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February 18, 2013

Essay on Labor Unions

The reasons individuals join unions are diverse as the people themselves. Just what are they seeking to gain when they join a union? The answer to this question varies with the individuals and the union contract, but following captures the most common reasons.

1.1.1 Higher wages and benefits

There are power and strength in numbers. As a result, union sometimes are able to obtain higher wages and benefits packages for their members than employees walking off the job over a wage dispute is unlikely to significantly  affect most businesses, but hundreds of workers going out on strike can temporarily disrupt or even close down a company. Additionally, professional bargainers employed by the union may be able to negotiate more skillfully than any individuals could on his or her own behalf.

1.1.2 Greater job security

Union provides their member with a sense of independence from management’s power to arbitrarily hire, promote, or fire (Bernstein 43). The collective bargaining contract will stipulate rules that apply to all members, thus providing fairer and more uniform treatment. For example, after a lengthy strike involving the teamsters union and the giant food company, an agreement was reached between the parties that guarantee teamsters’ union members lifelong job security regardless of external factors affecting the company.

1.1.3 Influence work rules

Where a union exists, workers are provided with an opportunity to participate in determining the conditions under which they work , and an effective channel through which they can protest conditions they believe are unfair. Therefore, a union is not only a representative of the worker but also provides rules that define channels in which complaints and concerns of workers can be registered. Grievance procedures and right to third-party arbitration of disputes are example of practices that are typically defined and regulated as a result of union efforts.

1.1.4 Compulsory membership

Many labor agreements contain statements that are commonly referred to as union security arrangements to union importance brought about in terms of number and guaranteed income it is no wonder that such emphasis is placed on achieving a union security arrangement that best suits their goals. Such arrangements range from compulsory membership in the union to giving employees the freedom in choosing to join the union. The various type of union security arrangements the union shop, the agency shop, and the right to work shop, as well as some special provisions under the realm of union security arrangement.
The most powerful relationship legally available .to a union is a union shop. This arrangement stipulates that employers, is, all employees hired into positions covered under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement must, after a specified probationary period of typically 30 to 60 days. Join the union or forfeit their jobs.
An agreement that requires nonunion employees to pay the union sum of money equal to union fees and dues as a condition of continuing employment is referred to as an agency shop. This arrangement was designed as a compromise between the union’s desire to eliminate the “free rider” and management’s desire to make union membership voluntary. In such a case, if for whatever reason workers decide not to join the union (e.g. religious beliefs, values, etc), they still must pay dues. Because workers will receive the benefits negotiated by the union, they must pay their fair share. In early 1992, President George Bush extended the same rights to federal sector employees when he signed into law Executive order 12800. In Washington state, the effect of this act was quite evident as political use of union dues dropped from $ 40,000 in 1992 to $82 in 1996.
The least desirable form of union security from a union perspective is open shop. This is an arrangement in which joining a union is totally voluntary. Those who do not join are not required to pay union dues or any associated fees. For workers who do join, there is typically maintenance of membership clause in the existing contact that dictates certain provisions. Specifically, a maintenance of membership agreement states that should employees join the union, they are compelled to remain in the union for the duration of the existing contract. When the contract expires, most maintenance of membership agreements weeks in which employees may choose to withdraw their membership from the union with out penalty.
             A provision that often exists in union security arrangements is process called the dues check off. A dues check off occurs when the employer withholds union dues from the members’ pay checks. Similar to other pay withholdings, the employer collects the dues money and sends it to the union. There are number of reasons why employers provide this service, and a reason why the union would permit them to do so. Collecting dues takes time, so a dues check off. Reduces the downtime by eliminating the need for the shop steward to go around to collect dues. Furthermore, recognizing that union dues are the primary source of income for the union, having knowledge of how much money there is in the union treasury can provide management with some insight as to whether or not a union is financially strong enough to endure a strike (Bernstein & Griesing 34). Given these facts, why would a union agree to such a procedure? Simply, the answer lies in guaranteed revenues! By letting management deduct dues from member’s paycheck, the union is assured of receiving their monies. Excuses from members that they don’t have their money, or will pay next week, are eliminated!

1.1.5 Being upset with management

In spite of the reasons why employees join a union, there appears to one common factor management, especially the first line supervisor. If employees are upset with the way their supervisor handles problems, upset over how a coworker has been disciplined, and so on, they are likely to seek help from a union. In fact, it is reasonable to believe that when employees vote to unionize, it’s often a cote against their immediate supervisor rather than a vote in support of a particular union (Romano 16).

