Labor Issues

.. e 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.

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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 15 year 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 al Social Issues Essays.