Research Paper: Labor and Union Studies

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[. . .] Also, when two people are working in close proximity one can be a distraction to the other without trying. If an employee's production numbers are decreasing then they need to be evaluated.

Workplace environment can also become hostile when an employer is, for some reason, trying to create profits at the expense of employees. Although labor disputes may often seem to be something that happened in the past, there is still a significant place in the workplace for unions. Labor organizations are designed to make the workplace environment a place where employees can be productive (Grant & Harvey). It does not matter what the grievance is a labor organization can work to alleviate the issue if there is an actual need. The environment a person works in should be as healthy and profitable as possible, and this goes for every possible piece of the working environment.

Of course, the second part of the workplace environment is what happens away from the actual job. A person's home life, the way that they get to work, and even the area they live in effect how productive a person will be from day-to-day (Bloom, Kretshmer & Reenen). This is the reason that most places of business have programs for their employees through which some of these issues can be solved. Companies are more willing to work with employees when it comes to issues that happen outside the workplace because they realize that every part of an employee's life effects the job. This is also part of the utility of a labor organization. Many times a union has helped a group of employees receive better healthcare benefits which allow them to receive drug and alcohol counseling and other necessary services (ILWU). It is one of the many purposes of a union.

Explanation of the Research Paper

The main thrust of the research conducted in this paper has been how workplace environment effects an employee's productivity, and there are many studies that indicate that labor unions have been very effective vehicles toward this goal. In the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington state and Oregon, there have been many years of labor unrest followed by a strong period of labor ease. Of course, most companies have seen at least a small decline over the past few years because of the economy, but the area has four mega companies which employ thousands of workers in very strong industries. However, even in companies that seem well run on the outside, there is sometimes the need for organization. Microsoft and Nike have not been unionized for a lot of reasons but mainly because they have so far resisted any need for a union. Despite the efforts of some employees, unions have not been able to penetrate these two giants. Boeing has used union labor almost since the company was founded. The two sides have had an amicable relationship most of the time, and the workers have seen conditions improve dramatically thanks to the labor movement. Starbucks employees are being denied a union by the company mainly because of possible cost overruns (according to the company), but employees are taking the matter to court. Even in these four largest Pacific Northwest employers that seem to be pristine examples of their various industries, there are labor disputes that can only be handled by the organization of the workers.

Two of the companies in question were researched to determine what level, if any, of labor dispute exists. Microsoft is a workplace that requires creativity from its employees, so it needed to create and environment that fostered that need. The company has worked hard to give its employees the tools that they need to do their individual jobs (Brundage). The reality at Microsoft is that there is probably little cause for labor dispute because the company pays exorbitant salaries to its employees (even the support workers), and gives them a level of benefits that is not seen anywhere else in the industry (Brundage). On the other end of the spectrum is Boeing. Like many manufacturing facilities, Boeing has had an organized shop for most of its company life. Different labor unions provide much of personnel for Boeings plants and they have generally gotten along with management (Graves). The two companies are very different as far as the type of labor support they need because they are two very different types of companies. Microsoft is involved in manufacturing, but the company has been able to provide a work environment that nurtures employees without the need of union organization (Sequeira). Boeing, like many of the automobile manufacturers, needed the push of a labor organization to ensure fair and safe treatment of employees.

Despite the fact that the Pacific Northwest home to four of the largest companies in the world, the major employers in the region, much like everywhere else in the United States, are much smaller. The history of labor unions in the region comes mainly from a few industries that employed people in harsh environments and took advantage of the fact that employee group were far away from each other geographically, so it was not easy for them to organize.

The United Farm Workers (UFW) is now one of the largest labor organizations in the Northwest. Tons of produce is harvested in the area yearly, and most of it is picked by migrant farm workers. Because of the transient nature of these workers, they have had a poor history of labor organization, but many of the workers have eventually joined the union which has greatly benefitted them ((Rosales-Castaneda, Quintana & Gregory). In the 1970's and 1980's, unionized workers went through several times of turmoil when workers who joined the union were not allowed to work in many of the fields. However, farmers began to see that if they treated the workers better, they had less lost product and more profits. The workers became more productive because of the benefits of the union.

This is also true of another unionized group along the Pacific coast, the longshoremen and warehouse workers. The union, called the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), was formed in 1937 as an independent union, but they quickly affiliated with the CIO which was trying a new form of organization. According to ILWU information, the CIO "sought to unionize all the workers in an industry, skilled and unskilled, into one union for maximum unity and strength" (ILWU). The process worked well because the ILWU was able to quickly organize many of the workers in these fields from Los Angeles to Vancouver (ILWU). The main strength of the union has always been the longshore dock workers who have tried to improve the plight of these workers throughout its history.

One of the issues that was quickly resolved was the fact that managers at certain docks were trying to put in place new unskilled workers to work the docks to reduce pay. But, the ILWU was an organization of all workers, so when the unskilled dock labor was told they would be replaced, the highly skilled crane operators threatened to strike. The problem here was that the crane operators could not be easily replaced. The union won the concessions it needed to keep all of its employees working. This is an example of the method of the leverage that unions can give to workers (Page, Hernandez & Petrosky).

Today, Washington and Oregon have among the highest percentages of organized labor in the United States. In Oregon, more than 17% of the workforce belongs to a union, and in Washington the figure is greater than 25% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The reason for these high percentages is that these areas have long supported union workers at a higher rate than most other regions of the country. Also, the types of industry in this area, agriculture and manufacturing, are areas that have traditionally required unions. The unions in this region have historically made the workplace a safer environment, and that has kept productivity high. This research has indicated throughout, that a major factor in worker productivity is work environment satisfaction, and unions have ben a large part of this in the Pacific Northwest for many decades.

Works Cited

Bloom, Nick, Toby Kretschmer, and John van Reenen. Work-Life Balance, Management Practices and Productivity. London: London School Of Economics -- Center for Economic Performance, 2006. Print.

Brundage, Michael. "Working at Microsoft." qbrundage. Web.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Union Membership in Oregon -- 2010." United States Department of Labor (2010). Web.

Grant, Michel, and Jean Harvey. "Unions and Productivity: Convergence or Divergence in Perspectives." International Studies of Management & Organization 22.4 (1992): 93-98. Print.

Graves, Beverly. "Boeing's Better work Environment." Product Finishing Magazine Online (1998). Web.

ILWU. "How Our Union Works." International Longshore and warehouse Union (2006). Web.

Lajeunesse, Robert M. "Keeping Labor Productive: Veblen's Notion of Reserve Capacity and Procyclical Productivity Analysis." Journal of Economic Issues 38.3 (2004):… [END OF PREVIEW]

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