength of unions in the United States has clearly been a contributor to the increased inequality that we've seen occurring in our country.
MARY CATT: And where it hits a lot of people is with health care. And Susan Grody-Reuben writes in, "health care cost-containment bargaining in municipalities with several bargaining units with different unions-- units which don't bargain first complain the employer is failing to bargain a mandatory subject of bargaining. But the employer--" oh, I just lost that on my screen, but I think you can address it.
HARRY KATZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, honestly, it's a big issue. You know, collective bargaining, health care costs, what's leading to their rise, and how collective bargaining can confront the rise. What I've been studying are some cases that I find quite interesting, where through problem-solving and partnership, labor and management have been able to control health care cost escalation without reducing benefits. That's the key.
I mean, you can cut health care costs by slashing benefits. You can also cut the costs to the employer by substantially increasing employee contributions. That's kind of the first approach that management often takes that's somewhat typical of our more-adversarial relationship in the US. Management wants to save costs by passing the costs on to employees.
And yet, you can find cases-- and I'm right in the middle of research looking at some of these-- where the parties have come together and jointly found ways to reduce essentially unnecessary health care costs, or come up with more efficient health care delivery. Just so it's not a mystery, one of the places I'm studying that is in New York City in the health care benefits received by the 300,000 New York City employees that are represented by a number of public sector unions in New York. They're in the middle of a really innovative cost reduction effort that's reducing health care costs to the city of New York, but doing it by introducing efficiencies, not taking the costs out of the backs of employees.
Another place I'm looking at it is in the auto sector, in the creation of what are called VEBAs, where the UAW has taken over the administration of the retiree health care benefits. And again, as best I can tell, they're doing that by efficiencies, by coming up with better ways to provide health care rather than taking it out of employee pay by increasing the contributions of employees.
So again, I'm looking for ways, and I'm finding some where you can be innovative and more proactive rather than just pass the costs on to employees.
MARY CATT: Mm-hm. Here's another element of the whole collective representation situation, sent in by [? Loriano ?] [? Conccio. ?] "Many companies make it a point to have their labor relations directors have law degrees, however other companies complain that a law degree actually limits labor relations people because it tends to de-emphasize the human element of labor relations. What is your view?"
HARRY KATZ: So, I don't know if it's the law degree per se that's the key determinant. I think what you do observe-- and I've spent part of my career trying to document this-- is there are many different ways to run labor relations. There's many different labor management relationships that exist. Sometimes the relationships are more problem-solving, more partnership-oriented, more integrative, to use that word. Other times they're extremely adversarial, where it's all just a fight over a given pie. Whose share is going to go down, rather than how can we increase the size of the pie.
So I think the issue is, honestly, whether you take a problem-solving approach. You know, I now direct the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution with some wonderful professionals and staff that spend a lot of time teaching parties-- not just labor and management at the bargaining table, but parties at the everyday workplace-- how to make use of mediation, how to make use of mediation skills to engage in problem-solving, and be less adversarial. And I think that's the real challenge.
MARY CATT: Well, Bob Landsmen writes in, "shouldn't we concentrate on problem-solving and teamwork?" So at the Scheinman Institute you do that. But elsewhere-- do you see it spreading?
HARRY KATZ: Well, yeah. I think that's a central challenge in the US because, again, often the initial action taken in the US context is to think only in terms of kind of pure and simple cost reduction, or what we refer to as distributive bargaining-- you know, winner-take-all bargaining. And yet there is lots of opportunity, if the parties work at it and are open to it, for problem-solving. Again, that's not just a US challenge. That's true wherever you are in the world trying to address labor issues.
It's just in the US we do have this particular tendency for more legalistic, arm's-length, adversarial relationships. And I think the lessons from a lot of good recent examples is, there's a better way if the parties take the steps necessary to engage in communication, information exchange, and, again, work hard at mediation. It's not simple to do the latter, but I think it's potentially more productive than the more traditional arm's-length approach.
MARY CATT: OK. This from William Woods. "Dr. Katz, what is the biggest trend or shift you're seeing in public sector contract negotiations?"
HARRY KATZ: Well, in the public sector-- I mean, obviously I think the biggest shift was the real, somewhat-brazen attack on public employees and public sector collective bargaining that emanated from some outspoken Governor, Scott Walker, in Wisconsin, Governor Christie in New Jersey, and then others in other states. They basically blamed the public employees for issues surfacing in the public sector. You know, in the public schools it was the blame, oh, it was the teacher unions that are leading to the poor performance in some of the schools.
So that attack really defied the kind of drift over the previous 25 years where you saw kind of a fairly standard normalization of labor relations in the public sector and, in my view, well-functioning collective bargaining occurring in many parts of the public sector. So I think the attacks were both unnecessary, uncalled-for, diversionary. And I think now in the public sector-- as was asked earlier in the question by Susan-- is you've got to look for more problem-solving-oriented approaches rather than go into attack mode to actually deal with some of the root causes of the problems that exist.
Again, recognizing that there's also a lot of great successes. People exaggerate-- in my view-- the problems, often blaming public employees and public sector unionism for issues that are much more complex and not so one-sided.
MARY CATT: OK. Carrie, who is an ILR graduate, class of 2001-- she's worked in labor relations since graduating back then, always for public sector unions. She is wondering what the future, in your mind, holds for public sector unions in New York State, with the likely loss in the Janis case pending in the US Supreme Court.
HARRY KATZ: Yeah. I think what Carrie and others are worrying about in particular is the court case that will potentially remove automatic dues check off for public employees and members of public sector unions. You know, overall I'm-- some people think I'm crazy for saying this, but I'm actually pretty optimistic about the long-run status of public sector unions and public sector collective bargaining.
