Movement and Unionism Background and Brief History
Shorter workdays! Better working conditions! These famous words
echoed throughout the United States beginning in ?1790 with the
skilled craftsmen? (Dessler, 1997, p. 544). For the last two-hundred
years, workers of all trades have been fighting for their rights and
?seeking methods of improving their living standards, working
conditions, and job security? (Boone, 1996,p.287). As time went by,
these individuals came to the conclusion that if they work together
collectively, they would grow stronger to get responses to their
demands. This inspired into what we know today as labor unions. ?A
labor union is an organized group of workers whose purpose is to
increase wages and influence other job conditions for its members?
unions can be divided into two types: craft unions and industrial
unions (World, 1998). A craft union is ?a union whose membership is
restricted to workers who possess an identifiable skill? (Robinson,
1985,p. 69). These members tend to be better educated and trained,
and more unified because of common interests (World, 1998). An
example of a craft union is the United Food and Commercial Workers
International Union (World, 1998). On the other hand, an
industrialized union ?is a group of workers who have a variety of
skills and job types but work for the same industry? (Parkin, 1998,
p. 344). Unions of this type include the United Steelworkers, United
Auto Workers, and the United Transportation Union (Boone, 1996).
History from the
1870?s to 1900?s. The first national union founded in Philadelphia in
1869 in the pre-Civil War period was the Knights of Labor, which
?intended to include all workers? (Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 630). For a
decade, this organization grew at a slow pace due to operating in
secrecy until the failure of railroad strikes that increased
membership to over 700,000 in 1886 (Robinson, 1985). Their advance
and efforts had persuaded legislation to enact the following laws:
?abolition of convict-made goods, establishment of bureaus of labor
statistics, and prohibition of the importation of European labor
under contract? (Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 630).
In 1890, the
Knights of Labor membership had declined to only 100,000 members and
the number of members continued to decline and eventually
disappeared. The decline is said to have been a result of ?inadequate
national leadership, opposition from existing craft unions, and the
loss of major strikes in meat packing and railroads in 1886 and 1887?
(Robinson, 1985, p. 57).
1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was formed in Columbus,
Ohio. The AFL was originally named the Federated Organization of
Trades and Labor Union back in 1881. The AFL was a ?national union
made up of affiliated, individual craft unions? (Boone, 1996, p.
288). The first president of the AFL was Samuel Gompers. On the
contrary to the Knights of Labor, Gompers? focus was to raise
day-to-day wages, and continue to improve the working conditions
(Dessler, 1997). After the formation of the AFL, the period included
significant developments. In the early 1890?s, the United Mine
Workers was formed, becoming the first major United States
industrialized union (Robinson, 1985). In addition, a significant
defeat occurred in organized labor. The defeat is known as the strike
at Homestead, Pennsylvania. The ?Amalgamated Association of Iron,
Steel, and Tin Workers was eliminated from the steel industry?
(Robinson, 1985, p. 58).
1905 to 1920. In 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
challenged the AFL, prior to the depression of the 1930?s. The IWW
invited the unskilled and semiskilled workers that the AFL had denied
and was a success from 1910 to 1915 (Encyclopedia, 1996). The results
of this had decreased the AFL membership for a short period of time,
but they fought back by bringing unskilled workers into the craft
unions (Encyclopedia, 1996). The IWW had disappeared by the middle of
World War I.
During World War
I, membership of unions had increased– particularly those
?industries involved in war production? (Robinson, 1985, p. 60). This
success was due to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. While being
president, Wilson made sure that government contractors favored
unions and collective bargaining, and he made sure that railroads
were operated by the executive federal branch (Robinson, 1985). In
addition, President Woodrow Wilson is responsible for the
labor-management conference of 1918 which resulted in the National
War Labor Board (Robinson, 1985). The significance was a decrease in
strike activity that was a result to ?labor reaction to rising
inflation of 1917? (Robinson, 1985, p. 60). The 1920?s and post war
was a time of continuous improvement.
