Reworking Labor: Organizing Fashion Models, and a New Role for Unions

Reworking Labor – Organizing the Runway

The New York Times

Articles in this series examine the changing face of labor as the nation’s unions and collective bargaining rights decline.

Previous Articles in the Series:

A.F.L.-C.I.O. Has Plan to Add Millions of Nonunion Members

The Workers Defense Project, a Union in Spirit

Tackling Concerns of Independent Workers

To the Editor:

Re “Stepping Up for Models” (Business Day, Dec. 24):

I agree that labor organizations like the Model Alliance are necessary within the fashion industry. Models are abused at work and underrepresented. In the article, Susan Scafidi, a professor at Fordham University and director of its nonprofit Fashion Law Institute — established with the support and advice of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, says the Model Alliance is not planning to form a union.

“Founding a union makes a strong oppositional statement that scares off people,” she says. This soft-hands approach sounds like pandering to a deeply patrician industry that routinely eats up and spits out thousands of young women. It feels like the ladylike thing to do.

While I stand in solidarity with the Model Alliance, I believe that the modeling industry could use some shaking up. Recently, Vogue magazine once again violated its own under-age model initiative — one highlighted in the article — by placing a 15-year-old girl in its pages. The business of fashion is liberal and progressive on its exterior, yet it has a “do as I say, not as I do” mind-set.

Now is the time to take off our kidskin gloves. Fashion models need the power of a union and the binding agreements it can create between workers and their employers. As it stands, the Model Alliance is in only an advisory position, one that requires others in power to make and enforce the changes needed. At its bottom line, this is a women’s rights issue, and teenage girls are being abused. Unionizing is the only way forward.

New York, Dec. 24, 2013

The writer is an actress and model.

To the Editor,

At first, the article might seem to be a novelty item describing tall, svelte women opting to be represented by an organization that will certainly not be a union and will not negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. But it does raise vital questions about the future direction of the American labor movement.

Why do labor unions have to be exclusively collective bargaining agents? Why can’t unions effectively serve as a voice for professional workers, self-employed workers, lower level managers, mobile workers who change jobs frequently and even unemployed workers?

Are America’s unions now too tradition-bound in what they do and whom they do it for?

These are crucial questions. The fate of America’s unions depends on their being seriously and repeatedly asked, if not always successfully answered.

Worcester, Mass., Dec. 24, 2013

The writer is a professor of industrial relations at the Clark University Graduate School of Management.

Via The New York Times