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Discuss the changing purposes and needs for labor unions in the light of federal and state legislation protecting non-union and union workers and new employment trends. post your reactions and suggestions. based on the notes below




The old law had a very individualized version of contract law and forming a union for collective bargaining was actually an illegal conspiracy under the common law. Today, union activity is protected, regulated, and supervised by federal and state laws.

Most successful unions in the present time represent public employees, professional athletes, and entertainers. What’s the implication of this? Aren’t these much different situations than the historical ones? What about the unions in the industrial areas, such as auto workers? Are they losing their effectiveness because of international trade and outsourcing?

Since unions were legalized and encouraged by law, the system has gradually changed over time to balance the interests of management and labor. It is a matter of opinion and political wisdom to determine whether the right balance has been achieved.

Think about the protections of workers that have been instituted since the labor movement started. Many of these protections come through lawsuits and through federal and state government agencies. These agencies and lawsuits were not in existence until the 1930s or after. To some extent, the terrible industrial conditions that created the need for labor unions have been alleviated.

To a large extent, labor unions are no longer initiating reforms; they are trying to conserve gains. The labor movement spent a lot of political and economic capital trying to create trade barriers.  After failure to stop NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association), organized labor expected to see a huge surge of jobs lost to Mexico. Instead, the flood of Mexicans north to abundant jobs in the U.S. intensified. More jobs were created by free trade by far than were lost, and the labor movement lost the ability to recruit people working in industries that were benefiting from foreign trade – as we just saw in the case of labor, NAFTA, and Mexico.

Another problem with unions is the new pattern where workers have a series of short careers rather than a steady job for 30-45 years. Unions are structured to represent employees and charge dues for specific companies. Unions have large payrolls, own buildings, and are top heavy in structure. Due to cost and lack of interest in their traditions, younger employees are not interested in starting new locals or in joining existing ones.

Many other unrelated organizations, such as civic organizations, also have a hard time getting people to make long term commitments to joining and contributing. Mobility also is a factor. If people move a lot and keep changing jobs, they may never make a commitment to any one union, even if some of the jobs are unionized. This is a far cry from the past, when workers thought only about working at the same plant and belonging to the same union throughout their working life.

What younger employees want a union to do is provide individual help. But often that is not available or is inadequate. Unions do have grievance procedures, but when there is a dispute with an employer, often younger, or less well connected union members, are not satisfied with the process. They may accuse the union of being part of an old boy’s network.

Fair or not, the perception is often that the union steward, the union official in charge of helping the member, colludes with the employer’s representative. The union has little incentive to bargain for an individual, unless the issue is one that concerns the majority. It is very rare that a union is decertified because of failure to help a few individuals. As long as the union does a reasonable job bargaining for pay and benefits, the membership won’t vote it out or replace it.

Another frequent criticism is that unions exist only for political reasons. Republicans claim that many unions are just a way to fund and support the Democrat political party. Some unions are more political than others. Increased politicization of unions has gone hand in hand with the trend towards more unions’ representing public employees.

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