Labor Unions Essay Research Paper What do

Labor Unions Essay, Research Paper

What do you think of when you hear the phrase "labor unions?" Most

people associate a negative connotation with labor unions. They think that labor

unions are the only cause of strikes and work stoppages. Most think that people

in unions are greedy and will do anything to get more money. Others swear by

their unions, saying that their employers would take advantage of them if they

didn?t organize their unions. However as we prepare to enter the new

millennium, labor unions are decreasing in size. Let?s look at some of

reasons. First, the numbers are unmistakable. At the end of 1997, when the most

recent count was made, only 14.1% of workers belonged to unions, the lowest

percentage since 1936 (Gross 23). This is a dramatic decrease from when unions

were at their height at the end of World War II when 35.3% of Americans were in

unions (Galenson 13). One cause of this fall of union membership is the decline

of manufacturing in America and the transfer of much manufacturing work over

seas (Gross 24). Because of advances in technology and labor saving innovations,

fewer people are required to make steel and assembler automobiles. As a result,

only 16.1% of U.S. workers now work in factories, down from 22.8% twenty years

ago (Aronwitz 2). There has also been a decrease in size of the large

corporations, which in the past usually signed industry-wide contracts to

produce a particular item. The latest figures show that the 800 largest firms

employed 17% of the total workforce, down from 25.7% twenty years ago (Aronwitz

3). Many of these companies have their work done abroad. Nike does not make a

single shoe in the United States and many insurance companies are having

paperwork processed over seas (Hacker 45). At home corporate jobs are frequently

assigned to temporary workers, who are often classified as "independent

contractors" and are not very likely to join unions. Indeed, there are

fewer long-term jobs, something union seniority could once guarantee. Last year,

among men aged forty to forty-five, only 39.1% had worked ten or more years at

their current job, compared with 51.1 percent in 1983 (Galenson 27). So, one

might ask, what caused this to happen? At some point in the 1980s, the balance

of power shifted against labor unions. Some say the defining moment was in 1981,

when then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan forced an end to the bitter air traffic

controllers’ strike. Others point to the 1985 victory of then-British Prime

Minister Margaret Thatcher over striking coal miners (Gross 239). Whatever the

reason, unions are trying to make a comeback. There are several strategies that

unions have devised to return to their former glory. Unions have adopted a more

lenient attitude towards management, reducing the number of strikes to record

lows in the 1980s and early 90s, and attempting to negotiate contracts providing

job security for members (Gross 278). Unions have also placed greater emphasis

on organizing drives for new members. Although unions have been very successful

in organizing government employees, they have been less successful with

recruiting office workers in the rapidly expanding services sector. However,

during the last two decades, the wage advantage for unionized workers with

private jobs has fallen by 44.1 percent, although the public sector has

increased by 9.5 percent (Maguire 20). Currently, 41.9% of union members are

from the public sector. Among the most strongly unionized occupations are

firefighters (71.6%), flight attendants (69.4%), and high school teachers

(56.1%). Only 28.6 percent of coal miners belong to unions and only 19.5% of

truck drivers (Hacker 47). Despite all of the downsides of unions they do have

their benefits. Here are a few examples of salaries secured through collective

bargaining by highly trained professionals: Pilots with only fifteen years of

service at Northwest, American, United, and US Airways now earn on average over

$175,000 a year. Professors at New York City University can now get as much as

$101,655 for twenty-eight weeks of teaching. Under the current National

Basketball Association contract, first year players?some of them right out of

high school?will start at $300,000 (Hacker 48). The recent NBA lockout has

shaped many peoples? opinions on labor unions. Most people, myself included,

thought that it was ridiculous for these people to be having a labor dispute.

The players are already making an insane amount of money and the owners are

millionaires themselves looking to add to their pocketbooks also. The real

losers in this battle are the fans who love the game. They cannot see their

favorite players in action because of this dispute. This just goes to show you

that labor markets affect us in our everyday lives. Another way labor unions can

affect our lives is when they decide to strike. This can effect hundreds, even

thousands of workers in the General Motors strike in 1998. In the case with the

automobile industry, many factories are involved in the production of their

cars. If even one of these factories strikes then the other factories must also

shut down. This chain reaction can render thousands of workers jobless in just a

few weeks. The union members know that there is always a potential risk of

striking as accept as part of their job. What role will unions play in the

future? Will they ever return to former glory? Nobody knows for sure. Economists

have mixed feeling on this matter. Some say that the workers of the twenty-first

century will demand a return to the unions and organize in record numbers.

Others say that the current trend will prevail and almost wipeout unions

completely until there are only a handful of them remaining. My opinion is that

unions will stick around for as long as people are working. They will be there

to protect the rights of the individual worker and make sure that he or she is

treated fairly.

Aronwitz, Stanley. "From the ashes of the old: American labor and

America?s future." Houghton Mifflin. 246 pages. Galenson, Walter.

"The American labor movement, 1955- 1995." Westport: Greenwood 1996.

171 pages. Gross, James A. "Broken Promise: The subversion of US labor

relations policy, 1947-1994." Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

404 pages. Hacker, Andrew. "Who?s sticking to the union?" New York

Books. Feb 18, 1999. Vol. 46 Issue 3. Pg 45-48. Maguire, Kevin. "Why

can?t they be grateful?" New Statesmen. Jan 29, 1999. Vol. 12 Issue 540.

Pg 20.


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