The union movement is important. Just over 15 million US workers belong to unions – around 12% of the total number of men or women working in this country. Many are still traditional blue collar workers, but more and more are white collar workers. For instance, workers including doctors, psychologists graduate teaching assistants, government office workers and even fashion models are forming or joining unions. Federal state and local governments employ about seven million union members, who account for almost 40% of total government employees And in some industries – including transportation and public utilities where over 26% of employees are union members – it’s still hard to get a job without joining a union. Union membership in other countries is declining but is still very high relative to the United States: over 35% of employed workers in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Italy for instance.
Furthermore it can be a mistake to always assume, as a keen jerk reaction that unions only negatively impact employers. For example perhaps by professionalizing the staff and /or systematizing company practices unionization may also improve performance Thus in one study researchers concluded that heart attack mortality among patients in hospitals with unionized registered nurses were 5 to 9% lower than in nonunion hospitals Another study found a significant negative relationship between union memberships ad employees intent to leave their jobs.
Why are unions important? How did they get that way? Why do workers join them? How do employers and unions hammer out agreements? These are questions we’ll address in this article.
American Union movement>>>
To understand what unions are and what they want, it is useful to understand where they’ve been. The history of the union movement in the United States has been one of alternate expansion and contraction. As early as 1790 skilled craftsmen shoemaker, tailors, and printers and so on organized themselves into trade unions. They posted their minimum wage demands and had tramping committees go from shop to shop to ensure that no member accepted a lesser wage. Union membership grew until a major depression around 1873 resulted in a membership decline. Membership then began increasing as the United States entered its industrial revolution. In 1869, a group of tailors met and formed the Knights of Labor. The knights were interested in political reform. By 1885, they had 100,000 members which (as result of winning major strike against a railroad) exploded to 700,000 the following year. Partly, because of their focus on social reforms and partly due to series of unsuccessful strikes. The knights’ membership dwindled rapidly thereafter, and the group dissolved in 1893.
In 1886, Samuel Gompers formed the American Federation of Labor. It consisted mostly of skilled workers and unlike the Knights focused on practical bread and butter gains for its members. The Knights of Labor had engaged in a class struggle to alter the form of society and hereby get a bigger chunk of benefits for its members. Gompers aimed to reach the same goal by raising day to day wages and improving working conditions. The AFL grew rapidly until after World War I at which point its membership exceeded 5.5 million people.
The 1920s was a period of stagnation and decline for the US union movements. This was a result of several events, including a post war depression manufacturers renewed resistance to unions Samuel Gomper’s death and the apparent prosperity of the 1920s By late 1929 due to the Great Depression, millions of workers (including many union members) had lost their jobs and by 1933 union membership was down to under there million workers.
Memberships began to rise again in the mid – 1930s. As part of his New Deal programs president Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed the National Industrial Recovery act, which made it easier for labor to organize. Other federal law as well as prosperity ad World War II also contributed to the rapid increase in members, which topped out at about 21 million workers in the 1970s. Union membership has consistently fallen since then due to factors such as the shift from manufacturing to service jobs, and new legislation (such as occupational safety laws) that provide the sorts of protection that workers could once only obtain from their unions. Indeed, hundreds of local, state, and federal laws and regulations now address the sorts of concerns that helped drive the early union movement