Labor Unions: Aging Dinosaur or Sleeping Giant?
The Labor Movement and Unionism Background and Brief History
Higher wages! Shorter workdays! Better working conditions! These famous words echoed throughout the United States beginning in 1790 with the skilled craftsmen (Dessler, 1997, p. 544). For the last two-hundred years, workers of all trades have been fighting for their rights and seeking methods of improving their living standards, working conditions, and job security (Boone, 1996,p.287). As time went by, these individuals came to the conclusion that if they work together collectively, they would grow stronger to get responses to their demands. This inspired into what we know today as labor unions. A labor union is an organized group of workers whose purpose is to increase wages and influence other job conditions for its members (Parkin, 1998,p.344).
These labor unions can be divided into two types: craft unions and industrial unions (World, 1998). A craft union is a union whose membership is restricted to workers who possess an identifiable skill (Robinson, 1985,p. 69). These members tend to be better educated and trained, and more unified because of common interests (World, 1998). An example of a craft union is the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (World, 1998). On the other hand, an industrialized union is a group of workers who have a variety of skills and job types but work for the same industry (Parkin, 1998, p. 344). Unions of this type include the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, and the United Transportation Union (Boone, 1996).
History from the 1870s to 1900s. The first national union founded in Philadelphia in 1869 in the pre-Civil War period was the Knights of Labor, which intended to include all workers (Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 630). For a decade, this organization grew at a slow pace due to operating in secrecy until the failure of railroad strikes that increased membership to over 700,000 in 1886 (Robinson, 1985). Their advance and efforts had persuaded legislation to enact the following laws: abolition of convict-made goods, establishment of bureaus of labor statistics, and prohibition of the importation of European labor under contract (Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 630).
In 1890, the Knights of Labor membership had declined to only 100,000 members and the number of members continued to decline and eventually disappeared. The decline is said to have been a result of inadequate national leadership, opposition from existing craft unions, and the loss of major strikes in meat packing and railroads in 1886 and 1887 (Robinson, 1985, p. 57).
In December 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was formed in Columbus, Ohio. The AFL was originally named the Federated Organization of Trades and Labor Union back in 1881. The AFL was a national union made up of affiliated, individual craft unions (Boone, 1996, p. 288). The first president of the AFL was Samuel Gompers. On the contrary to the Knights of Labor, Gompers focus was to raise day-to-day wages, and continue to improve the working conditions (Dessler, 1997). After the formation of the AFL, the period included significant developments. In the early 1890s, the United Mine Workers was formed, becoming the first major United States industrialized union (Robinson, 1985). In addition, a significant defeat occurred in organized labor. The defeat is known as the strike at Homestead, Pennsylvania. The Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers was eliminated from the steel industry (Robinson, 1985, p. 58).
History from 1905 to 1920. In 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) challenged the AFL, prior to the depression of the 1930s. The IWW invited the unskilled and semiskilled workers that the AFL had denied and was a success from 1910 to 1915 (Encyclopedia, 1996). The results of this had decreased the AFL membership for a short period of time, but they fought back by bringing unskilled workers into the craft unions (Encyclopedia, 1996). The IWW had disappeared by the middle of World War I.
During World War I, membership of unions had increased– particularly those industries involved in war production (Robinson, 1985, p. 60). This success was due to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. While being president, Wilson made sure that government contractors favored unions and collective bargaining, and he made sure that railroads were operated by the executive federal branch (Robinson, 1985). In addition, President Woodrow Wilson is responsible for the labor-management conference of 1918 which resulted in the National War Labor Board (Robinson, 1985). The significance was a decrease in strike activity that was a result to labor reaction to rising inflation of 1917 (Robinson, 1985, p. 60). The 1920s and post war was a time of continuous improvement.
History from 1929 to 1940. In 1929, the Great Depression began leaving millions jobless (World, 1998). Prior to 1929, business executives were seen as leaders and union members were referred to as dangerous radicals (World, 1998, p.12). However, this changed when Americans saw that these businesses could not beat out the depression and they started to favor the union (World, 1998). Then in 1932, the Norris-LaGuardia Act was passed in favor of labor unions. This act protected unions by decreasing managements ability to obtain a court injunction to stop union activities (Boone, 1996). Before the passing of this act, employers could easily get an injunction to stop strikes, picketing, and membership drives (Boone, 1996). In addition, the Norris-LaGuardia Act also guaranteed each employee the right to bargain collectively free from interference, restraint, or coercion (Dessler, 1997, p.549).
Continuing through the 1930s and Franklin Roosevelts presidency, another act was passed in 1935 known as the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) after Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York (World, 1998). This law, like the previous ones, encourages and protects labors rights. When this act was passed it added meat to the National LaGuardia Act. It did this by: (1) banning certain unfair labor practices, (2) providing for secret-ballot elections and majority rule for determining whether a firms employees were to unionize; and (3) creating the National Labor Relations Board for enforcing these two provisions (Dessler, 1997, p.549).
Also in 1935, the Committee for Industrialized Organization (CIO) was formed. This organization is made up of individual industrial unions and focused on industries as a whole (Boone, 1996). The CIO became successful and challenged the AFL.
History from 1941 to 1950. In 1941, the United States entered World War II and union membership increased. Even though the government did not allow wage increases during this time, it did grant benefits. These benefits included paid vacations and holidays, company-financed hospital insurance, and retirement pensions (World, 1998). At the end of World War II in 1945, the United States experienced the most economic growth in history that it had seen(World, 1998). Also during this period, the employment of blacks and their union membership in the CIO increased. The result of this increase in membership of the CIO caused greater friction between them and the AFL because of the CIOs open policy (Robinson, 1985).
In the years after the war, wartime regulations were lifted and unions started to fight for lack of wages during the war (Encyclopedia, 1996). Their first approach to acquire these lost wages were nationwide strikes. The effort of these employees led to the Taft-Hartley Act (Labor Management Relations Act) in 1947 (Encyclopedia, 1996). According to Dessler (1997), this act prohibited union unfair labor practices and lists the rights of employees as union members and rights of employers.
