How Collective Bargaining Has Improved Employee Conditions
Efforts to Improve Work and Family Issues at Ford
Efforts of the UAW and Ford in Work and Family Issues
This paper discusses the history of the UAW, the involvement of Ford in the UAW, and how the collective bargaining process and unions benefits workers from all industries. More specifically, this paper will describe what the UAW team at Ford has done to approach work and family issues in the past two decades and what these family issues are.
The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) is one of the largest and most diverse unions in North America, with members in a variety of workplaces, including multinational corporations, small manufacturers and state and local governments to colleges and universities, hospitals and private non-profit organizations (UAW, 2003). The UAW has approximately 710,000 active members and over 500,000 retired members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Since its founding in 1935, the UAW has continued to develop strong partnerships with employers, negotiating better wages and benefits for its members. UAW members have benefited from various collective bargaining feats, including improved family and work benefits.
The UAW signed its first contract with Ford Motor Company in 1941 after a long period of confrontation between employees and the company. The UAW team at Ford has since achieved many benefits for Ford employees, including a pension plan, health care benefits, workplace health and safety protection, skilled trades recognition, a shortened work week, more paid days off, supplemental unemployment benefits, and a guaranteed annual income credit. Today, there are thousands of Ford workers in the union, whom are grateful to the organization for helping them meet their work and family needs.
Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, representatives negotiate a binding contract with employers that sets out the terms of employment. With collective bargaining, unions can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment (Boyle, 1998, p. 67)."
Without collective bargaining, employers would be solely responsible for determining the working conditions of their employees and would be able to change those conditions unilaterally. As a result of collective bargaining, UAW has achieved many gains for its members, resulting in improved work and family benefits. This paper will discuss how collective bargaining has been used to change America's workplace since the UAW was founded in 1935.
History of the UAW
In 1935, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) was founded in Detroit, Michigan under the leadership of Francis Dillon, the first President of the UAW (UAW, 2003). The founders of the UAW planned organizing committees and strategies to gain membership. At first, it was difficult to organize efforts in the automobile industry, but soon the UAW gained momentum as the result of the "sit-down strike," in which workers occupied plants until their employers either granted their demands or were able to interrupt their efforts by force. In 1936, General Motors (GM) Workers in Georgia organized the first brief sit-down strike, followed by workers at other corporations.
One of the most successful sit-down strikes in history took place at General Motors Plant 4 in Flint, Michigan (UAW, 2003). This strike "pitted the workers against the community and local government." The strike lasted until Frank Murphy, Governor of Michigan, stepped in as a mediator, bringing both sides together. As a result of his efforts, the sit-down ended early in 1937. At this point, General Motors recognized the UAW as the union representing all automobiles workers at GM. This was a major feat for the UAW.
A month later, Chrysler workers organized a successful sit-down strike in order to gain union recognition. Immediately afterwards, workers at North American Aviation (now known as Rockwell International), and J.I. Case won the right to be represented by the UAW, becoming the first collective bargaining agreements in the Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Industries (UAW, 2003).
The last major automobile company to organize an union was the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford had vowed, "The UAW would organize Ford over his dead body (UAW, 2003)." In fact, Ford organized efforts to insure that the workers did not join the UAW, and even had his employees organize the "Ford Service Department," which was infamous for intimidation, spying and forceful actions against the employees.
Members of the Ford Service Department soon went too far and organized what is now known as the "Battle of the Overpass (UAW, 2003)." On March 27, 1937, UAW organizers Walter Reuther, Richard Frankensteen, J.J. Kennedy and Bob Kanter were attacked by members of the Ford Service Department while peacefully handing out union flyers on an overpass leading to a Ford Plant. This was one of many efforts by Ford to resist joining the UAW.
In June of 1941, following a successful strike, the UAW and Ford signed the first collective bargaining agreement, awarding workers their first grievance procedure and dues check-off (UAW, 2003). Soon afterwards, Henry Ford retired, and Henry Ford II took over the Ford Motor Company. He worked to establish a normal working relationship with the UAW and successfully made Ford Motor Company a part of the UAW.
How Collective Bargaining Has Improved Employee Conditions
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II (UAW, 2003). The UAW adopted a "no strike" pledge to ensure that the war effort would not be hindered by work stoppages. The UAW continued its efforts to help the war, creating a plan titled, "500 planes a day" that outlined a blue print of how automobile plants could be converted to aircraft production facilities to accommodate military needs.
As organized labor became stronger and stronger in the U.S., the political tide shifted against the unions in 1947, and the Taft-Hartley Act was passed (UAW, 2003). This law weakened the effectiveness of unions by making it illegal for unions to close shop, forbidding political contributions and making unions legally liable for any type of breach of contracts and damages caused by these breaches. The Taft-Hartley Act made it difficult for unions to organize and bargain.
Many other changes were made within the UAW during this time (UAW, 2003). In 1947, GM union members established six paid holidays in their contract, setting a precedent for future union contracts. In 1948, GM workers also won the first cost of living allowance (COLA) and the Annual Improvement Factor.
Around the same time, Ford workers achieved the first company-paid pensions, and set a precedent for the entire automobile industry. Workers at GM gained partially paid hospitalization shortly afterwards.
The 1960's held much promise for the UAW, and it made significant collective bargaining strides by negotiating (UAW, 2003):
Fully paid hospitalization and sick leave benefits at GM;
Profit sharing in American Motors;
An early retirement program at Harvester; and Paid Absence Allowance (PAA) at Caterpillar
President Kennedy signed an executive order enabling federal employees to bargain collectively. This basic right is denied to many state, county and municipal employees today.
The UAW faced a major obstacle regarding bargaining in the top three automobile companies in the 1970's. GM was selected as the target to set the pattern for the other automakers. The company was successful and achieved the "30 and Out" early retirement program, uncapped COLA, and up to four weeks vacation (UAW, 2003). These accomplishments set the standard for other automakers, and eventually to agricultural implement, aerospace and independent part supplier companies.
The UAW also experienced several other collective bargaining accomplishments during the 1970's, including (UAW, 2003):
Full time health and safety representatives in GM;
Attendance Bonus Programs in Agricultural Implement; and Paid Personal Holidays (PPH) and an effort to reduce overtime in Ford.
By the late 1970's, the American automobile industry was economically unstable. The collapse of the Iranian Government caused an oil embargo on the import of fuel, resulting in fuel shortages and increased prices. The lack of fuel-efficient cars in the U.S. caused customers top buy more fuel-efficient cars from other countries. The American automobile industry suffered as a result.
By 1979, employers were demanding compromises at the bargaining table due to the failing economic conditions (UAW, 2003). The union resisted concessions at General Motors, Ford and Harvester, following a 172-day strike. The workers at Chrysler, recognizing that the economy agreed to concessions that lead to federally guaranteed loans, which saved the corporation from bankruptcy. The concessions of Chrysler workers, along with the political strength of the UAW, enable Chrysler to survive.
In the 1980's, the U.S. economy entered a recession, which worsened the economic situation in the auto industry, causing the UAW to seek negotiations at Ford and GM to survive the economic conditions. As a result, the bargaining strength of the UAW weakened. However, negotiations were successful in providing Guaranteed Income Stream (GIS) that would provide income for longer-term employees…
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