By lobbying for better working conditions, employee/employer relations, and fair wages, labor unions strive to protect the welfare of working class individuals. With the goal of making work environments fair for their employees, labor unions push forward for progress, fighting for the rights of working class individuals who may not have voices of their own. An individual lobbying for an overdue raise may feel intimidated in front of an employer, backing down for fear of losing his job or drawing undue ire. Labor unions exist to take the pressure off the employees, serving as third parties and go-betweens to help working class individuals fight for their rights in their respective places of work.
Most employees will agree that working under labor unions provides security and job protection. Employers reserve the right to bargain with unions and initiate negotiations to persuade their employees to avoid unionizing, but many employees appreciate the security they receive from their unions and remain with them accordingly. However, it is important to remember that employees must contribute to their unions to protect themselves. Furthermore, unions can occasionally bring more harm than good. To understand labor unions and how individuals may receive them, it is important to examine both sides of the situation to uncover the pros and cons of keeping and operating under labor unions.
One of the most gleaming attributes of a labor union is the protection of a group. A labor union provides a wall of support in the form of paid staff and volunteers who fight for the rights of hard-working employees. A common complaint among employees is money, and labor unions lobby to fight for overdue raises by putting the pressure on employers. In 2011, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations reported that union workers made an average of 30% more than workers who did not belong to any union, making them some of the best paid individuals in the working class.
In addition to helping provide better pay for the working class, labor unions make employees more aware of their rights as workers. Not every individual who wanders onto a job is fully aware of all the rights and privileges that come with the position. For example, a greedy employer may try to exploit employees by denying them appropriately timed breaks in stressful work environments, and many employees will tolerate the abuse for fear of losing their jobs. Labor unions exist to protect employees from this kind of abuse by informing them of their legal rights. Furthermore, labor unions will make employers liable in the event of injury or illness because of workplace abuse or neglect.
Nonetheless, the power of a labor union can also present considerably large drawbacks. Labor unions have the power to press employers for raises, but their zeal may be misplaced. Fighting for the working class is one thing, but pushing an employer for an unrealistic pay raise is another. Some companies simply do not have the money to spend on salary bumps, but pressure from labor unions can force them into submission, and the pressure a labor union places behind an employer does not only affect the company.
By forcing a company to provide pay raises, the cost of productivity goes up, and the difference comes directly out of the consumers’ pockets. This is often referred to as the “trickle down” effect. If Company X must pay its employees unrealistic wages because of pressure from a labor union, Company X must raise the cost of Product Y to balance the books, causing the cost of the salary bump to “trickle down” to consumers.
Pushing for unrealistic wages is only one way that labor unions can exploit their power. Unions have influence over companies, and they can become very greedy. This greediness can lead to a lack of trust between an employee and his employer, contributing to a hostile work environment. This is not to say that employees should avoid joining unions for fear of creating distrust between themselves and their employers. Nonetheless, it is important for employees to know that although unions can bring job security and protection, they can also bring distrust and controversy to work environments.
Labor unions have power, and they know how to use it. By pushing for equal opportunity workplaces and safe work environments, labor unions can help employees to know their rights and receive fair treatment. However, they can also push employers too far and give the wrong impression. Not every employee requires union representation. For this reason, employees may want to examine their work environments carefully and decide whether or not they require protection from labor unions. In more stressful, risky work environments, unions may be useful, but individuals with less demanding jobs may want to steer clear of labor unions and eliminate the clutter.
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Labor unions are groups or clubs of workers and employees who bond
together to get good working conditions, fair pay, and fair hours for their
labor. For example, in a newspaper, all the people who work the
presses might all belong to one union. All of the artists, who are
responsible for the artistic layout, might belong to another. These unions
are usually joined together, and most unions in America are some branch
of the largest labor union organization in the United States, the AFL-CIO.
The unions of the workers at a certain business or factory might get
together with the management for a period of time to talk about a
contract. This time is known as negotiation. The union will tell the
management what it wants its workers getting paid, and then the
management will tell the union what it can pay the workers and still be
earning a reasonable profit. They bargain and it usually works out. Most
businesses and corporations have eight-hour work days, with optional
extra hours. This is not usually a topic in negotiations, but could be.
Working conditions could be discussed. If workers in the factory have
no heat, no lunch breaks or they are not allowed to speak, (which was the
case in many sweatshops for immigrants and children in the 1920's
through 1940's), then the labor unions will obviously want something
These differences are usually settled fairly quickly, and a new
contract featuring these agreements will be realized . Most contracts are
in operation for about 3 to 5 years. Then, negotiations begin again. This
is how labor-management relations go in a perfect world.
But, obviously, this is not always the case. Sometimes the unions
want unrealistic wages. They might stress extreme luxuries that the
company cannot provide for working conditions. Or the management
may be stubborn and unwilling to give up a large percentage of the profit
in a good year. Or maybe both sides are seemingly in the right and an
agreement can not be met. Whatever the case maybe, after the set
negotiation has been passed, and a contract has not been created, then the
union will go to the workers tell them the situation, and they will vote in
The unions purpose in the strike is to stop the company or factory
from caring out their purpose of existence. If they are supposed to
deliver packages, blockades will be set up in most cases to stop this.
The union must succeed not only in this, but in preventing replacement
workers, known as scabs, from doing their jobs. If the new workers can
do the jobs and the company can perform its job, then all the union
members did by striking is quit their jobs and lose benefits. They have to
let the company feel their loss and force them to let them back and meet
their demands. In a striking situation, one of three basic things happens:
the union wins by preventing the company from overstating, they get their
jobs back and their demands are met; the management wins, the strike
fails, and the workers are unemployed; or the strike seemingly goes on
forever, a stalemate of a kind, and, hopefully, one side will just give in.
