How do we ensure the next generation of workers isn’t worse off than the last? — Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From The Conversation

Discussions about the future of work are clearly in the air.

This week, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez is convening a three-day symposium on the issue. Simultaneously, the Brookings Institution hosted a discussion about the implications of the “gig” economy for work and employment policy. At MIT, we are also planning a similar conversation for early next year.

And in Silicon Valley, leaders of high-tech companies and worker advocates have recently started discussing new ways to offer benefits to contract workers following several high-profile cases in which Uber drivers and others have sued to be considered regular employees and gain the accompanying benefits.

All this couldn’t come at a better moment, but time is of the essence. Unless talk leads to actions to change the course of the economy and labor market, the next generation of workers is destined to experience a lower standard of living than their parents – the opposite of the American Dream.

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What the Market Basket deal says about American workers — Thomas A. Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From Fortune

Imagine high-level executives, store managers, clerks, and warehouse workers standing outside their stores side by side for a month demanding their CEO be reinstated and the business model that made the company thrive be maintained. And imagine their customer base cheering them while they had to shop elsewhere at considerable inconvenience and expense.

That is exactly what happened this summer at Market Basket, a highly successful New England family-owned grocery chain with 71 stores and 25,000 employees. On Wednesday night, Arthur T. Demoulas struck a triumphant deal to buy his warring cousins’ share of the family grocery empire, ending a six-week standoff between thousands of employees and management.

Though not everyone may have heard of this story, it is indeed the biggest labor story of the year. And if it emboldens others to speak out for similar workplace causes, it may turn out to be the most important workplace event to come along so far in this century.

Read the full post at Fortune.

Thomas Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, a Professor of Work and Employment Research and Engineering Systems, and the Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Chinese manufacturing seeks a major upgrade – through the use of robots — Thomas Roemer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Thomas Roemer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Thomas Roemer

From South China Morning Post

When Chinese officials recently announced plans to support investment in robots in China’s manufacturing industries, the reaction in some US circles was one of astonishment, if not incredulity. Much of China’s attraction as a manufacturing powerhouse, after all, has been low labour costs, so turning towards robots would seem like relinquishing a key competitive advantage. In fact, several key drivers explain why this is a very intentional and strategic move.

One key factor is that while China’s labour costs still lag behind those in other key economies, Chinese labour has become relatively expensive compared to nations such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Moreover, Chinese labour costs are increasing at a much faster rate than in the US and, while the gap is still considerable, it is narrowing at a relentless pace. China also faces a labour scarcity in its economic boom centres.

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Making paternity leave pay — Leigh Hafrey

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Leigh Hafrey

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Leigh Hafrey

From WBUR Cognoscenti

The spring of 1988 lives in my memory in one abiding scene: My son, Nathaniel, aged 20 months, is toddling briskly down a path in Harvard Yard. He is about 20 feet ahead of me. I run to catch up to him, and, when I do, he chortles, maybe because he thinks he has outpaced me, maybe because he knows he hasn’t. I kneel down to tuck in his shirt, and an acquaintance of mine walks by, beaming. “Happy father,” he says.

The previous fall, my wife, Sandra, then an assistant professor at Harvard, and I had returned to Cambridge from New York. I was on leave from my job at the New York Times Book Review and divided my time between a visiting fellowship at Harvard and looking after Nathaniel. Effectively, I was on unpaid paternity leave. At night, when I put him to bed at 8 o’clock and lay down alongside him to help him settle, I was asleep within two minutes of my head hitting his pillow. It was one of the best years of my life.

While the benefits of paternity leave are well documented, few of my MBA students at MIT Sloan discuss the possibility. They are a highly motivated, ambitious and focused lot. When they imagine their futures, they talk about what they want to achieve, how they will rise through the ranks of their organizations or start companies of their own. They plan to make money and/or do social good, and they recognize, without visible ambivalence, the likelihood that they will belong to the “one percent” in five to 10 years — even as, in many cases, they have six figures’ worth of student loans to pay off.

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Can a new brand of unions help America’s workers? — Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From Fortune

Hardly a day goes by when American unions are not attacked from some quarter: Last week, the Supreme Court weakens unions representing home care workers, one of the lowest paid and fastest growing occupations. This follows another ruling struck earlier last month in which a California judge threw out teacher tenure, due process and seniority rules under the dubious theory they are the cause of persistent inequality in education outcomes. And in 2011, Wisconsin’s governor decimated public sector unions by taking away state and local government employee rights to collective bargaining, reversing a policy in place since 1959.

It’s clear that for years most private sector employers have successfully fought union organizing and collective bargaining using every legal delaying tactic and in many cases illegally firing workers. Wal-Mart  WMT 0.42% ,the nation’s largest private employer, is the most visible case in point. By deploying its union-fighting swat team from corporate headquarters to any store that shows signs of worker protest, it has remained 100 % “union-free.”

The result: Now down to representing only 7% of private-sector workers, America’s unions and collective bargaining are no longer able to provide workers the power they need to redress workplace injustices or achieve a fair share of the economic growth they help generate.

But America desperately needs a vibrant, innovative, growing, and yes powerful, set of organizations that give voice to and represent workers with their employer and in social and political local and national discourse. No democracy in the world has been sustained over time without some independent institution that stands up for and advances worker rights, interests and economic welfare. Moreover, there is an almost perfect correlation between the decline in union representation and the rise of income inequality.

Having said this, we should not be nostalgic. Trying to recreate unions in their mirror image would be both futile and ill-conceived. Instead, America needs to invent, support and grow a new and renewed labor movement that fits the needs of today and tomorrow’s workers and economy.

The good news is a wide range of experiments with new forms of mobilization and worker representation is now underway inside and outside of the labor movement.

Unions in the utility industry, health care and manufacturing industries are using knowledge and skills as the key source of worker power by expanding apprenticeship training, creating partnership with community colleges, vocational schools, and employers to fill the “middle skills” gaps that exist today or will grow as skilled baby boomers retire.

Read the full post at Fortune.

Thomas A. Kochan is a professor of industrial relations, work, and employment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. He is author of the book, Restoring the American Dream: A Working Families’ Agenda for America.