Future of Unions in America Term Paper

Pages: 13 (4625 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Careers

The period from the mid-1950's to 1980 formed the greatest period of influence and prosperity for the labor movement in America. Unions were recognized as bargaining organizations in the auto, steel, trucking, and chemical industries. Wages rose by over 2% per year and workers began to receive an ever expanding list of benefits; including medical and dental programs, paid holidays and vacations, supplemental unemployment insurance and retirement packages. While the strength of the unions in terms of bargaining power was at it's greatest, the numbers of unionized workers continued to decline. In the period from 1953 to 1983, for instance, "the unionization rate fell from 42% to 28% in manufacturing, by nearly half in transportation, and by over half in construction and mining." (Friedman) The number of industrialized union workers has steadily decrease since the end of World War II, however, since the 1960's, the number of public sector workers that have become unionized has steadily increased. And these public sector workers are disproportionately comprised of women and minorities, which has changed the racial and gender makeup of unions. The needs of women and minorities have become a major influence in union negotiations.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Future of Unions in America Assignment

The unions in the 21st century find themselves in the position of having a greater membership among the public sector than the private sector. For example, the unionization rate in the private sector in 2006 was only 7.4%, while almost half (48%) of public sector employees were unionized. (Hirsch, 2008) This drop in industrialized union workers can be explained by increasingly competitive markets. Unionized workers receive more in the way of payment and benefits than non-union workers, increasing the costs of the company. At the same time, the unionized workers have not increase their level of production. And in a competitive environment where the increased costs cannot be passed on to the consumer, "union gains can be thought of as a 'tax' on firm profits." (Hirsch, 2008) Studies have demonstrated that union manufacturing companies are close to 5% less profitable that similar non-union companies, and tend to have higher debt and less growth, decreasing the overall investment in the company. (Hirsch, 2008)

Another problem facing the unions is the fact that union pay rates are higher than their non-union competitors. While in the past this was a point of pride for the unions, in fact union wages set the standard for all wages during the "Golden Age" of unions, this has become a problem for modern union workers. The problem begins with the fact that union pay rates are determined by a collective bargaining process, involving the preferences of union members, and not influenced by market factors. In the years from the 1980's to the beginning of the 21st century, union wages had increased faster than the overall profits of companies; cutting into the bottom line. At the same time non-union workers pay rates have not increased at the same rate, creating an ever widening gap between what union and non-union companies expend in payroll. (Hirsch, 2008)

The way individual Americans feel about the unions and their influence on American society is highly dependent upon the age of the individual. Whether or not a person supports unions turns out to be a generational issue. For instance, the "baby-boomer" generation is highly supportive of union and the rights of union workers. Studies have demonstrated that "the unionization rate regarding baby-boomers is higher…," and for those baby-boomers who are not unionized, absence of a union is the reason cited. (Sato, 2007) This pro-union attitude continues with this generation of Americans even after retirement, as many baby-boomers participate in labor unions during their "old-age" employment. In other words, the baby-boomer generation is highly unionized, very supportive of unions, and continue this support into old age. (Sato, 2007)

On the other hand is the next generation, often called "slackers," or simply Generation X, who seems to have the opposing view of the baby-boomers. Generation X, the 80 million Americans born between 1961 and 1981, "embody the traditional American virtue of self-reliance." (Miller, 1999) "Gen Xers," as they are called, have no need for government interference in their lives, are too independent to be satisfied as being a member of a larger group, and reject the notion that a union is necessary. "They don't trust government, corporations, or labor unions to bail them out of anything. They've seen too many lies and outright failures." (Miller, 1999) The inability of Generation X to come to terms with the unions has resulted in a significant drop in membership among this generation as opposed to the previous baby-boomer generation.

While the Gen Xers exhibit traditional American values of self-reliance and a distrust of large institutions, the next generation, the so called "millennials," or the generation born after 1981, have demonstrated they possess more trust in government than the previous generation. Millennials are those persons who are currently between the ages of 18 and 29, and generally believe that the government can be a force for good in the economy, and that government spending on "healthcare, education, and other areas are necessary to ensure strong and sustainable economic growth." (Madland, 2008) Studies have indicated that the millennials are very similar in their political beliefs to the baby-boomer generation, but for different reasons. The current millennial generation must face significant economic challenges; such as lack of job prospects, lower rates of health care coverage, and higher levels of student loan debt.

While the millennials may be more politically akin to the baby-boomer generation, they are also much like the Generation Xers in the way that they do not need unions. For unions to successfully exist requires that workers be dissatisfied with their current working conditions, and have a desire to want to stay. Millennials, when faced with dissatisfaction in their workplace are far more likely to simply find a new job than to try to organize with a union. (Haeberle, 2011) Because of this generational dynamic it is "likely to cause further diminishment of the perceived benefit of unions in the workplace." (Haeberle, 2011) As the millennial generation becomes more prominent in the workplace, their views toward the uselessness of unions will become a more significant element in the future of the labor movement in general.

One of the most prominent problems in the current union movement is the fact that in the past the unions have "emphasized servicing its current members rather than planting the seeds for future growth." (Fletcher, 2011) Union leadership, as well as rank and file members, have come to see themselves as a separate class among workers, and no longer champion the rights of the entire working class. Instead the union movement, in the years following the "Golden Age" have hunkered down and tried to protect what they have instead of expanding outward to incorporate new membership. In some cases the unions have been quite successful, especially among the public sector unions where those who the unions negotiate with are those who need the support of the unions to get elected. However, this has led to the increased amount of benefits for union workers at the expense of the taxpayer. The compensation received by union workers has far outpaced that of the non-union worker, causing resentment among the general populace.

Exacerbating this situation is the fact that the United States has increasingly become part of a much larger global community of economic. With the expansion of free trade zones, and other international trade agreements, the economy of the United States has become more dependent on foreign nations. American businesses, seeking ways to increase profits, have begun looking overseas for their workforce. By locating production facilities outside the United States, companies avoid the costly expense of a unionized workforce. Other nations do not have the same requirements regarding working conditions, workman's compensation, retirement, etc., which increases the possibility for greater profits. It is important to remember that unions have forced the business community to respect their rights, against the will of that very community. According to the American business model, businesses exist to make money for their owners, not to provide benefits for their employees, and therefore, when businesses can escape the demands of the American union movement, they have.

The American labor movement has seen it's influence and membership rise and fall over the decades. The "Golden Age" of unions set a standard for union workers which allowed for the rise of the industrialized union middle class in America, but this level of benefits for union workers was based upon the negotiating pressure of the union and not on the productivity of the union worker. Therefore, the benefits of the union workers continued to expand at a greater rate than both non-union workers and what the companies could afford to pay.

Added to this equation is the fact that three separate generations of Americans are all competing for jobs, and all three generations have differing views on unionization. While baby-boomers have long supported the union… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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