1929 to 1940. In 1929, the Great Depression began leaving millions
jobless (World, 1998). Prior to 1929, business executives were seen
as leaders and union members were referred to as ?dangerous radicals?
(World, 1998, p.12). However, this changed when Americans saw that
these businesses could not beat out the depression and they started
to favor the union (World, 1998). Then in 1932, the Norris-LaGuardia
Act was passed in favor of labor unions. This act protected unions by
decreasing management?s ability to obtain a court injunction to stop
union activities (Boone, 1996). Before the passing of this act,
employers could easily get an injunction to stop strikes, picketing,
and membership drives (Boone, 1996). In addition, the
Norris-LaGuardia Act also guaranteed each employee the right to
bargain collectively ?free from interference, restraint, or coercion?
(Dessler, 1997, p.549).
Also in 1935,
the Committee for Industrialized Organization (CIO) was formed. This
organization is made up of individual industrial unions and focused
on industries as a whole (Boone, 1996). The CIO became successful and
challenged the AFL.
1941 to 1950. In 1941, the United States entered World War II and
union membership increased. Even though the government did not allow
wage increases during this time, it did grant benefits. These
benefits included paid vacations and holidays, company-financed
hospital insurance, and retirement pensions (World, 1998). At the end
of World War II in 1945, the United States experienced the most
economic growth in history that it had seen(World, 1998). Also during
this period, the employment of blacks and their union membership in
the CIO increased. The result of this increase in membership of the
CIO caused greater friction between them and the AFL because of the
CIO?s open policy (Robinson, 1985).
In the years
after the war, wartime regulations were lifted and unions started to
fight for lack of wages during the war (Encyclopedia, 1996). Their
first approach to acquire these lost wages were nationwide strikes.
The effort of these employees led to the Taft-Hartley Act (Labor
?Management Relations Act) in 1947 (Encyclopedia, 1996). According to
Dessler (1997), this act prohibited union unfair labor practices and
lists the rights of employees as union members and rights of
1951 to 1960. Several years later Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected
president and the Republican party began taking control over congress
(Encyclopedia, 1996). At this point in time, the AFL and CIO were
seen as enemies but had moved closer together. Their first move in
coming together was in the ?promotion of the Marshall Plan to assist
the rebuilding of Europe? (Robinson, 1985, p.64). Secondly, they
began to cooperate in favor of forming the United Labor Policy during
the Korean War (Robinson, 1985). Then, in February 1955, the American
Federation of Labor and the Committee of Industrialized Organization
merged together and became the AFL-CIO (Encyclopedia, 1996).
In 1957, there
was suspicion that there was something going on among our labor
leaders (World, 1985). After an investigation was completed by a
committed led by Senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas, they found
that the officials of the Teamster Union took union funds for their
own use and had also be linked to organized crime (World, 1985). This
particular incident led to the passing of the Landrum-Griffin Act
(Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act) of 1959 (World,
Landrum-Griffin Act was ??aimed at protecting union members from
possible wrongdoing on the part of their unions? and is also
considered an ?amendment to the National Labor Relations (Wagner)
Act? (Dessler, 1997, p.552). This act required all unions to hold
regular and scheduled elections of the union officers all by secret
ballot and also must set a bill of rights for its members (Boone,
1996). This bill of rights was in response to Senator John F. Kennedy
of Massachusetts. Its main purpose was ?guaranteed freedom of speech,
control over union dues, and other rights? (World, 1998, p.13). In
addition, all unions must report and submit financial information to
the United States Secretary of Labor (Boone, 1996).
1960 to 1980. Throughout the 1960?s and 1970?s, we experienced trends
that are contrary to what the United States had previously undergone.