History from 1951 to 1960. Several years later Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president and the Republican party began taking control over congress (Encyclopedia, 1996). At this point in time, the AFL and CIO were seen as enemies but had moved closer together. Their first move in coming together was in the promotion of the Marshall Plan to assist the rebuilding of Europe (Robinson, 1985, p.64). Secondly, they began to cooperate in favor of forming the United Labor Policy during the Korean War (Robinson, 1985). Then, in February 1955, the American Federation of Labor and the Committee of Industrialized Organization merged together and became the AFL-CIO (Encyclopedia, 1996).
In 1957, there was suspicion that there was something going on among our labor leaders (World, 1985). After an investigation was completed by a committed led by Senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas, they found that the officials of the Teamster Union took union funds for their own use and had also be linked to organized crime (World, 1985). This particular incident led to the passing of the Landrum-Griffin Act (Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act) of 1959 (World, 1985).
The Landrum-Griffin Act was aimed at protecting union members from possible wrongdoing on the part of their unions and is also considered an amendment to the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act (Dessler, 1997, p.552). This act required all unions to hold regular and scheduled elections of the union officers all by secret ballot and also must set a bill of rights for its members (Boone, 1996). This bill of rights was in response to Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Its main purpose was guaranteed freedom of speech, control over union dues, and other rights (World, 1998, p.13). In addition, all unions must report and submit financial information to the United States Secretary of Labor (Boone, 1996).
History from 1960 to 1980. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, we experienced trends that are contrary to what the United States had previously undergone. These trends involved federal, state, and local government employees; healthcare employees; and employees in higher education (Robinson, 1985).
The rapid growth of these public employees resulted from the following. The sources of rapid growth were an increase in willingness to join unions, transformation of unions to types of organizations with more of a traditional focus on collective bargaining, and lastly, an overall increase in public employees (Robinson, 1985). This trend of public employees joining unions is an upward trend in total union membership.
Although collective bargaining in healthcare dates back to the 1920s, there was no significance until the 1970s. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 included healthcare employees and then the National Labor Relations Board withdrew the idea to include these employees (Robinson, 1985). Then in 1947, the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1935 removed healthcare workers from coverage and provided special procedures (Robinson, 1985) to resolve labor disputes.
In respect to higher education, union organization reached four-year college and university level in the 1960s (Robinson, 1985). By the late 1970s, thirty percent of all four-year public institutions had some type of collected bargaining agreement (Robinson, 1985).
Up to this point we have discussed, in brief, the history of labor unions; how they originated, and laws and acts that have passed. As a result, we have seen American labor membership increase up until the 1950s, and it has decreased ever since (attachment 1). Now, the timeline leads us to the present1980s to today. The next section will discuss the current status of labor unions; causes of the membership decline that began in the mid- 1950s; defensive strategies against the decline; and the predicted fate of labor unions in the future.
Status of Unionism 1980 to Presentand Why the Decline?
With Lane Kirkland taking over the role of AFL-CIO president in 1979, union supporters were hopeful that the decline in membership would cease. However, the rate of member loss only increased. Catalyst to this may have occurred in 1981 when President Reagan fired federal air traffic control workers who had gone on strike. This decision made it more difficult for union leaders to gain leverage since their striking tool lost some of its effectiveness. Furthermore, it was perceived that the labor movement became divided between union leaders striving for cooperation with employers against outsourcing while others were aggressive in defending their union members (Bernstein, 1995).
The eighties were marked as a growing period of white-collar representation in unions since the number of blue-collar workers was decreasing. Loss of blue collar workers threatened a reduction in bargaining power so leaders realized that they needed to expand unionism by targeting white-collar workers, whose numbers were on the rise in the workforce (Robinson, 1985).
Also indicative of this time period was a rapid growth of government unions. As laws were being passed that allowed organization, elementary, and secondary education teachers, college professors, and federal employees joined unions. Many large, public unions were started, such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the American federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association (Robinson, 1985).
To organized labor, the future of the labor movement still looked bleak at the start of the nineties. In 1995, Kirkland insisted he would run for re-election regardless of urges not to. Ultimately, he resigned in August. In October, John J. Sweeney, president of the Service Employees International Union, was elected as AFL-CIO president (Gray, 1996).
The Decline in Union MembershipTrends and Statistics. As previously discussed, since the beginning of organized labor, unionism has experienced fluctuations over the years. A general tendency toward increased union membership occurred up until the middle 1950s after which time a steady decrease was seen (attachment 1). Zooming in on the past two decades, the drop continued at a slightly faster rate, decreasing 6.2 percent which brought enrollment to its lowest level since the 1930s (Gamboa, 1999). The U.S. Department of Labor reported that 13.9% of American workers were unionized in 1998 as compared to the 35% high of the 1950s (Gamboa, 1999). Recent data suggest that union density has been trying to plateau during the late 1990s (Whitford, 1998).
American Attitudes Toward Unionism. With the consistent decrease in union membership, what are Americans thoughts on todays role of unions in the labor force? Data compiled by the Labor Research Association (LRA) in January of 1999 shows that 56.1% of voters feel that unions still benefit the U.S. while less than one third felt that unions are now a detriment (Majority Thinks, 1999). In 1995, this same pole showed a 49% preference for unions; therefore, over the last four years, union popularity has increased by seven percent, according to this report.
Another survey found that attitudes are not split as optimistically. Data from a 1998 study found that about half (48%) of the people asked felt that unions are no longer necessary in todays American society. Furthermore, one in five of the sample population taking part in this survey were union members, and of these, 25% agreed that unions are no longer important (American Labor, 1998). The disparity in conclusions between these reports only begins to show the uncertainty facing the labor movement.
Who Benefits From Unions? Before accounting for the decline in union enrollment, it suffices to consider who is impacted by todays unions? Literature is consistent in that members of strong unions tend to make more money and receive better benefits than non-union workers in the same jobs (Dessler, 1997). While unions generally protect all of its members, certain socioeconomic groups reap even greater benefits than others.
