By James Mitke
2. Role of a union:
3. Unions in the USA
4. Pros and cons of unions for Government and Industrial sectors
5. G. Bush policy towards unions
The question under discussion interested many researchers since concept of a union appeared and spread across industries. The field covered by industrial relations is very wide, but union vs non-union section takes an important place in it. The main function of a union is to advance and protect the interests of its members. There are craft unions, industrial and general workers’ unions, also those for non-manual and professional groups. Most of these are affiliated to the voluntary body called the Trades Union, which has as its objects ‘to promote the interests of all its affiliated organizations and generally to improve the social and economic conditions of the workers’ (Beardwell et al 1994). Broader issues of national policy affecting trade unions are also discussed with the Trades Union and the government.
Role of a union
The first step towards effective collective bargaining is for employers to recognize unions, who both agree to negotiating procedures resulting in collective agreements, which may be for a company, a unit, or the industry as a whole. In this case, the policy of the government has been to encourage and support collective bargaining and most employers negotiate with unions to agree terms and conditions of employment for ‘blue collar’ and ‘white collar’ workers.
The advantage of the unions is that collective agreements between unions and employers cover many issues and may relate to a whole industry, a company, or a single unit. In some industries joint negotiating bodies have been set up with formal constitutions. Other industries have more informal meetings between employers and unions. It is important that these agreements should be continually reviewed
This process can bring management and unions together in a partnership that exists to develop a fair and equitable pay structure on the basis of mutual agreement. Some managements and some unionists may find it difficult to act together in this way, but when they do, the results are beneficial to all concerned (Emmott et al 2002).
Some firms have a department of industrial relations quite separate from other aspects of human resource management and its main functions consist of:
• prevention and settlement of trade disputes;
• helping to form and maintain machinery of joint consultation;
• keeping in close touch with the state of employer-employee relations;
• advising the firm or the government on industrial relations problems (Green, 1994)
The main benefit of unions is that disputes may be settled by negotiation, conciliation, arbitration, investigation and formal enquiry. Each union regulations must be known by the human resources officer. Employees need to have a thorough knowledge of procedures of consultation and negotiation and the function of consultative bodies. Loss of output through industrial dispute can be costly to an organization and the proportion of strikes which occur without union support should be reduced. “Union workers are more likely than their non-union counterparts to receive health care and pension benefits. Nine out of ten union members are covered by health insurance and have a pension plan — versus three-quarters of those not in a union” (Union strength, n.d).
Within unions mutual respect and confidence are needed and there should be a democratically elected commit¬tee representing all ranks, but not necessarily one person from each department. Subjects to be discussed should be clearly stated. Examples are holidays, welfare, discipline, recruitment, training. There should also be good secretarial arrangements and a system for reporting back to employees.
Disadvantages of unions can be explained by the fact that working people and organizations have different interests. Whether or not the purpose of an organization is to make a profit, employers are continually under pressure to ensure that resources are fully utilized and labour costs are stabilized or reduced. Their main concern is to maintain and improve their standard of living. They seek improvements in wages and salaries, increased leisure, better working conditions, stability of employment, opportunities for advancement and satisfaction in their work. On the other hand, constant struggle between unions and organizations do more harm than good for a business process. Although interests are not usually the same, especially when technological and industrial changes keep occurring constantly, there is one common point of interest between employers and employees, and that is to ensure continuity of production and hence employment – to keep the enterprise viable.
A union existence has been shown to reduce conflicts from the “workers” resentment of the power of managers. Where managers are pleasant and co-operative and acknowledge feelings of others, conflict is reduced. There is also the idea to institute structural changes to reduce the amount of supervision a worker is subjected to and give him greater control over his own job. There is, of course, no guarantee that all workers will have higher morale and productivity, and some¬times output may fall if workers do not think an increase in productivity is in their interest (the goals of management and worker often differ).
Nevertheless, disadvantages of union policy are also important. Some researchers stress that too much emphasis has been placed upon union efficiency which has led to higher labour turnover, strikes or poor work. The harmful social effects were ignored. So advocates of the non-union approach regard these two aspects as parts interlocking in the organization system, where a change in either can affect the whole system. Job enlargement and job enrichment are techniques advocated for redesigning jobs (Beardwell, 2004).