These trends involved federal, state, and local government employees;
healthcare employees; and employees in higher education (Robinson,
The rapid growth
of these public employees resulted from the following. The sources of
rapid growth were an increase in willingness to join unions,
transformation of unions to types of organizations with more of a
traditional focus on collective bargaining, and lastly, an overall
increase in public employees (Robinson, 1985). This trend of public
employees joining unions is an upward trend in total union
collective bargaining in healthcare dates back to the 1920?s, there
was no significance until the 1970?s. The National Labor Relations
Act of 1935 included healthcare employees and then the National Labor
Relations Board withdrew the idea to include these employees
(Robinson, 1985). Then in 1947, the Labor-Management Relations Act of
1935 removed healthcare workers from coverage and provided special
procedures (Robinson, 1985) to resolve labor disputes.
In respect to
higher education, union organization reached four-year college and
university level in the 1960?s (Robinson, 1985). By the late 1970?s,
thirty percent of all four-year public institutions had some type of
collected bargaining agreement (Robinson, 1985).
Up to this point
we have discussed, in brief, the history of labor unions; how they
originated, and laws and acts that have passed. As a result, we have
seen American labor membership increase up until the 1950?s, and it
has decreased ever since (attachment 1). Now, the timeline leads us
to the present?1980?s to today. The next section will discuss the
current status of labor unions; causes of the membership decline that
began in the mid- 1950?s; defensive strategies against the decline;
and the predicted fate of labor unions in the future.
Unionism ?1980 to Present?and Why the Decline?
Kirkland taking over the role of AFL-CIO president in 1979, union
supporters were hopeful that the decline in membership would cease.
However, the rate of member loss only increased. Catalyst to this may
have occurred in 1981 when President Reagan fired federal air traffic
control workers who had gone on strike. This decision made it more
difficult for union leaders to gain leverage since their striking
tool lost some of its effectiveness. Furthermore, it was perceived
that the labor movement became divided between union leaders striving
for cooperation with employers against outsourcing while others were
aggressive in defending their union members (Bernstein, 1995).
were marked as a ?growing period? of white-collar representation in
unions since the number of blue-collar workers was decreasing. Loss
of blue collar workers threatened a reduction in bargaining power so
leaders realized that they needed to expand unionism by targeting
white-collar workers, whose numbers were on the rise in the workforce
of this time period was a rapid growth of government unions. As laws
were being passed that allowed organization, elementary, and
secondary education teachers, college professors, and federal
employees joined unions. Many large, public unions were started, such
as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees,
the American federation of Teachers, and the National Education
Association (Robinson, 1985).
labor, the future of the labor movement still looked bleak at the
start of the nineties. In 1995, Kirkland insisted he would run for
re-election regardless of urges not to. Ultimately, he resigned in
August. In October, John J. Sweeney, president of the Service
Employees International Union, was elected as AFL-CIO president
The Decline in
Union Membership?Trends and Statistics. As previously discussed,
since the beginning of organized labor, unionism has experienced
fluctuations over the years. A general tendency toward increased
union membership occurred up until the middle 1950?s after which time
a steady decrease was seen (attachment 1). Zooming in on the past two
decades, the drop continued at a slightly faster rate, decreasing 6.2
percent which brought enrollment to its lowest level since the 1930?s
(Gamboa, 1999). The U.S. Department of Labor reported that 13.9% of
American workers were unionized in 1998 as compared to the 35% high
of the 1950?s (Gamboa, 1999). Recent data suggest that union density
has been trying to plateau during the late 1990?s (Whitford, 1998).
Attitudes Toward Unionism. With the consistent decrease in union
membership, what are American?s thoughts on today?s role of unions in
the labor force? Data compiled by the Labor Research Association
(LRA) in January of 1999 shows that 56.1% of voters feel that unions
still benefit the U.S. while less than one third felt that unions are
now a detriment (Majority Thinks, 1999). In 1995, this same pole
showed a 49% preference for unions; therefore, over the last four
years, union popularity has increased by seven percent, according to
found that attitudes are not split as optimistically. Data from a
1998 study found that about half (48%) of the people asked felt that
unions are no longer necessary in today?s American society.
