Term Paper: Future of Unions in Labor

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[. . .] This is indicative of the fact that past strategies like those that included traditional strikes are likely to be less effective in the future.

There is also a very negative connotation that goes along with the union strikes and this helps to undermine both the support and the legitimacy of unions (Bell, 1999). There are other ways that unions can show their displeasure and try to make changes, but strikes are by far the most popular. However, research into the issue and feeling about the issue as a strategy for change is indicating that trends are shifting away from strikes and more towards arbitration and other polite ways of finding an agreement (Bell, 1999). However, this does not mean that strikes no longer occur.

The recent supermarket strike in California is only one of the many strikes that have occurred over the years. Longshoremen have gone on strike, baseball players have gone on strike and entire seasons have been missed. There have been others as well that have chosen to strike rather than deal with the working conditions and wages that they currently have. Some of these specific strikes will be discussed later in this paper.

How Unions Get Their Members

Unions get members not so much by active recruiting but by simply making employees aware of what the union is willing to do for the employee if the employee needs assistance. However, there have been recent declines in union membership and recruitment by unions is once again becoming important (Bell, 1999). Many unions are working to create recruitment strategies in order to bring more members on board. The governments in some countries have even allocated money for national recruitment programs in order to bring more individuals into unions and show them what unions are able to do for them (Bell, 1999).

Another reason for the decline in union membership has to do with "associate membership" programs in which the benefits of union membership are a great deal different than they used to be. Many of the unions now have benefits such as credit and banking facilities, legal services, discount travel services, health care, and others (Bell, 1999). These are important for those who would be interested in using them, but they are much different than unions were in the past.

This is indicative of the fact that unions are changing to some degree to meet current business trends and what they feel members and employees will want at this point in time. It would seem that this would be extremely helpful and unions would be doing a booming business, but many unions are still not doing well. It is beginning to look as though unions are not going to be greatly needed in this country or any other for much longer. Even though unions have done much to help many employees throughout the world, their usefulness is drawing to a close and it is quite possible that unions will not be needed in the future because businesses have changed so much that the goals and interests of unions no longer meet with what their members want and need (Bell, 1999).

It is likely that unions will still be around for some time to come, but it is not as important for an employee to belong to a union as it used to be many years ago. Whether unions will completely cease to exist is unlikely but remains to be seen. However, it is important that unions be thoroughly understood and move with the times and the changing business trends if they are going to continue to exist in today's society and provide employees with what they want and need.

Specific Strikes

California Super Market Strike

In October 2003 grocery clerks in Southern California went on strike. More than 70,000 workers rejected an offer of a contract from three different supermarket chains and authorized a walk-out (Viega, 2003). A federal mediator was hoping to find a compromise between Kroger's, Safeway, and Albertson's, and the United Food and Commercial Workers union. However, no compromise could be found and the strike went ahead. The contract was not to the liking of the union and over 98% of the union members rejected the contract. The president of the union believed that the union would win the strike provided the Teamsters and the consumers continue to support them.

The union was only planning on targeting one of the supermarket chains and had specifically asked the companies not to lock out workers for the other two, but the union did not want to reveal before the strike which chain they would target (Viega, 2003). Union officials, however, believed that the supermarket chains would lock out all of the union workers if there was a strike and this was in fact what happened.

While a strike of supermarket workers may not seem all that terribly significant, the three supermarket chains operate almost 900 stores between Santa Barbara and San Diego and make up 60% of the market in Southern California. The last time that workers went on strike in this area was in 1978, and that strike lasted less than one week. A spokesman for one of the grocery chains did not believe that the strike was necessary and accused the union of misleading those employees that were members into voting on a contract given to the members for their opinion. The contract was not necessarily a final offer (Viega, 2003).

Reasons behind the strike include the fact that many of the companies want the workers to accept a larger share of the cost for the health-care benefits that they receive (Viega, 2003). This is based on the sluggishness of the economy, the fact that health-care costs are rising rapidly, and the increasing competition that many of these supermarkets are facing from companies such as Wal-Mart, which is non-union and moving into the grocery and supermarket business in a large way with the superstores that they are placing across the country (Viega, 2003).

Most of the grocery workers who are going on strike work at least 24 hours a week, but 70% of them are only part-time workers (Viega, 2003). The average wage, however, is approximately $15 per hour (Viega, 2003). As a counter offer against what the companies are asking for, the union is asking the companies to maintain the health-care plans the way they are and not ask the workers to pay anything extra. They also want raises of 50 cents per hour the first year and 45 cents an hour per year for the next two years (Viega, 2003). Most who are involved with the strike, however, do not believe that it will last a long time, as consumers and others will support those that are striking and this will quickly put an end to the difficulties. Those who are striking feel confident that they will win.

The grocery worker's strike made news as far away as England. Becoming the longest running grocery strike in United States history, it finally came to an end with an agreement that union members would not the making contributions to their health-care plans for the first two years (BBC, 2004). After this, they would pay between $5 and $15 for the cost of these health-care plans (BBC, 2004).

This agreement, however, is not without concessions on the part of the striking workers. Fewer benefits and wages will be paid to workers who are new to the grocery chains and these workers will also have to pay 9 dollars per week if they want a basic health care plan (BBC, 2004). The average wage of $12 to $14 an hour earned by employees who have already joined the union will not be made by new employees (BBC, 2004). Pensions will also be changed, as the previous contribution to company pension plans from the supermarkets was 100%. It will now be 65% for veteran employees and 35% for new workers (BBC, 2004). Many of the grocery workers were disappointed by the terms that they received with this new deal, but since they had been on strike for five months they were ready to make a deal and return to work, even if they knew that they would not receive everything that they had originally asked for when they went on strike.

Longshoremen's Strike

The Longshoremen's strike in 2002 was another large problem for the economy. It was estimated that the dispute could possibly cost the United States economy over $1 billion per day (Pritchard, 2002). Everything from presents to produce was just sitting in West Coast ports while the strike was going on because dockworkers were locked out. The contract expired and the Longshoremen continued to work because they did not think a lockout or a strike would benefit anyone (Pritchard, 2002). However, when they could not reach an agreement eventually for a new contract, they chose to strike instead.

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