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Labor Relations

Labor Relations This paper will attempt to discuss the cost and benefit of trade unionism, as it exists in the United States. To understand the pros and cons, it is important to understand the environment in which trade unionism developed and the needs they attempted to satisfy. It will discuss the evolution of Trade Unionism through the centuries. From that understanding we can discuss the topic as it relates to our current environment. Historians agree that American Unionism started in the early 19th Century.

These early organizations were formed along the lines of Craft. Daniel Mills explains, in Labor Relations, Crafts people worked for themselves, or in small shops. They were often in conflict with customers or merchants which they supplied. (35) These associations were formed to protect their craft, rather than as a collective bargaining union. In the mid 19th Century, America was in the middle of the industrial revolution.

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We were becoming an urban industrial society. Immigration was becoming a great source of labor supply. These large manufacturing enterprises, exploiting workers without regards to human cost, were ripe for National Union Organization. Jerry Borenstein states in his work, Unions In Transition, They were often loosely organized associations, which were quite short-lived and likely to disappear under hostile pressure from employers and government. (15) The unions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were formed largely to protect basic human dignity in the work place. Unions addressed basic concerns regarding safety issues, length of work day and wage.

They were largely unsuccessful due to the public perception of unions as Socialistic as well as anti American. People viewed trade unions as being disruptive to the flow of free trade. It was only during the 1930’s that trade unions, as we know them today, were created and accepted. With the passing of the Wagner Act of 1935, formal, legal protection was now afforded Trade Unions in America. Trade unions moved from being virtually outlawed by the US Government to being the beneficiaries of their legal protection. Morgan Reynolds tells us, in his Power and Privilege, the common definition of Labor Union in the American dictionaries is an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions, through the process of collective bargaining.

( 33 ) This definition is an all encompassing one that justifies the existence of unions. Assumptions must be made by unions and the union members that these items are not being provided for by the employer and therefore require an organization, the union, to fight for them. This definition describes a Good Guy / Bad Guy relationship between worker and Employer, that I believe is too simplistic. Both Union and Management act in a checks and balance relationship that is difficult to describe. We must take specific points of concern and describe the benefits trade unionism brings to the table.

Union Approach Wages Trade unions are filling a need of the American worker just as much today as they did 30, 50 or 70 years ago. Unions historically have represented the workers who were from manufacturing, Blue Collar, job classifications. These workers are not being paid an equitable share of the profits that corporations are making. The disparity between the union worker and the management personnel is ever growing. The AFL-CIO News dated June 28, 1996 describes an incident where Steelworkers were locked out of a Common Wealth Gas plant for turning down a contract calling for more than 50 concessions while two weeks previously management was given 3 million dollars compensation.

This occurred while the company was making a record 54 million dollar profit. ( 2 ). It follows, when considering the previous statement, inequities in pay are as prevalent in 1996 as they were in 1926. Unions are needed to lessen these inequities by fighting for workers wages. In Richard Freeman’s, What Do Unions Do, he states, Union membership advances pay treatment for groups that are historically the least paid. There is a wider disparity in the wages of Union vs.

non Union workers among the following groups. The young, who are the lowest paid, the worker with least tenure, non whites and women. ( 47 ). The last groups mentioned, non whites and women are making up more and more of the American work force. The following is from an AFL/CIO news release dated April 18, 1996.

Of the 100 million women 16 and older in the US, 60 million are in the work force. The statement goes on to state, Woman that work in union jobs earn on average $145 more each week and have better job security, training, and promotional opportunities, health care and pension plans. ( 1 ) Benefits Fringe Benefits are an ever increasing part of the employees compensation package. Freeman and Medoff states, in What Unions Do, In 1951, 17 percent of the compensation of American blue-collar workers consisted of fringe benefits, defined as employer payments beyond money wages. In 1981 that figure had risen to over 30 per cent.

( 61 ) These increases are a direct result of union representation and the collective bargaining process. With the ever spiraling cost of health care in the United States more and more companies are looking to share this cost with the union represented workers. In 1985 NYNEX implemented a FLEX policy of health coverage for their management workers. This policy required management to share that cost. In 1990, NYNEX attempted to institute that same policy to its organized workers represented by CWA.

A six month strike ensued which was finally resolved with NYNEX withdrawing the Flex Medical policy from the negotiation table. It was CWA’s active protest, through a work stoppage, that prevented this policy from being instituted. Unions are intensely opposed to employee paying for medical. Daniel Mills tells us in, Labor Relations, employees cannot afford to make contributions or pay deductibles. Employees should be encouraged to get health care, not given incentives to avoid it. (552) Working Conditions In the turn of the century the working conditions of the American worker were appalling compared to today’s standards.

Child Labor was accepted as evidenced in the Coal Mines and sweat shops of Pennsylvania and New York. There were no guidelines or regulations defining acceptable work hours or duration. Safety in the work place was governed at the whim of the employer. Federal laws were implemented in an attempt to eliminate these abuses inflicted by non scrupulous management. Unions would argue that regulations are not enough to deter these abuses. The unions are the mechanism by which these well intentioned regulations are enforced.

The unions are the whistle blowers who police the regulations governing the work place. Without union representation, these blatant violations of law would be a constant. The garment industry, utilizing poor immigrant workers, is a prime argument for the need of present day union representation. OSHA, the government agency established to oversee safety conditions at work locations, is being scrutinized by federal regulators. The AFL/CIO news reports congress is pursuing making OSHA a consulting organization rather than a regulatory one.

Unions view themselves as a strong lobbying force which will …


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