In Ohio for example, workers in lower-paying jobs, minorities, and women that are enrolled in unions receive pay that more significantly closes the gaps in compensation between: the non-educated and educated; women and men; and African Americans and Caucasians than do their nonunion equivalents (Gamboa, 1999). Median earnings of non-union Ohioans without and with high school diplomas in 1997 were $6.50 per hour and $8.75 per hour, respectively. A union member without a diploma, however, received $11.20 per hour (Gamboa, 1999).
Again, these data are similar for non-union and union women as compared to men, and non-union. Where union males made $2.50 per hour (median) more than non-union males in same jobs, union women made $3.50 per hour more than non-union females (Gamboa, 1999), and so on for African Americans versus Caucasians. Furthermore, union membership compliments higher wages for these affected classes with increased job security and with more equal and fair treatment than those not in unions (American Labor, 1998). In general, Unions assist women and minorities more significantly than they do white males.
What Caused the Decline? Since the beginning of organized labor, the work place has changed in accordance with the changes in society, thus affecting the role of American labor unions. The decline over the years can be attributed to many debated factorstoo numerous to mention all of them. Some point at changes in the economy and demographics while others point to changes in managerial styles, the national political climate, or AFL-CIO leadership, itself. One thing is likely. The decline was a result of many independent and interdependent factorsboth external and internal to Unionism.
Changes in Economy. Union membership has historically been highest in government, transportation, construction, and manufacturing sectors and low in such industries as wholesale, retail, finance and services. Over the years, more significant growth has been seen in the latter type jobs as opposed to the former types (American Labor, 1998). For example, those entering the workforce that in the past might have joined the unionized governmental arena were instead choosing industries where unions were not as influential. Incidentally, the downsizing of government jobs has also caused union membership to fall (Walters, 1999).
Many consider the global economy and globalization as problematic, as well (Whitford, 1998). The fact that U.S. companies are outsourcing to save money hurts the countrys economy in the long run. Such tactics rival union efforts to increase job security. As employees lose their jobs in the automobile industry, for example, unions lose memberships. An outstanding example of this issue resides in the United Auto Workers (UAW) concern with Mexican auto industry.
The UAWs quest to keep employment up in jobs related to the auto industry is being challenged by Mexican companies that provide automobiles and parts to U.S. companies like the General Motors Corporation (GM). U.S. companies, including GM, began to outsource when they found they could obtain parts and vehicles for less cost than they could by supplying their own which, of course, raised their profits. Now, money-hungry corporations are needing fewer American resources so plants are being shut down, and people are losing their jobs.
In the case of Mexico, the problem is only growing as Mexican companies gain experience, knowledge and revenue and, as a result, increasingly offer more specialized, higher-tech auto parts. A Business Week article states, Mexico now exports $19.2 billion in autos and partsup from only $7.2 billion five years ago, and it already exports close to one million vehicles, almost all to the U.S. (Smith, 1998, p. 37). Coupling this with the outsourcing occurring in different industries, the impact of the Mexican auto industry can be even more devastating to union membership than it already has.
National Leadership. Since 1980, three U.S. presidents have had their impacts on labor. During the Reagan administration, trade unions were hurt by outcomes of the 1981 air traffic controllers strike, as previously mentioned. Reagan fired the strikers, and as a result, unions striking tool lost some of its power and harmed public opinion toward unions. Furthermore, there were perceptions that Reagans National Relations Board (NLRB), a committee organized under the NLRA, practiced pro-manager tendencies (Pollock, 1985).
Although Bush only resided for one term, he accomplished plenty in the eyes of labor. For example, Bush signed three executive orders that hurt unions:
1) Bush implemented the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Communications Workers of America Vs. Beck which allowed union members to retrieve any dues that went toward political actions,
2) Bush freed contractors from the pro-union Davis Bacon Act after Hurricane Andrew which had made contractors pay union-wages,
3) Project agreements became illegal which in the past excluded non-union contractors from working on major, federal, public jobs (Frum, 1993).
Organized labor had its hopes up when a democratic president took office. Democrats are typically known for embracing organized labor unlike republicans (Wojcik, 1992, p. 25). Clintons promises fell short; however, likely due to his largely republican Congress. Furthermore, under the Clinton administration, the 1994 North American Free Trade agreement was passed which will progressively remove tariffs off of auto and auto part imports (Smith, 1998). The implication of this compounds unions battles against outsourcing as previously discussed.
Changes in Demographics. The fact that demographics of American society have changed, poses a third potential cause for the decline (American Labor, 1998). It is no secret that the economy has become more service driven and increasingly less product driven. Associated with this is an increase in the quantity of professionals in the workforce today as compared to decades past. Census Bureau data shows that todays workforce is approximately 26% college graduates while in 1960 this figure was less than 10% (American Labor, 1998). In addition, more people are making more money. The percentage of workers in the $75,000 income bracket (inflation adjusted) has doubled since 1970 (American Labor, 1998). Professionals with high incomes tend not to participate in unions; however, this trend may be changing as will be discussed later.
Changes in Management Philosophy. Looking at the history of management development can shed some light on yet another possible cause. The well-known Hawthorne studies resulted in a change in management approach that has been evolving for many years. These studies found that productivity not only depended on the scientific approach to optimizing production, but factors inherent in the workers could increase productivity, as well. Hence, the birth of the human relatedness approach to management occurred.
Coupled with management theories like McGregors Theory Y management style (Rakich, 1996) and recent continuous quality improvement philosophies taught by Deming, Juran and the like (Rakich, 1996), a focus on more human and productive relationships between the employee and employer has emerged. The perception has been that collective bargaining is no longer needed since the factory-line approach to management has been de-emphasized and a more positive, employee-empowering atmosphere is taking its place (American Labor, 1998).
Related to this idea are the attitudes that people have regarding organized labor. In light of the changing work environment, employees may be more apprehensive to scuff their new bonds with employers by associating with unions. Furthermore, results of American surveys suggested in 1985 that union leaders were ranked last among different types of leaders (i.e. business, religious, government, etc.) in having positive impacts on the U.S. (Robinson, 1985). The author of this resource stated, a large percentage of the general public regard union leaders and their goals with, at best, suspicion and perhaps hostility (Robinson, 1985, p. 81).
