Future of Unions in Labor Relations Term Paper

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Future of Unions in Labor Relations

Unions came about from the struggles and pain that individuals had to go through early on in history. Unions were something that did not spring up overnight, but rather took a great deal of time to develop as individuals began working out for themselves what types of organizations would be the best to protect their rights and ensure that they could not be treated cruelly or unfairly by those that they worked for (Kearney, 2001). The right to collective bargaining took almost 200 years in the United States but today these rights are held in almost every country (Kearney, 2001).

For many years unions were thought to be very important in labor relations. At least, employees have thought so. Much of the opinions had by those who have had to deal with unions in a dispute situation have been less than tolerant of unions and there appears to be no interest in a friendship between unions and employers (Kearney, 2001). However, union membership has been declining since early in the 1970s (Bell, 1999). Because of this there has been much debate among those that research labor relations. There does not appear to be any single factor that caused the recent decline in union membership, but most researchers feel that a change in industrial activity and in the nature of employment has something to do with the issue (Bell, 1999). Other considerations point to a decrease in the amount of legislative support that unions receive and changes that are being made in the regulatory environment (Bell, 1999).

The purpose of this paper is to discuss unions in the scope of whether they are still necessary in today's workforce. How much power unions have when their members go out on strike, who generally wins when an employer and a union square off against each other, and whether unions are changing to match the current economics of today's business environment are all important questions that should be addressed, and will be addressed throughout this paper as unions are discussed and explained.

The Role that Unions Play

The role of unions themselves has not been heavily researched. However, there is evidence that the importance of strikes and other tactics has been reduced and because of this union organization and membership in the workplace is not as strong as it used to be (Bell, 1999). This would indicate the possibility that unions are no longer strictly necessary in the workplace of today, but this is somewhat based on the industry involved and the employees relationship with their employers. Whether unions are effective has been studied greatly but there has not been any single model created that clearly shows union effectiveness in a way that it can be researched (Bell, 1999).

There is a good deal of confusion on many of the key points as to what makes a union actually successful. A successful union is one that does more than just support employees when there is a strike. Unions work to get better wages for employees, better benefits for employees, and ensure that strikes do not take place. Much of the difficulty in determining whether a union is effective comes in determining the criteria for effectiveness and creating a model that can be used across all industries and all unions. This is much more difficult than it sounds and is causing many who study this issue a great deal of trouble. There are two models that have been considered important by researchers into the subject, but neither one has been completely adopted (Bell, 1999).

The first one is a goal model and it assumes that there are specific objectives that the union must address. In this model, union effectiveness is determined based on whether the goals and objectives that have been spelled out by the union have actually been met successfully (Bell, 1999). The second model, the systems model, looks more at the effectiveness of organizations as specific systems and whether these organizations all are running the way that they should be. In this way, the systems model looks at the relationship that the union or the organization has to its environment and sees this as being much more important than whether the union achieved its goals (Bell, 1999).

For obvious reasons, there is much tension and discussion involved around these two models since they are very different from one another. There are some complementary issues, but each model looks at different facets of effectiveness and deals with it in specific ways. There is not necessarily a right or wrong to this issue, but those who take one side or the other in the debate often feel that there is.

Much of the literature that has been produced on industrial relations and the effectiveness of unions in helping the employee deals with these models. There is, however, a somewhat integrated approach to this literature which has been adapted because unions are rather different as organizations then what is considered a standard organization (Bell, 1999). This is largely due to the way that they gain members. While unions are seen as organizations, it must be remembered that they are made up of collective individuals who are working to provide the highest wages and best working conditions possible for the employees that they represent (Bell, 1999).

At the same time, however, these unions are made up of individuals that do not always have the same preferences and goals for where the union is now and where it should be going. Unions set objectives and have goals that they must pursue, and they put different priorities on each one of these. However, as organizations they are somewhat hard to pinpoint because the goals and objectives that they have made vary a great deal not only between unions but within the same union over the course of time (Bell, 1999).

For example, the union may be very concerned about the wages that the employees are getting paid and they may work to see those wages raised. Whether the wages are raised or not, five years later, or even one year later, the union may realize that the terrible working conditions that the employees are dealing with is superseding the employees concern as to whether their wages are higher. The priorities and focus of the union would then change because the union would realize that improving the conditions that the employees work under is much more significant in the lives of those employees than raising their wages, whether by a large or by a small amount.

This is one of the many reasons why it is so difficult to determine the true of effectiveness in a union when it is treated as an organization. There are many difficulties in defining the processes that these unions deal with and the goals that they have in order to create criteria with which to measure their effectiveness. Generally speaking, if a union has done what it has set out to do it is usually considered to be effective (Bell, 1999). However, if the goals that the union has set do not actually help the employees in any significant way then the union does not logically appear to be effective even if it has met the goals that it has set out to meet (Bell, 1999). Being effective, therefore, does not actually relate to whether goals are accomplished, but rather relates to whether the goals that are accomplished are significant in the lives of the members of the union.

The Importance of Strikes

One of the main things that unions will do when they feel that things need to be improved is stage a strike. This can be done to work toward higher wages or better working conditions, and can also be utilized for a combination of the two or for other reasons (Bell, 1999). By going on a strike they force the company to recognize the union and its employees and they also cost many companies a great deal of money because these companies must either shut down or hire other people to replace those that have gone on strike. Quite often they must pay these people a much higher wage, especially if these individuals are required to cross picket lines or any other form of demonstration which could potentially be dangerous. Most unions strike peacefully and there are no actual problems, but it is not impossible for this issue to turn violent when words are exchanged between those that are trying to make money and those who have left their job to go on strike for the union (Bell, 1999).

When unions go on strike it shows support for their members and indicates that the union has a high capacity to be able to meet its objectives. Sometimes, strikes are also organized as a grievance procedure and also to find ways to expedite ongoing arbitration. However, some argue that the organization of working environments is currently changing and that unions must become more cooperative and develop…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

BBC News. (2004, March 1). U.S. grocery strike is finally over. Retrieved 7 March 2004 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3521601.stm

Bell, S. (1999, April 1). Union strategy, member orientation and union effectiveness: an exploratory analysis. Labour & Industry.

Kearney, R.C. (2001). Labor relations in the public sector. 3rd Ed. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.

Pritchard, J. (2002, September 30). As ships idle, longshoremen and shippers exchange threats. Ledger-Enquirer/Associated Press. Retrieved 8 March 2004 at http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/mld/ledgerenquirer/4181155.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp

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