Unions in the USA
In the USA the industrial relations climate had also altered as a result of economic and political changes. A series of recessions had weakened the bargaining power of unions and unemployment in those industrial sectors that were former union strongholds had led to a decline in union membership.
In the USA the politics of government shifted to the right. The rhetoric of the ‘New Right’ revolved around concepts such as the free market, the freedom of the individual, and the enterprise culture. The climate was therefore suitable for those managements seeking alternative models of employment relations. They gained inspiration not only from non-union companies such as IBM, but observed changes in more traditional unionized environments.
In General Motors, for example, management worked closely with the Union of Auto Workers in setting up HRM style practices at the Cadillac plant at Livonia, and in all its plants attempted to change management-worker relations from low to high trust and seek productivity gains through workforce cooperation and commitment.
The influential movement that emerged from the USA built around the concept of union culture and the notion that ‘excellent’ companies serve as models for others to follow.
Pros and cons of unions for Government and Industrial sectors
There is a greater need for union in human resource matter because of:
• Government action on traditional collective bargaining positions – it takes an active interest in wage levels and virtually all aspects of labour relations.
• The traditional right of a manager to hire and fire and determine the rate for a job has been altered. Employers’ decisions on matters affecting the workforce are largely subject to bargaining and agreement. Negotiations between managers and shop stewards deal with most matters at shop floor level. Where managers refuse to negotiate, direct action by the workforce is possible. So, as pressure from the government and the employees is severely limiting the freedom of managers, it is essential for every organization to have a care¬fully prepared employee relations policy.
A lot depends upon the support an employee receives from local arc national officials. There is an increasing tendency for firms to provide union policy. The National Council of Labour Colleges and the Trace Union Council offer courses covering functions of trade unions, collective bar¬gaining and negotiating procedures, incentive schemes, effective speaker; and writing, etc.
The position of efficiency today varies from union to union (and their role and effectiveness depend upon several factors: one important factor is their persons characteristics). They are elected by union members and their duties are:
• to inspect union cards to see contributions are paid up to date;
• to act as recruiting officers;
• to see that working agreements between management and union are carried out;
• to represent their fellow workers who have grievances. They are in effect part
time union officers, but they do not normally receive payment from their union and they usually are allowed to negotiate with management during working hours with no loss of pay (Green, 1994).
There is, though, no guarantee that if communications are good the workers will act rationally and agree to the ‘wisdom’ of management – clarity cannot guarantee acceptance.
Union becomes an important technique or mechanism for resolving goal conflicts and may be said to have these main features:
• it is a joint activity where each side recognizes the right of the other to be present on equal terms;
• the respective interests of those represented in collective bargaining should be identified so common interests can be noted and means found to reconcile areas of conflict;
• the result is the joint regulation of the work situation by establishing a framework of rules and practice to govern relationships between the management and workforce(Green, 1994).
The non-union approach still seems dominant, in that there seems to be an acceptance of the inevitability of conflict in industry and the need to negotiate joint solutions. Management still consider only they should determine some issues (e.g. hire and use of labour). Issues submitted to collective bargaining by management usually cover wage rates, hours of work, holidays, etc. The strength of the two sides determines the result. Strength depends upon:
• quality of organization of unions and management;
• ratio of capital to labour; the smaller the proportion of the labour cost to total costs the more likely management may grant their demands;
• degree of skill; the more skilled workers, who can move readily to other jobs, are in a stronger bargaining position; e state of the market for products; the more a firm approaches a monopolist;
• position the more easily it can pass costs on to consumers by higher prices and still retain a good share of the market, then the firm may more readily accede to union demands;
• state of demand for products; full order books enable more concessions to be made by management; low order books may even encourage management to force a strike, which will reduce labour costs.
It should be noted that there is that there is a complex mixture of factors within and without the organization which affects the union relationship and that although there is an agreement to go through grievance or disputes procedures (in a constitutional way) the majority of strikes in the USA are unconstitutional, that is, in breach of procedure.