Internal Factors Lane Kirkland.The topics mentioned thus far have been forces external to organized labor that are perceived to have led to its decline in the United States. However, what internal factors adversely impacted organized labor within the last 20 years? More specifically, what strategies did John Sweeneys predecessor, Lane Kirkland, possibly follow that may have perpetuated the decline? Kirklands 15year reign as AFL-CIO began in 1979 and expired in 1995 when he resigned. During that time, the drop in union membership continued its steady decline. While Kirkland was not solely blamed for the decline, environmental factors played larger roles, the general attitude was that Kirklands strategies to fix the problem and his leadership were weak (Bernstein, 1995).
Critics argued that Kirkland failed as a leader. Kirkland was thought of as unfocused and had no plan to revive unions. Since he seemed removed from domestic union problems, he reinforced the false idea that union leaders across the board were far removed from their union membersa public image that discouraged potential union candidates. According to Bernstein, Kirkland shunned TV interviews and spoke in endless Proustian sentences (1995, p. 44).
Furthermore, Kirklands priorities were questionable since he tended to focus efforts on foreign issues instead of concentrating on U.S. labor issues. The Newsweek article recalls that he would spend $100 million of the annual budget in support of labor unions in other countries, and that he would spend an extraordinary amount of time dealing with Eastern Europe while we were going to hell in a handbasket (Bernstein, 1995, p. 44).
The union leader was further criticized for idly waiting for a democratic president to take office, and once one did, the AFL-CIO leader idly waited for Clintons promises to materialize which never did. Although subjective, it appears that Lane Kirklands weak leadership is worth adding to the list of possible causes that decreased membership over the eighties and early half of the nineties. Today, what is being done by Sweeney and others to reverse the trend?
Reversing the Trend
It has been said that the labor movement in this country is very decentralized, and the success of unions depends largely on happenings of individual unions at the national, and especially the local level (Milkman, 1998). This being as it is, how can any one person or group reverse the seemingly out of control land slide that unions seem(ed) to be on? In the decade of the nineties, unions have been done in by many factors, one being poor leadership.
Obviously Lane Kirkland had a lot to do with the downfall as earlier mentioned. Many point back to Kirklands failure to mount a strong labor challenge to NAFTA and GATT, and numerous inside games with the White House as the source of his ultimate undoing (Cooper, 1995). Many union members saw the loss of labors clout along with failure after failure to pass labor favoring legislation and ultimately asked for Kirklands resignation in 1995. It seemed Mr. Kirkland wanted to rest on his laurels and just take the status quo, not trying to right the ship in any way.
A New Era. Enter John Sweeney. Sweeney was elected president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 1980 and served four terms. At a time when unions were declining, the SEIU doubled its membership to 1.1 million. The primary reason behind this surge in membership was Sweeneys organizing tactics and abilities among low paid service employees, especially among women and minorities (John Sweeney to receive, April, 1999). This was a welcomed change to the old stereotype of the prototypical union member being mostly older white males. Mr. Sweeney obviously had the background and accomplishments to stand on. His lofty campaign promises won over voters, and he was elected in 1995.
Blueprint for success. The main thing that Sweeney wanted to accomplish now that he was running the AFL-CIO was, and still is, to focus efforts on union organizing. Sweeney has increased spending on organizing efforts from 5% of the budget to 30% ($20 million) of the budget since he has taken over. This number is much greater than the 3% on average that unions spend on organizing. Employers today spend much more money on trying to crush organizing plans than they did even a decade ago. Given this, Sweeney has called on all unions to keep pace and spend more on organizing (AFL-CIO sets aside, 1999).
Sweeney also called on members to give less to political parties and more to the organizing effort, hoping that registering a target of 4 million new union family voters will restore labors political clout (Germond & Witcover, 1997). Besides devoting more money to where it needs to go, Sweeney is also taking steps to appeal to minorities and women. He increased the AFL-CIO Executive council to 54 members, up from 35 members. In doing that, he named many women and minorities, expanding their share on the Executive Council from 17% to 27%.
Along with reaching to women and minorities, he is reaching to young people. His administration recruited over a thousand young adults to Union Summer internship programs where they developed skills and expertise on issues relating to labor (Milkman, 1998). Couple that with $40 million spent on new feel good commercials aimed at improving the looks of unions to the general public (Zapenski, 1997), and Mr. Sweeney seems to be doing all he can to plug the holes in what was once thought to be a sinking ship.
He has been quoted as saying that we cannot succeed at rebuilding our membership base without winning in politics, and we cannot win in politics without substantially increasing our numbers (Verespej, 1999), a lot of common sense there, but very true.Sweeney must continue involving minorities and women in management positions, as well as appealing to them both inside and outside of unions, it makes a lot of sense because of the surging number of women entering the workplace and the rising number of minorities in the U.S.
Others Follow Suit. Many professional groups are seeing the writing on the wall and are taking the necessary steps to protect themselves. One example would have to be the recent rallying by the American Medical Association to create a union for the nearly 290,000 physicians (about 30% of the countrys doctors). They are tired and frustrated by HMOs and managed care companies and basically want to give their organization some muscle (Coleman, 1999). They know that if they want legislation passed that will favor them, that an organized union voice is better than many single voices.
Management still has some Control. One thing is for sure, no amount of planning, spending or rallying can stop companies from doing several things that unions can not do much about. One has to do with the trend of globalization, the theory that companies always looks to do business more efficiently, no matter where it may be.
As previously discussed, a lot of companies are reducing their commitment to core workers and are making greater use of suppliers, contingent workers, subcontractors, and lower paid workers around the world (Verespej, 1999).
