Steven Greenhouse

Steven Greenhouse was a New York Times reporter for 31 years, including 19 as its labor and workplace reporter. He is author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, to be published by Knopf in August. 

Recent Articles

A Great Labor Leader Gone

Hector Figueroa, 1962–2019

Far more than I would have liked in my years writing about labor, I found myself writing articles about corrupt union leaders, including one who embezzled $1.7 million and one who built himself an extravagant penthouse atop his union’s headquarters with two marble-walled bathrooms. And then there were the many uninspired and uninspiring union presidents who seemed allergic to doing any organizing even as the union movement continued its decades-long slide. But when I went this past Wednesday to a packed memorial service at cavernous Riverside Church for Hector Figueroa, president of the 175,000-member SEIU Local 32BJ, I found myself deeply moved as one eulogy after the other talked of how many workers’ lives Figueroa had lifted, how many new union members he had organized, and how many people he had inspired. At least half a dozen times, the eulogists used a word rarely employed to describe today’s labor leaders: “visionary.” Figueroa, who headed the...

New York Labor Didn't Shrink from Confronting Amazon

But unions were sharply divided about how to deal with the tech giant. 

Ever since Amazon’s plans to open a second headquarters in New York were announced last November, two things have become clear about organized labor and Amazon. First, labor is eager to unionize Amazon, or at least parts of Amazon, a fiercely anti-union company that doesn’t have a single unionized facility in the United States—none of its “fulfillment center” workers, Whole Foods workers, or drivers are unionized. Second, labor is seriously divided about how to achieve its ambitious goal of unionizing Amazon. Days after Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio trumpeted the deal in which Amazon promised to create 25,000 jobs in Queens and would receive $3 billion in subsidies, New York’s building trades unions announced that Amazon had given its blessing to letting the project’s construction work, involving an estimated 5,000 workers, be unionized. Moreover, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union said that Amazon and the...

How the Public Employee Unions Refused to Die

Confronted with a Supreme Court ruling designed to hobble them, the nation’s public-sector unions have increased in size and grown more militant.

When the Supreme Court ruled last June in the Janus case that government employees can’t be required to pay any fees to the unions that bargain for them, the common wisdom was the nation’s public-sector unions would be thrown hugely on the defensive. Evidently, the leaders of those unions didn’t get the message. To the contrary, they have gone on the offensive. As leaders from the nation’s four largest public-sector unions made clear at a forum last weekend in Washington, not only are their unions seeking to staunch the loss of fee-payers, they’re pushing mightily to add members. Saying that Janus was just one step in a 40-year assault on unions, Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said, “One of the most important things, if not the most important thing we should be working toward, is organizing workers. ... That has to be priority No. 1. We will always have to fight defensively against the attacks that...

The Return of the Strike

This year, thousands of teachers, hotel workers, Google employees, and others walked off the job and won major gains. Which raises two questions: Why now? And will this continue?

This article appears in the Winter 2019 issue of The American Prospect. Subscribe here . For years, many labor experts seemed ready to write the obituary of strikes in America. In 2017, the number of major strikes—those involving more than 1,000 workers—dwindled to just seven in the private sector. Indeed, over the past decade, there were just 13 major strikes a year on average. That’s less than one-sixth the average annual number in the 1980s (83), and less than one-twentieth the yearly average in the 1970s (288).In 1971 alone, 2.5 million private-sector workers went on strike, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—that’s 100 times the number, 25,000, who went on strike in 2017. But then came 2018 and a startling surge of strikes in both the private and public sectors. More than 20,000 teachers and other school employees walked out in West Virginia in February, followed by at least 20,000 more in Oklahoma. Probably the biggest educators’...

SeaWorld's and Kavanaugh’s Missing Empathy Gene

The Supreme Court nominee showed more concern for overregulation than worker safety in a U.S. Court of Appeals case involving the death of a whale trainer.

While the nation focuses on Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, let’s not forget his judicial record. Kavanugh’s opinion in a case involving a SeaWorld employee whom an orca whale pulled into the water and killed is a remarkable document. It’s remarkable because Kavanaugh shows far less sympathy to the whale trainer who was dismembered and killed than he shows to SeaWorld for being the victim of what he sees as government overregulation and overreach. While we’ve heard much about Kavanaugh being a nice guy who coaches a girls’ basketball team, he, at least in his SeaWorld opinion, seemed to lack an empathy gene. Kavanaugh was so fixated on a subject that preoccupies him—government regulation (or should we say overregulation)—that he hardly focused on the problems that led to the death of the whale trainer. Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old native of Indiana, was killed in 2010 by a 12,000-pound, 22-foot killer whale...