Union membership has been alternately growing and shrinking since as early as 1790. A major milestone was the creation in 186 of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) by Samuel Gompers. Today, the AFL-CIO is a national federation of about 100 national and international unions. Most recently the trend in unionization has been toward organizing white collar workers, particularly since the proportion of blue collar workers has been declining.
In addition to improved wages and working conditions, unions seek security when organizing. We discussed five possible arrangements, including the closed shop, the union shop, the agency shop, and maintenance of membership.
The Norris-LaGuardia Act and the Wagner Act marked a shift in labor law from repression to strong encouragement of union activity. They did this by banning certain types of unfair labor practices, by providing for secret ballot elections, and by creating the National Labor Relations Board.
The Taft-Hartley Act reflected the period of modified encouragement coupled with regulation. It enumerated the rights of employees with respect to their unions, enumerated the rights of employers, and allowed the US president to temporarily bar national emergency strikes. Among other things, it also enumerated certain unfair union labor practices. And employers were explicitly given the right to express their views concerning union organization.
The Landrum-Griffin reflected the period of detailed regulation of internal union affairs. It grew out of discoveries of wrongdoing on the part of both management and union leadership and conditioned a bill of rights for union members.
There are five steps in a union drive and election: the initial contact, obtaining authorization cards, holding a hearing with the NLR the campaign and the selection itself. The union needs only a majority of the votes cast, not a majority of the workers in the bargaining unit eligible to vote.
There are five surefire ways to lose an NLRB election: Be caught sleeping at the switch form a committee, emphasize money and benefits have an industry blind spot, and delegate too much to divisions.
Bargaining collectively in good faith is the next step if and when the union wins the election. Good faith means that both parties communicate and negotiate and that proposals are matched with counterproposals. Bargaining items are categorized as mandatory, voluntary or illegal.
An impasse occurs when the parties aren’t able to move further towards settlement. Third-party involvement namely, arbitration, fact finding, or mediation is one alternative. Sometimes, though, a strike occurs, boycotts and lockouts are two other anti impasse weapons sometimes used by labor and management.
Grievance handling has been called day-to-day collective bargaining. It involves the continuing interpretation of collective bargaining agreements but usually not its renegotiation.
Most agreements contain a carefully worded grievance procedure ranging from two to six or more steps. The steps usually involve union management meetings at each of the chain of command until (if agreement isn’t reached) the grievance goes to arbitration. Grievance handling is as important in nonunion organizations as in those that are unionized.
Several things contributed to the union movement’s declining membership. These include laws, like OSHA and Title VII, global competition and new technologies, declining numbers of US manufacturing jobs, and possibly the new attempts at labor management cooperation such as employee participation teams.
There are some bright spots for labor unions. For example, many professional employees belong to unions, as do about 40% of all federal state and local government employees. The unions’ success in organizing public employees reflects, in part, years of changes in public sector, collective bargaining and labor relations legislation. In 1962 president John F Kennedy signed executive order. This recognized federal employees’ rights to join or refrain from joining labor organizations and granted recognition to those organizations and, in 1978, Congress passed the Civil Service Reform Act.