Term Paper: Labor Unions the Business Cycle

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Labor Unions

The Business Cycle

The concept of the business cycle entails that at times there is a boom in the economy of a business, while the downward cycle once again entails that the particular sector is experiencing a lower income. The effect of this on the economy depends on the size of the business and the number of its employees and investors. The downward part of the business cycle would then affect the economy adversely, as investors would be unwilling to invest funds. Furthermore employment opportunities in the particular business would decrease, while the demand for employment increases. Furthermore the decrease in employment supply leads to an increase in layoffs, which affects unions significantly.

Unions are brought into being to protect the rights of workers. If the business cycle therefore reaches a downward trend, unions are especially important in negotiating the rights of those workers let go for economic reasons. This however places stress on already tense situations, and employers tend to be negative towards unions. The unwillingness of employers to negotiate fair severance packages for their workers further results in poverty, which again leads to a downward trend in the general economy, as a certain number of workers can no longer afford goods and services that were previously a routine part of their life. This again affects other businesses, and the cycle continues its downward trend until the next economic boom.

Conversely, all parties involved are also affected by an upward trend in the business cycle. Indeed, in increase in employment opportunities supplements the increase in demand experienced during the downward trend. Unions now need to negotiate fair employment conditions as well as conditions of severance to make sure that workers are treated fairly even in the event of another downward trend. Employers may be slightly more tolerant of unions, yet the negative trend appears to remain throughout.

2. The Old and the New Workplace

The workplace in the United States has grown and changed in synchronicity with the history of the country. From the days of the first pioneers to the industrial age the privileged positions in the American workplace were reserved for the white male. Persons of other races or the opposite gender seldom found equal opportunities in terms of employment, or indeed acceptable conditions to work under. The labor force for example suffered under conditions of extreme poverty while working long hours under unsafe conditions. This was advantageous for managers, as cheap labor entailed a larger profit margins. Challenges were however unhappy workers who provide inferior quality products or services as a result of poor conditions. A further challenge was the rise of Labor Unions demanding better conditions and wages per hour for workers under these conditions. The challenge for unions was however to improve the accepted paradigm that was applied to labor conditions at the time.

In the new workplace, things have improved somewhat in terms of both equality and conditions. The challenges for both unions and managers are however more complicated. Certain conditions might not be acceptable for unions, whereas managers do not see a problem. The challenge for both is to negotiate a middle ground with which all parties are reasonably satisfied. This is a much less defined challenge than those above. The difference is also however that the goal of negotiations is not to effect large-scale change, but merely to arrive at a solution that would be fair to all concerned. In this the challenge is rather less daunting than was the case in the early workplace. Furthermore, there is no direct threat to profits made by management; rather, the focus is on the worker and arriving at reasonable conditions within the workplace. In general this is then much more of a diplomatic and business-like procedure than was the case previously.

3. Equal Employment

As mentioned above, the concept of equal employment has not been truly inclusive of all the diverse groups making the American nation for a long time. Even today inequalities and discrimination still exist in the workplace. Unions and federal laws have however made great progress in furthering the acknowledgement of equal opportunities throughout the United States.

Unions have for example continually worked to ensure that women and minority groups received the same benefit when performing similar tasks at a similar skill level as their white male counterparts. The conditions and guarantees of such jobs are negotiated by unions. Unions have also worked with the government to create laws that protect the existence of equal opportunities within the workplace.

Equal opportunities include all Americans, regardless of race, religion or gender. Indeed, the Americans with Disabilities Act, created during 1990, ensures these Americans of the same level of consideration for employment as any other American, and that such consideration is based only on ability to perform the job in a satisfactory manner. Further Acts include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is the general equal opportunities act. According to this law, no discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin is allowed. The Equal Pay Act has been instated in 1963. This entails that men and women in the same establishment performing equal work should receive equal wages. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ensures that individuals of 40 years or older will be considered on equal terms with other applicants with the same qualifications.

Adherence to these laws is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which ensures that the laws are carried out in a manner that is fair to both employers and employees.

4. Unionism - Public and Private

Over the last twenty years, private unionism has experienced a significant decline in membership, whereas public unions have experienced an almost exponential increase of members. Most workers are however employed by the private sector, and thus the overall figures show that unionism in general has declined in terms of membership.

The main reason for this decline in the private sector is the fact that managers generally, whether openly or covertly, oppose unions. This has discouraged workers from joining unions, and thus unionism in this sector has declined. Combined with management opposition, an increase in unfair labor practices has strengthened employers in their cause. Finally, unionism has become expensive in the private sector, as competition from non-union and overseas firms has become significant. On the other hand, comprehensive collective bargaining laws in the public sector have encouraged public unionism.

While it can be understood that unions have chosen the way of least resistance, I do not believe that this has been successful in terms of the reason for forming unions in the first place. Unions exist to protect workers' rights. In the private sector, the trend is towards the old system, wherein managers regarded profit as the only determining factor in their labor relations. Workers' rights are no longer protected, and it appears that unions are following managers in their pursuit of turning a blind eye to the existing problems.

Unions do not exist to choose the way of least resistance. The reason for forming unions in the beginning was exactly to fight if necessary for the rights of workers. The focus should then be precisely on the sector where there are the most violations of workers' rights, which is the private sector. The focus should not be on the public sector, where it appears that the way for unionism is practically paved with gold.

5. Employer Standards

Employers with better standards are those who operate significantly above the minimum requirements of labor in terms of wages, hours and conditions. Employers with lower standards operate very close to, or even below, minimum requirements for laborers.

Lower standards employers obviously thrive in terms of profit. They capitalize on workers' desperate need for money, while exporting the goods provided to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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