One of the methods that unions use to protest when on strike is
picketing, which is carrying around signs stating either your cause, what
your doing out there pacing on the sidewalk, or the union division you
belong to. Many strikes have become violent over history, whereas some
are merely workers who leave the job and will not come back until their
demands are met. The violent strikes may involve picketing, injury or
death of workers, severe rioting, damage and vandalization of company
or employer property, and more. Police have to intervene in this type of
strike, and it is this type of labor union action that irritates many people
with the whole organization. A lot of people are strongly for unions,
whether they work for the particular company or not, and will support the
unions in their strikes. It is this sort of support unions hope for, because
the more people they get the stronger they are. But some people,
especially small business owners, who do not see much profit in a day-
to-day operation, are very critical of unions. Some union demands have
driven small business owners out of business, simply because they could
not afford to do what the union wanted.
The major formation of national labor unions came after the Civil
War. This war greatly expanded factory production and railroad
building, which generated much concern about the well-being of the
workers. By 1864, about 300 local unions operated in twenty northern
states. In 1866, the International Industry Assembly of North America
became the National Labor Union. It was the first important association
of unions. But, in 1872 , it failed and disappeared from the pages of
The next big step in the labor movement was the formation of the
Knights of Labor, begun by Uriah Stephens, a tailor, in 1869. It began as
a secret society to improve workers welfare through peaceful means. It
became the first major American attempt to found a union for all
workers, skilled and unskilled.
The Nights of Labor had a boost of importance in the public eye
when it had its first major victory in the great railroad strikes of 1877. In
1886, the Knights had 600,000 to 700,000 members.
But, in that same year, Samuel Gompers and Adolph Strasser left
the Knights of Labor because it did not represent craft union interests.
They formed the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The AFL became
a competitor to the Knights of Labor, and eventually ran them out of
business. The AFL became the reigning giant in the labor force, almost
doubling the Knights' membership in just three years. Gompers remained
president of the AFL for forty years.
Mass-production industries such as car manufacturers separated
from the AFL because of lack of attention in the 1930's, and formed the
Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). This organization was
formed by John T. Lewis of the United Mine Workers in 1938. In the late
1930's and early 1940's, both the AFL and the CIO made huge gains in
recruiting new members. Both came out of World War II stronger than
ever before. In 1955, both labor unions agreed on a contract that
combined the two into one huge union, the AFL-CIO, still the largest
labor union in existence today.
In July 1993, the contract between the Detroit News and the major
local union that the employees belonged to, ran out. The paper took this
opportunity to let the union know that it had purchased new printing
presses, and this reduced the number of people needed to operate it. The
old ones took nineteen people per press to operate. Since the new ones,
which only required ten, had been put into use, the operators took turns
going to a nearby bar, since there were still nineteen of them. The
newspaper wanted to fire the extra nine people per press, and the union
did not want them to. The union went on strike, but were unsuccessful in
getting their demands met. During this time, replacement workers had
been hired. They were working much faster than the previous workers,
who, it turns out , were purposely working especially slow to cover the
fact that not all nineteen of them were needed. With the new replacement
workers, the presses only required six people per press. This would
save the paper a lot of money in the future.
Meanwhile, the strike was not going well. The union leaders and
the teamsters headed to the newspaper negotiators. They were willing to
make a deal to allow only ten to work the press if the teamsters could
have their jobs back. The paper told them that now only six people were
needed. Infuriated, the teamsters stormed out, and a full-fledged strike
again in late July. Literally millions of ex-workers and sympathetic
workers of the union, flooded the streets with picket signs and clubs,
beating cars and buses, stopping traffic, clubbing "scabs", and wreaking
havoc in the streets of Detroit.
Buckets of paint were hurled at the walls and windows of Detroit
News and Detroit Free Press buildings, although the real strike was
going on at the news. Star nails, nails about the size of tennis balls that
stick out in all directions to pop and shred the tires on cars, were
everywhere. These were stopping the armored cars busing workers and
scabs into the building. The buses were clubbed and beaten, but police
intervention eventually brought the riots down.. Even months afterward,
several fights broke out between scabs and union enthusiasts. Detroit
became torn: those for the strike, and those against it. It was very tense,
but did eventually die down somewhat.
Ex-workers picketed around stores and businesses that advertised
in the newspaper, which ruined sales for these stores by stopping those
sympathetic with the strike from shopping there. Many businesses
withdrew dramatically. Also, thousands of subscribers were canceled
by union sympathetic and enthusiasts. In the early days of the strike,
papers were kept from being delivered to boxes and homes. This
continued for quite a while, reducing sales of paper overall. But not
even all of this was enough to make a giant in business such as the
Detroit News fall. The strike has died down much now, and only two or
three lone picketers can be seen pacing at the gates of the News building
now. The union has tried several times to give in and make weak deals,
and over time the paper has refused. In this strike, it would appear that
the management has won.
But, to look at the issue of strikes from a different view, the
infamous 1994 Major League Baseball Strike comes to mind. The salary
caps caused the players to simply walk off the job. No violent riots or
picketing was necessary: most players went and played golf. This was
because of two things: they were already rich by most peoples
standards, and they were desperately needed by the owners, because
baseball is a hard business to find replacements . The owners tried,
though, but failed. Although public disgust ran high at the "spoiled"
baseball players, the union did not waver, and the owners gave in, and
the next season baseball was back.
Labor unions all started out as a small idea when a few workers
shared their ideas that they did not like the way management was running
things. They formed a union and threatened the management by walking
off the job. This was a new idea then, but today it is commonplace. The
big worry is among the heads of big business who are resorting to
downsizing to raise profit. The future of labor unions is unclear, but it
seems to be a colorful one.
1. The Detroit News and Free Press.
Saturday, February 15, 1997; Front pag
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