Say a company heard rumors that their employees were considering forming a union or planning a strike in protest to something, The company could shift the workload to an overseas facility and probably come close to normal production, leaving union workers scratching their heads. This deflates labors clout, and ultimately discourages some workers from unions all together. Basically, they have no say in the matter. Now granted, later on the company may see that theyre not getting the same quality as they were in the U.S., but most of the time if they do find that out its too late anyway. Another tactic being used even today is hiring replacement workers after locking out striking workers. This is currently being used at Kaiser Aluminum plants in Ohio, Louisiana, and Washington. Replacements were hired along with salaried personnel, and supposedly they are meeting production and shipment levels, some of the plants even setting new performance standards. The company seems set to carry on like this for as long as need be (Verespej, 1999). In my mind there is nothing worse from a union standpoint, than bragging about how much a company needs your union in their plant, and then seeing production carry on as normal and exceeding old standards in some cases. Its just does not look good on the bargaining table when the two sides decide to meet.
There was an explosion at the Louisiana plant over the July 4th weekend that injured workers, now Im sure the union will use it as leverage, saying that if they were in there that the accident would not have happened. With unemployment as low as it is, workers, never mind skilled workers, are very hard to find right now. This is making replacing striking union workers very hard, along with companies not wanting to see record profits drop. These signs point in the favor of unions.
Do More than Strike. Now obviously, unions cannot just strike themselves to a better future, they have to take steps to ensure progress in the union for the decades to come. The worker of today is much different from workers of even twenty years ago. Workers of today care about more than just a paycheck; most have families that need healthcare; workers are more concerned with retirement and with the stock market as it is; and more are investing their money than ever before. These workers are counting on unions to fight for them on all these issues along with pay raises and involvement with decisions.
With the baby boom generation nearing retirement, a new wave of union members must step out of the shadows if the unions are to return to the glory they once knew. Many today are growing up with no knowledge of unions. This is where unions could step in with a this isnt your fathers union kind of campaigning. They could get involved with local vocational schools and other various local organizations to teach young workers the importance of the workers voice along with other employee related rights.
Involving Academia. An emerging new union has come to be known as occupational unions. They are serving as a vehicle through which workers can participate in continuing training and education. They can also provide assistance with safety monitoring and enforcement of workers related laws. They can also provide a hiring hall to assist out of work union members with union jobs (Hiatt & Jackson, 1997).
I see this as a very good step for unions; workers need to be kept in the family. If you help a union member out to find work or help him with a complaint against a company, he/she is going to look upon unions a very positive and will likely tell co-workers and friends. Workers also need to be furthered while on the job, the continuing education and training will provide valuable assets to the workers and at the same time keep them happy with the unions who represent them.
Appeal to the Masses. Another interesting concept is the broadening of unions to all working people. Unions have the opportunity to align themselves with groups such as women, environmentalists, religious, and various public action entities. This would broaden the spectrum of unions and encourage change in many places outside of union factories (Early, 1999). This is where Sweeneys ad campaign could pay the highest dividendsshow people that unions are nothing to be afraid of, and join hands with established community groups. I see almost no way that unions could not see membership increases.
Organizing is the Key. Again, I revert back to organizing being the key in this whole matter. There seem to be two main groups that Sweeney and his administration need to pay special attention to: the core skilled workers and the unskilled core workers. For the skilled workers, unions need to show them that that they provide them a means through which workers can advance their interests as well as define them. A key to this is showing the skilled worker that they can secure a relationship with their employer that is both cooperative and gives the employees a measure of control over their interests.
As for the unskilled, this has become a main target for unions because of one obvious factor, there are a ton of unskilled workers, namely women and minorities, in the lower paying service jobs. A local ad has encouraged low paid, mistreated workers to contact their local union. These moves are having some success, especially in the professional services and health care industry (Gamboa, 1999). These workers in this classification know that they dont have the skills to fall back on, and without a collective voice to speak to management, they might be stuck at their current positions for a while. They are highly receptive to organizing for this very reason. They need to know that unions do care and if enough step forward to try to protect their future the union will defend them.
A fear among these workers that sometimes leads to the killing of an organizing drive is the threat of permanent replacements. Because they know they can be replaced with ease, all an employer has to do sometimes is threaten to replace them, and whatever they had mounted becomes a pile of dust. Some workers say why risk it when their only option is to strike, and employers can easily and permanently replace them (Hiatt & Jackson, 1997).
Another area of focus has to be on non-union workers. Unions must convince this large group that to lobby to Congress for higher wages they need due paying members to increase their clout (Walters, 1999). Somewhere there has to be a medium where both skilled and unskilled workers can co-exist, and the union can further both groups at the same time.
Unions hold the Control for now. Now is a good time for unions, profits, and productions levels are at record highs. Coupled with unemployment at very low percentages, workers hold an upper hand in labor talks. But, a person would be nave to think that this trend of economic boom will continue. The question that has to be asked is: which way will unions go once the economy turns for the bad? There could be strength in numbers and unions may flourish with new members looking for security in an unsure market of employment. Or, it may be just the opposite. It may be every worker for themselves and many may say the heck with unions, I have to provide for me first.
Keep on rolling. Whatever the outcome, the unions have to worry about now. The only ways to do that is to spend the money now on ad campaigns about making the unions more family friendly; hope to get union favoring legislation passed while not breaking the budget pursuing it; participating in local events and team up with other community groups; and above all, appeal to the general and sometimes uninformed public. All of these things need to be done to secure unions future in the next half century, and it all starts with organizing the unorganized (Early, 1999). Hopefully, Mr. Sweeney has learned from his predecessor and will not rest on his laurels once his goal are accomplished. Labor leaders must push forward to try to push the unions to heights never before seen. Basically, America must be shown the new union for the 21st Century for it to have any effect in the workplace of the 21st Century.
The Future of Labor Unions
The decline of Labor Unions is not a myth, but is it the end of a force that played a vital role in the events of the past century and shaped the work place as we know it today? As any organization, unions faced with a drastically changing environment wont stay idle awaiting their demise. However, the key for survival resides in the ability of union leaders not only to recognize, but also in react appropriately to the changing workplace and workforce of the 21st century.