Joint consultation proposed by unions is used both to mean the arrangements in an industry as a whole for consultation between trade unions and employers’ representatives, and committees set up within an individual firm. The industry bodies are usu¬ally permanent and are known as joint industrial councils.
It is desirable that these unions do not concern themselves with pay rates, etc. Union consultation provides means of:
• regular two-way communication between management and employees;
• keeping employees advised of the firm’s policies and plans;
• obtaining employees’ suggestions and giving them a say in the provision с г
• enabling them to air their grievances regarding discipline or work rule?
For instance, pay is high compared with other firms and labour turnover is exceptionally low, operating at around 2% if the industry has no trade unions. The management claim that the employees have no need for a union nor do they want one. The state operating through government policies and the legal system has had considerable influence of the personnel function in three major areas; through legislation; through manpower policies concerned with the supply of labour and education and training; and through third-party intervention.
According to resent studies: ”Unions are really only about keeping the unions running. All they’re really interested in is keeping membership so they can collect dues that go into the union’s leadership’s pockets. In their day, unions did a lot for workers-made safer conditions, regular pay raises, etc. But today, the government does all that. So what is the point? Today, unions do nothing much more than funnel money into politicians’ pockets, and generally raise the prices of goods produced” (Wendland, n.d.).The need to decide begins when policymakers perceive an external problem with which they must deal and attempt to define its distinguishing characteristics objectively. Objectivity requires full information about the actions, motivations, and capabilities of other actors as well as the character of the international environment and trends within it.
G. Bush policy towards unions
According to the public opinion: “Bush has waged a war against workers’ freedom to form unions and have a voice on the job, often using the justification that collective bargaining is incompatible with national security.” Simply put, Bush used rhetoric of “national security” to pursue the anti-union agenda he supported prior to the events of September 11th. In fact, Bush claimed that workers who wanted to preserve their collective bargaining right were opposed to national security and might be supporting terrorist efforts” (Wendland, n.d.). The real difference between conventional methods of negotiations over union claims and productivity agreements is that, when new proposals are agreed, there is sufficient control to see they are carried out. Management offers an inducement to workers in return for increased production, the removing of demarcation lines, reductions in manning, or in overtime.
It is possible to conclude that there are different viewpoints on unions in the USA. Some researchers suppose that unions are the most powerful tool to secure workers in changing environment. On the other hand, unions become a sticking point for many organizations, including private and government sector. Very often, unions’ policy disaccorded with mission and goals of the companies persuading blindly following employees demands to the prejudice of corporate interests. The long-term objective is to create an atmosphere in which employees will be more willing to accept new working arrangements and be more ready to co-operate in raising productivity. Nevertheless, the role of unions should not be diminished. For a long time, they were a support for those who could not resist inequality and abasement at work themselves.
There are different views on the unions’ efficiency and benefits within different industries. On the one hand unions secure employees relationship and protect their rights in case of conflicts and disputes. In reality, unions do less to improve industrial relations. In many cases they are unable to resolve the problems faced by the employees. The negative effect of unions’ policy on government and industrial sectors has been proved by many researchers. The danger is that many employees try to involve their unions in dispute settlement without valid reasons which lead to long-lasting conflicts. The unwritten agreements become a custom and may be regarded as a ‘law’. So although the agreements satisfy people on the “shop floor” for instance, this may conflict with the ideas of higher management. In order to ensure workflows smoothly through their section, although the agreement may conflict with overall company policy. For the reasons mentioned above, Bush administration does not support a union movement trying to protect Government and industrial sector from groundless interference.
1. Beardwell, I. Holden, L., Claydon, T. Human Resource Management, London Pitman Publishing, 2004.
2. Green, G.D. Industrial relations. London, Pitman Publishing, 4th edition, 1994.
3. Emmott B., Crook C., Michlethwait J. Globalisation: Making Sense of an Integrating World, Economist Books, 2002.
4. Union strength (N.d.). Available at: http://www.afscme.org/about/about4.htm
5. “What is the difference between …”. (N.d.) Available at: http://www.uawhonda.ca/union_vs_no_union.htm
6. Wendland, J. Bush’s Anti-union Record. (N.d.) Available at: http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/143/1/32/
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