1.2 Context of the Problem

1.3 Legal Framework

            The legal framework for labor management relationships has played a crucial role in its development.

1.3.1 The Wagner Act

The national labor relations act of 1935, commonly referred to as the Wagner act, is the basic “bill of rights” for unions. This law guarantees workers the right to organize and join unions, to bargain collectively, and to act in concert to pursue their objectives. In term of labor relations, the Wagner act specifically requires employers to bargain in good faith over mandatory barraging issues wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.
The Wagner Act is cited as shifting the pendulum of power to favor unions for the first time in U.S. labor history. This was achieved, in part, though the establishment of the Notional Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This administrative body, consisting of five members appointed by the president of the United States, was given the responsibility for determining appropriate bargaining units, conducting election to determine union representation, and preventing or correcting employer actions that can lead to unfair labor practice charges. The NLRB, however, has only remedial and no punitive powers.
Unfair labor practices include any employer tactics that:
  • Interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of he rights to join unions and to bargain collectively;
  • Dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization; discriminate against anyone because of union activity;
  • Discharge or otherwise discriminate against any employees because he or she filed or gave testimony under Act; and
  • Refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives chosen by the employees.
     While the Wager act provided the legal recognition of unions as legitimate interest groups in American society , many employers too, failed to live up to the requirements of its provisions. That’s because employers reorganized that the Wagner Act didn’t provide protection for them from unfair union labor practices. Thus, the belief that the balance of power had swung too far to labor’s side, and the public outcry stemming from post World War II strikes, led to the passage of the Taft Hartley Act (Labor Management relations Act) in 1947.

1.3.2 The Taft Hartley Act

The major purpose of the Taft Hartley Act was to amend the Wagner act by addressing employers’ concerns in terms of specifying unfair union labor practices. Under section 8(b), Taft Hartley states that it is an unfair labor practice for unions to:
  • Restrain or coerce employees in joining the union, or coerce the employer in selecting bargaining or grievance representatives;
  • Discriminate against an employer to discriminate against an employee;
  • Refuse to bargain collectively;
  • Engage in strikes an boycotts for  purpose deemed illegal by the Act;
  • Charge excessive or discriminatory fees or dues under union shop contracts; and
  • Obtain compensation for service not performed or not to be performed.
In additional, Taft Hartley declared illegal one type of union security arrangement: the closed shop. Until Taft Hartley’s passage, the closed shop was dominant in labor contracts. The closed shop was an arrangement where a union “controlled” the so source of labor union, and sent to work for an employer by the union. In essences, the union acted as the clearing house of employees. When an employer needed a number of employees for whatever duration the employer would contact the union and requests that these employees start work. When the job was completed, and the employees were no longer needed on the job by employer, they were sent back to the union. By declaring the closed shop illegal, Taft Hartley began to shift the pendulum of power away from union. Furthermore, in doing, so the Act enabled states to enact laws that would further reduce compulsory union membership. Taft Hartley also included provisions that forbade secondary boycotts, and gave the president of the United States the power to issue an 80 days cooling off period when labor management disputes affect national security.
Whereas, the Wagner Act required only employer to bargain in good faith, Taft Hartley imposed the same obligation on unions. It is important to understand what is mean by “bargaining in good faith”. This does not mean that the parties must reach agreement, but rather that they must come to the bargaining table ready, willing, and able to meet and deal, open to proposals made by the other party, and with the intent to teach an mutually acceptable agreement.
Realizing that unions and employers might not reach agreement and that work stoppages might occur, Taft Hartley also created the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) as an independent agency separate from the department of labor. The FMCS‘s mission is to send a trained representative to assist in negotiations. Both employer and union have the responsibility to notify the FMCS when other attempts to settle the dispute have failed or contract expiration pending. An FMCS mediator is not empowered to force parties to reach an agreement, but he or she can use persuasion another means of diplomacy to help them reach their own resolution of differences. Finally, a fact worth noting was the amendment nor affords Taft Hartley coverage to for profit and non profit  hospital , as well as “ special provision for the health care industry, both profit and non profit, as to bargaining notice requirements and the right to picket or strike” (Feldacker 5)
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