Future Workplace. The emergence of a true global economy has pushed firms to strive for productivity efficiency, and competitiveness. Firms are setting up everywhere in the world not only in search for cheap labor, but also to tap into the emerging talented global workforce and take advantage of growing markets (OReilly, 1992).In addition, technological breakthroughs and the ease of capital mobility globalized jobs even in the service sector as Brian OReilly (1992) described.
In Jamaica, 3,500 people work at office parks connected to the U.S. by satellite dishes. There they make airline reservations and process tickets, handle calls to toll-free numbers and do data entry. More than 25,000 documents a day, including credit card applications, are scanned electronically in the U.S and copies transmitted to Montego Bay and Kingston for handling.
A New York calling Quarterdeck Office Systems, a California-based software company, with a question about how to work a particular program will often detect a brogue on the answerers voice. Beginning at four in the morning, New York time, before Californians are at work, the calls are routed to Dublin, where Quarterdeck has its second phone-answering operations. At the same place, scores of multilingual workers take calls from all over Europe (p. 62).
Work more than ever will flow to the places where it is performed most economically and efficiently. And the speed and thoroughness of information delivery guarantee that managers will know where work can best be done (OReilly p. 64).Consequently, unions have to be flexible and innovative, for if they push costs too high firms will simply relocate (The future of, 1995).
For instance, one automaker in Ohio, providing parts for automobiles, sought to introduce new technologies and also make dramatic cuts in wages and benefits. Concerned about job loss, the local union resisted. So, the company took few leaders to a new plant in Juarez, Mexico and showed them the technologies used and clearly explained that the same work can be easily accomplished in Mexico (Shaiken, 1987).
Technology and globalization have not only affected where work will be performed, but also how. Many jobs that were eliminated by downsizing and re-engineering will never come back. Part-time work, contract employment, and consulting are becoming more of a necessity than a choice for many people (Griesser, 1995, p. 1). As William Bridges, author of the widely-acclaimed book Jobshift: How to Prosper in a workplace Without Jobs, says that as companies strive to stay lean and flexible, they hire people for projects or assignments rather than for entire careers. Thus, jobs will become more fluid, with cross-functional responsibilities and a team-orientation to getting the work done (p.2).
Arthur B. Shostack (1993) in his article, The Nature of Work in the Twenty-First Century: Certain Uncertainties, describes tomorrows jobs as being soared across 24 hours, less routine, requiring creativity, greater problem-solving skills in collegial collaborative teams, computer assessed, and richly rewarded. Organizations will have very few permanent highly skilled decision makers surrounded by an army of skilled doers who work temporarily for a given firm but develop careers for themselves as nomadic entrepreneurs, and part-timers of nominal retirees.(p. 33). The workforce, he says, will be expected to learn new skills and thrive on new challenges, for no level of learning will be considered enough for very long.
Although this description might seem extreme, some of these trends are starting to emerge. For instance, organizations are growing flatter eliminating many levels of management; and teams requiring collaborative skills are becoming popular; and firms are increasingly relying on part time and temporary employees. Thus, Unions have to observe and consider these trends carefully as they plan for the next century. As John Monks, the head of the British Trades Union Congress says, As a trade unionist, we may not like the new labor market but we have to get grips with it. Unions should never be an exclusive club for those in a full time steady job (Visser, 1997, p.116).
Industry. This changing nature of work has caused drastic changes in employment needs. In manufacturing and goods producing industry, technology and competition have increased productivity and lowered the levels of employment. As output stays relatively the same, the employment in manufacturing will account for 12% of total non-farm wage and salary jobs in the year 2006 and is declining at an annual average rate of 0.2%. Goods producing industry will account for 16.2 % and shows 0% average annual rate of change (Franklin, 1997, table 1).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its employment projections to 2006, the overwhelming employment growth will be in the services division, which will account for 74.1% of the total non-farm wage and salary jobs by 2006 with an annual growth rate of 2.9% between 1996 and 2006. Most of the projected job growth will be in the business and health services accounting for 38% of the total non-farm wage and salary. Then social services, engineering, management, and related services follow accounting for 50% of the total increase in non-farm wage and salary employment (Franklin, 1997).
Occupation. As a result, the major group level, professionals, managers, technicians, service, marketing and sales workers all are expected to increase their share of total employment. While, occupational groups such as administrative support, precision production, craft and repair, fabricators, laborers, and operators will experience declining share (Bowman, 1997, p. 5). For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projection for the 10 occupations with the largest job growth the year 2006 includes system analysts (103% change between 1996 and 2006), home health aides (76%), general managers and top executives (15%), and so on (Occupation with).
Unions traditionally represented blue-collar workers in manufacturing, construction, transportation, communication, mining, and agriculture. In 1998 union membership statistics show that only 19% of total wage and salary workers in wholesale trade, Retail trade, finance and real estate and services were union members (Employment and Earnings, 1999). So, the described shifts in employment suggest that in order to regain strength and insure survival, unions should seek new members in industries that havent been organized before and are growing rapidly.
Future Labor Force. Furthermore, unions will have to deal with the changing composition of the future labor force. Which is being reshaped by three demographic forces: aging, especially of the huge baby boom generation, the feminization of the workforce, and increasing cultural diversity as more visible minorities enter the labor force (Lowe, 1998, p. 241).
The declining birth rates and enhanced longevity of the Baby-boomers will cause a significant increase in the average age of the labor force participants (Craver, 1993, p.65). In the year 2006 the participation rate in the workforce for people 55 to 64 will be 62.6% and accounting for 12.6% of the total labor force. The percent change for people 75 and over in the labor force between 1996 and 2006 will be 45.1%, although, accounting for only 0.6% of the total labor force (Fullerton, 1997 tables 4 and 7).
The participation rate for women will increase by 2.2% between 1996 and 2006 accounting for 47.4% of the total labor force by 2006. Although, men will constitute 52.6% the annual percentage growth is much slower (0.8%) as compared to women (1.3%), and their participation rate is declining by 1.3% (Fullerton, 1997 tables 4 and 7).
