Drawing insights from recent hard-won union negotiation campaigns, Jane McAlevey and Abby Lawlor look to the workers leading some of the toughest fights today to provide a masterclass in participatory social change.
Senior Policy Fellow
Unions & Worker Organizations
Workshops & Leadership Schools
Area of Expertise
Research on union avoidance firms
Power structure analysis and strategy
Mission-driven sectors of the economy (health care and education)
Jane McAlevey has spent most of her life as an organizer and negotiator. She’s fourth generation union, raised in an activist-union household. She spent the first half of her organizing life working in the community organizing and environmental justice movements and the second half in the union movement. She has led power structure analyses and strategic planning trainings for a wide range of union and community organizations, and has had extensive involvement in globalization and global environmental issues. She worked at the Highlander Research and Education Center as an educator and as deputy director in her early 20’s.
More recently, Jane has added “author and scholar” to her bio. She earned a Ph.D. in 2015 from the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, studying with Frances Fox Piven, after which she was a postdoc at Harvard Law School with the Labor & Worklife Program.
Her fourth and most recent book, Rules to Win By: Power and Participation in Union Negotiations, is available from Oxford University Press.
A report by Jane McAlevey and Abby Lawlor, illustrates best practices for building the power to win in today’s challenging union climate and features a series of case studies in collective bargaining during the four years under Trump. They cover four key employment sectors: teachers, nurses, hotel workers, and journalists. In each case, workers used high transparency and high participation approaches in contract campaigns to build worker power. Each victory points a path to raising workers’ expectations of what is possible to win at the negotiations table today.
As Labor Day rolls by during a momentous surge in worker organizing, here are some lessons on building a strong contract campaign, according to McAlevey.
But while both are worth celebrating, there are still no shortcuts to the hard organizing work needed to win life-changing contracts.
Jane McAlevey and Abby Lawlor join us today. They discuss how to extract concessions from intransigent employers and why the workers themselves (not an aloof, unresponsive team of professional negotiators) need to be at the heart of any negotiation.
I want to celebrate the real wins we know about and focus our collective attention on some vexing questions about how workers can—and must—win when key windows of opportunity and leverage open up.
Upcoming negotiations by these two unions could swing the 2024 election—and help rebuild democracy.
In her fourth book on union organizing and building the power of the labor movement, Jane McAlevey continues to provide working people with the tools needed to build and strengthen workplace democracy, this time with a focus on winning successful contracts.