I'm optimistic because, actually, I think there have been really healthy contributions made by public sector unions. And I think labor relations has worked generally well in the public sector. You know, that's what I studied first in my career. I wrote my dissertation about public sector labor relations. And at that time, back in the mid-1970s, there were arguments being made that unionism in public sector bargaining was inappropriate for the public sector.
And those arguments went away for 30-something years, and then most recently we saw them sort of come back. So I thought the arguments were wrong when I was first studying them in the mid-1970s, and I think they're wrong when they're made now by those critics of public sector labor relations.
I think, again, it depends on the relationship. We find many healthy relationships. And so, in that sense, I'm more optimistic. I'm also more optimistic-- just to add a little bit-- you don't see the same threats from international competition.
Yeah, there's issues of to what extent privatization is going to grow and replace public sector provision, but you don't see the same challenge that production in low-wage countries provides in the private sector existing in the public sector. So you see, I think, generally healthier relationships in the public sector, more stability, and I think somewhat less-extreme economic pressure that in the private sector has often led to kind of rampant outsourcing and de-unionization.
MARY CATT: From Frank [? Ridell, ?] "what strategies do you suggest labor and management implement to maintain their competitiveness against the nonunion, declining union market share in membership?"
HARRY KATZ: Yeah. Well, that's what I was trying to get at, talking about integrative problem-solving approaches. You know, again, I've studied this in the auto industry and telecommunications, and I'm now doing it in health care. There's great opportunities for labor management partnership, for team-working, for the use of mediation.
Unions are also-- here's what I'm seeing in health care. There's tremendous examples where the union is the central vehicle promoting better up-skilling and training opportunities for, let's say, a nursing assistant to become an LPN and maybe an RN, for a hospital orderly or janitor to go into nursing or to be a care provider. So the unions can often be a really positive force for the kind of training and up-skilling that's needed for those more proactive, integrative, problem-solving approaches.
MARY CATT: This is from David Walsh, MPS graduate of 2014, I believe. David writes in, "what are the key strategies unions can use to add value and attract members in right-to-work states?"
HARRY KATZ: Well, you know, again, I think they have to be spokespersons for the kind of problem-solving approach I was just mentioning. And there as well-- you know, I'm not an organizer down on the street level, so I'm never quite sure what explains all the difficulties that unions are facing.
Clearly there's a lot of management resistance, but I've also always wondered whether unions can emphasize more than they have, career development, engagement strategies, pressing for information, being a source of where workers can get more information and security about their future opportunities and become in that way a kind of a more positive vehicle.
Not to say they shouldn't be bargaining hard for wages and health and safety protection and all, but also getting involved in providing information, training and development to the workforce to provide, essentially, career opportunity.
It seems to me, with the dynamic nature of the current economy-- in part because of the really forceful role of international competition-- employees are fundamentally insecure. And management can't answer all that insecurity and doesn't choose to provide all the information and training necessary to answer that insecurity. And I think unions could. Unions could do more.
Some already are quite active, and I think others have to learn from the real active unions and become more involved in promoting essentially career development and answering employee insecurity. And I then wonder whether that can help overcome some of the difficulties unions are facing in organizing.
MARY CATT: That's one great piece of advice for unions and those affiliated with unions, but we've got to wrap it up. It's almost 1 o'clock. There's a lot of great questions here that have come in and I am truly appreciative of people's great thoughts.
HARRY KATZ: Yeah.
MARY CATT: We could go on for an hour, but we better wrap it up. So other advice for beyond unions? You know, you've written these books. You've spent your professional career and your graduate years studying these issues. Is there anything else you'd like to leave us, with food for thought?
HARRY KATZ: Well, I mean, I also spent 10 years as a manager, being dean of the ILR school and interim provost. And what I learned there is, a lot of the issues addressed in conflict resolution and labor relations come up in everyday life as a manager. Not in situations involving collective bargaining, necessarily, but in how you deal with people, how you would try and change and motivate organizations and adapt. You know, I think you can apply a lot of the labor relations principles to everyday work life, whether you're an employer or a manager.
And while you've given me a last second, I also, again, want to thank and acknowledge the role that Tom Kochan and Alex Colvin have played in coauthoring these books, and also the really positive role we heard from earlier from the students that helped us both write the text and are helping us now develop the open-source instruction manual.
MARY CATT: And once again, where can you get the book?
HARRY KATZ: Well, you can get the book from ILR Cornell Press. Directly order from them. They have a website. You can order it on Amazon. And I appreciate all the comments and interest in what I spend my time researching and studying.
MARY CATT: Professor Harry Katz, thank you so much for being with us today, and also to you, our viewers. Please check in with us again. We have a regular schedule, a webcast, with our various experts.
Today, of course, we talked with Professor Harry Katz about the book he has recently published with Tom Kochan and Alex Colvin through Cornell ILR Press. It's called An Introduction to US Collective Bargaining and Labor Relations. Thank you for joining us today.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of the ILR School at Cornell University.
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Professor Harry Katz, lead author of "An Introduction to U.S. Collective Bargaining and Labor Relations, 5th Edition," explores how management and unions strategize contract negotiations and administration, and how those processes compare to non-union practices.
Katz is director of the ILR School's Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution and the Jack Sheinkman Professor of Collective Bargaining. His book, written with Cornell Professor Alex Colvin and MIT Professor Tom Kochan and published by Cornell University Press, covers income inequality, the public sector, labor rights in the global supply chain, the growing influence of NGOs and cross-national unionism.