In addition, Blacks, and Hispanics, and various ethnic groups are entering the labor force accounting for 28.7 % of the total workforce by 2006. And as immigration to the U.S in search for jobs and a better life is increasing, immigrants will constitute a good portion of the labor force for their participation rate is projected to be 68.6% of total immigrants in 2006 (Fullerton, 1997).
Each group within this diverse labor force will generate different needs and problems to be addressed by employers and unions alike. For instance, childcare issues, parental leave, equal employment opportunity, and pay equity are some of the problems concerning women. Historically, unions have not been very supportive of women and their issues, and have not successfully organized most traditional female occupations, and have discriminated against minority workers (Craver, 1993a, p. 65).
The aging labor force will bring with it such issues like pension programs, supplemental health care for retirees, and phased-in retirement plans (p. 67). Thus, unions have to realize that the battles arent on one front any more with a homogenous set of problems concerning a homogenous labor force; but they are as different and diverse as the parties concerned. Thus, the attractiveness of unions will depend on how reflective they are of the needs of the new workforce.
European labor unions. Unions in the United States are not the only ones facing challenging times. As an editorial in the Economist (the future of, 1995) says,The world must seem a hostile place for trade unionists these days (p. 15). In Western Europe one out of every three employed workers is a member of a trade union, and the unionization rate (31% in 1995) is more than twice the rate of the United States (14%) (Visser, 1997). However, European unions are facing the same problems of declining clout and membership.
The 1980’s were years of distress for labor in Europe. Large scale unemployment, massive job restructuring, intensified international competition, and the neo-liberalist politics weakened unions bargaining power, and eroded their membership base (Visser, 1997). Furthermore, the 1990s were marked with the downfall of the communist economies and the transition to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe; an economic recession; and the race towards Economic and Monetary Union. Unions faced persistent high levels of unemployment, declining rates of unionization, dire union finances and tight framework for wage bargaining (Visser, 1997).
Some union leaders throughout Europe recognizing their changing role in the global economy are pushing for drastic reform in order to survive (Woodruff, Reed, Rossant, Robinson, and Trinephi, 1996). With much criticism from their counterparts, they left the left wing ideology for a muted tone more acceptable to industry and government leaders, and abandoned the strong push for the ever-higher wages and benefits they have demanded in the past (p. 62). They believe unions new role should be to preserve jobs while boosting productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of the firms (Woodruff et al. 1996).
Former communist Cofferati, who heads the Italian confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavore (CGIL) fights joblessness by pushing for more flexible contracts and freer labor regulations. He saved Pirelli in the 1970s by agreeing to job cuts; and backed landmark deal cutting pay to save jobs at Alitalia in June of 1996.In 1994 he struck a deal with the government raising the official retirement age by five years, and allowing for private pension funds for the first time (Woodruff et al. 1996).
Hubertus Schmoldt, the head of the German IG Chemie, is trying to help the chemical sector as it faces sever international competition and tough environmental regulations. In collaboration with the labor-oriented Democrat Party, he proposed a future corporate strategy promoting ecological and economic innovation to boost efficiency and ensure long-term competitiveness (Kirk, 1993, p14). When chemical industries were seeking to reduce labor costs, he struck a deal to increase wages only by 2% instead of 6% in exchange for a pledge to create 25,000 new jobs (Milmo, 1996).
In addition, to help companies manage labor costs he introduced the flexible workweek in 1990 consisting of 35 to 40 hours in order to vary output without paying overtime as long as the average week equals 37.5 hours for the whole year. He also allowed companies pay first time workers 10% less than their co-workers for the first year, and allowed union members to work on weekends in order to help factories in fiercely competitive industries (woodruff et al. 1996).
John Monks, who heads the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), urges that: The union agenda should be competitiveness, and making things smarter and more efficiently (Woodruff et al. 1996, p. 62). So, he is pushing for union management partnerships to preserve jobs and transform performance to beat competition, (Monks, 1999). He also wants more education and training to prepare workers for the 21st century (Woodruff et al. 1996).Realizing the changing composition of the labor force, he is seeking new ways of recruitment to target women, youth and ethnic groups. Monks says if we are serious about increasing membership we must become experts in recruitment and retention, we must make ourselves attractive to new recruits in workplace and we must be respected by both employers and employees (Walsh, 1999, p. 18).
Furthermore, as legislation in most European countries (except for U.K and Ireland) makes works councils mandatory (Karsten, 1999) and allows for employee representation on corporate boards (Hoerr, Collingwood, 1987), union leaders recognized a strong need to participate. Traditionally, unions viewed such arrangements with a suspicious eye because of the notion that employees in an organization occupy a dependent position incapable of promoting their interests or negotiating terms of employment and the fear that they will substitute unions (Karsten, 1999, p. 91). However, when a proposal for European works councils was laid to target the big multinational corporations, trade unions involvement was felt at all stages of the process. They realized that participation at such an early stage would give them an active and influential role in shaping the outcome. So, they participated in the pre-draft agreements and implementation discussions to ensure that employees do not only have a symbolic importance, but also a guarantee of their influence in shaping the councils agenda and activities (Cressey, 1998).
Works councils could be very successful in promoting the interests of both unions and management as this case illustrates. In Ireland at Guinness the council has enabled both the union and the management to develop an environment of mutual trust. It has provided a forum for diverse union groups to discuss common issues in a non-conflictual setting. It has enabled management to establish effective lines of communications with worker representatives outside the collective bargaining arena, making decisions more acceptable to all with in the brewery (Karsten, 1999, p. 92).
In the U.S union leaders still have doubts about these modern forms of employee participation, in spite of some successful cases (Karsten, 1999). At AT;T, Honeywell, Xerox, and Helen Curtis, employee- management cooperative programs have enhanced collective bargaining and confrontations have been replaced by a mutual problem solving system that provided a harmonious method for resolving disputes. (Craver, 1993b).
Today, some leaders of European unions are trying to shed the old confrontational attitudes, in favor of promoting a collaborative relationship with the management. Through this new cooperation they seek to create new jobs and secure existing ones while promoting the efficiency, productivity and competitiveness of the firms. American unions can take advantage of the European experience as they face a challenging path to the next century. If they are to expand and remain a vital force in the American economy they must carefully consider all the changing trends in the workplace and the workforce and tailor their strategies accordingly.
The advice lies in Joel Rogers hypothesis. Unions advice when they put forward practical programs of action that (a) benefit their members or potential members, (b) solve problems in the broader society, and (c) by doing both these things achieve the political and social respect to secure support for their own organization (Visser, 1997, p. 117).
The Crystal Ball for Unions
What does the future hold for labor unions? Unfortunately, the only people who claim to know this for sure were all too busy answering phones and giving old ladies lucky BINGO numbers to really do me any good. I tried to ask, but without paying $3.99 a minute, I was out of luck. Oh well. Since I dont have my own crystal ball to gaze in to, the best I can do to answer this question is to hypothesize. Let us begin by going over what we already know to be true.
As is obvious from the earlier sections of this paper, unions have been very successful and useful in the past. However, as you may have heard if you participate in the stock market, Past performance does not always serve as a predictor for future performance. This is also true in the case of labor unions. While labor unions were once very popular, in recent years this vast popularity has slowly diminished. From here we can go one of two ways. The first option is that this trend will continue and sooner or later unions will fail to exist in our society. The alternative is that we will see a dramatic increase over time and that unions will once again reign supreme in the world of business.
During our vast research for this paper, my group has discovered that the alternative choice is expressed much more than the first. We found abundant resources praising unions and predicting their future rebirth. While we were able to find articles praising the other option, they were not nearly as large in number. Seeing as how popular opinion, at least published popular opinion, expresses the desire to see unions succeed, we will concentrate on that for the final pages of our paper. From here we shall explore why labor unions are expected to return to the glory they once held and what changes they must make in order to reach that goal.
As I mentioned, it remains possible that organized labor
may yet arrest and reverse its decline, as it has several times before over the course of its 200-year history in this country. Such a reversal would seem to hinge on four major changes. First, employers would give to conclude that more productivity gains are possible with a unionized work force than without one. Second, employers would have to decide that cooperation with unions, rather than resistance to them, makes for sounder employer-employee relations. Third, federal and state laws, as well as media treatment and public opinion, would have to tile anew in labors favor. Fourth, union bureaucracies would have to open up to more democracy than is common to bureaucracies of any type.
Some of these changes are already under way, aided in large part by a conciliatory Clinton administration and its joint Commission for the Future of Worker-Management Relations. Chances of success are slim, however, for an approach that would replace conflict with cooperation in union-management relations. Companies are too tempted to press their short-term advantage; they currently have too much ability to cower locals, defeat strikes, manipulate labor laws, and do as they please in managing their employees. (Shostak, p.32).
Health care could be a major issue in the 21st century. Although it is obvious that unions are going to have to work hard for their revival, they do have a lot to offer. For example, health care is an issue which could drastically change the face of unions in the 21st century (Pressman, p. 165). One of the biggest problems facing the country at this time is that many Americans do not have health insurance. In 1986, it was discovered that 38.9 million Americans were without insurance for all or part of the year.
Unions are in an ideal position to take the initiative and provide a solution to the health care problem, an action which is likely to increase their membership at the same time. By focusing their efforts on uninsured or underinsured employees, they would undoubtedly gain members. They would also be creating an improved economic environment by ensuring that workers health needs are being met and health professionals are being paid for their services. By providing group health plans or subsidized medical coverage as a membership benefit, unions would also be relieving the financial burden of small businesses, thereby encouraging their growth.
Another way in which unions might change American health care is through the promotion of wellness-based, or preventive, care. This could be done in one of two ways. First, unions could employ medical professionals who would provide health maintenance and illness avoidance services such as check-ups, chemical abuse awareness information, and information on how to cope with job stress. Such a system would make union members feel that they were getting something in return for their dues
By focusing on such issues as the rising out-of-pocket cost of health care, the decline in job security and the employment issues of women, unions could increase their approval rating and their membership. It is likely that the major emphasis of future union organizing campaigns will be to convince unorganized employees that their personal and professional needs can be satisfied through union representation. If non-union employees begin to see union employees receive reductions in health care out-of-pocket costs, and greater job security and satisfaction, unionism could begin to establish itself once again.
The key to union success in the 21st century will thus depend on unions coming to understand and address issues of importance to a changing work force. They must give voice to the skill demands of workers, and be prepared to address the problems stemming from technological advances, more women in the work force, and the current health care crisis. (Pressman, p.163)
Well-trained employees are important for success. Unions have been known for their interest in promoting general education. They have always been strong supporters of free public schools and of vocational job training. The educational process will become more important in the future because of the growing need for skilled workers, as unskilled jobs continue moving to less developed countries. The need to enhance the skills of American workers and to retrain employees will continue to grow as we approach the 21st century. Unions can help in these endeavors by establishing training programs for their members. Union dues can prove to be quite productive for its members by offering needed training. Employers of today who are preparing for the future will place a premium on employee reasoning skills and a willingness to learn. Unions can form a sound relationship with management by asking corporation what skills will be needed, and help teach its members what they will need (Karr, 1991).
Technology is constantly changing. Technology is a powerful tool, and as such, will play an increasingly prominent role in our society. Therefore, more individuals will need to be retrained to fulfill technical and skilled labor roles. It is possible that this will lead to increased union membership in non-traditional sectors if unions engage in training their members. Union leadership must keep in tune to the latest technology and focus on preparing employees for the new jobs that it will create, rather than trying to prevent its use because of the jobs that it may displace.
By supporting employee development and training programs, unions would help their members stay up-to-date on the latest technology. This, in turn, would help employers by providing them with a well-trained work force that could adapt quickly to technical changes in the work environment, thus, relieving them of some of the financial burden associated with hiring new employees or retraining existing ones (Pressman, p. 164).
So, it is generally obvious what unions must do if they are to survive into the next century. Now with their goals so clear to them, unions can begin their struggle to regain their rightful place in business. Whether or not they succeed will only be known with time, or $3.99 a minute if youre impatient!