Furthermore, one in five of the sample population taking part in this
survey were union members, and of these, 25% agreed that unions are
no longer important (American Labor, 1998). The disparity in
conclusions between these reports only begins to show the uncertainty
facing the labor movement.
From Unions? Before accounting for the decline in union enrollment,
it suffices to consider who is impacted by today?s unions? Literature
is consistent in that members of strong unions tend to make more
money and receive better benefits than non-union workers in the same
jobs (Dessler, 1997). While unions generally protect all of its
members, certain socioeconomic groups reap even greater benefits than
In Ohio for
example, workers in lower-paying jobs, minorities, and women that are
enrolled in unions receive pay that more significantly closes the
gaps in compensation between: the non-educated and educated; women
and men; and African Americans and Caucasians than do their nonunion
equivalents (Gamboa, 1999). Median earnings of non-union Ohioans
without and with high school diplomas in 1997 were $6.50 per hour and
$8.75 per hour, respectively. A union member without a diploma,
however, received $11.20 per hour (Gamboa, 1999).
data are similar for non-union and union women as compared to men,
and non-union. Where union males made $2.50 per hour (median) more
than non-union males in same jobs, union women made $3.50 per hour
more than non-union females (Gamboa, 1999), and so on for African
Americans versus Caucasians. Furthermore, union membership
compliments higher wages for these affected classes with increased
job security and with more equal and fair treatment than those not in
unions (American Labor, 1998). In general, Unions assist women and
minorities more significantly than they do white males.
What Caused the
Decline? Since the beginning of organized labor, the work place has
changed in accordance with the changes in society, thus affecting the
role of American labor unions. The decline over the years can be
attributed to many debated factors?too numerous to mention all of
them. Some point at changes in the economy and demographics while
others point to changes in managerial styles, the national political
climate, or AFL-CIO leadership, itself. One thing is likely. The
decline was a result of many independent and interdependent
factors?both external and internal to Unionism.
Economy. Union membership has historically been highest in
government, transportation, construction, and manufacturing sectors
and low in such industries as wholesale, retail, finance and
services. Over the years, more significant growth has been seen in
the latter type jobs as opposed to the former types (American Labor,
1998). For example, those entering the workforce that in the past
might have joined the unionized governmental arena were instead
choosing industries where unions were not as influential.
Incidentally, the downsizing of government jobs has also caused union
membership to fall (Walters, 1999).
the global economy and globalization as problematic, as well
(Whitford, 1998). The fact that U.S. companies are outsourcing to
save money hurts the country?s economy in the long run. Such tactics
rival union efforts to increase job security. As employees lose their
jobs in the automobile industry, for example, unions lose
memberships. An outstanding example of this issue resides in the
United Auto Workers (UAW) concern with Mexican auto industry.
The UAW?s quest
to keep employment up in jobs related to the auto industry is being
challenged by Mexican companies that provide automobiles and parts to
U.S. companies like the General Motors Corporation (GM). U.S.
companies, including GM, began to outsource when they found they
could obtain parts and vehicles for less cost than they could by
supplying their own which, of course, raised their profits. Now,
money-hungry corporations are needing fewer American resources so
plants are being shut down, and people are losing their jobs.
In the case of
Mexico, the problem is only growing as Mexican companies gain
experience, knowledge and revenue and, as a result, increasingly
offer more specialized, higher-tech auto parts. A Business Week
article states, ?Mexico now exports $19.2 billion in autos and
parts?up from only $7.2 billion five years ago, and it already
exports close to one million vehicles, almost all to the U.S. (Smith,
1998, p. 37).? Coupling this with the outsourcing occurring in
different industries, the impact of the Mexican auto industry can be
even more devastating to union membership than it already has.
Leadership. Since 1980, three U.S. presidents have had their impacts
on labor. During the Reagan administration, trade unions were hurt by
outcomes of the 1981 air traffic controller?s strike, as previously
mentioned. Reagan fired the strikers, and as a result, unions?
striking tool lost some of its power and harmed public opinion toward
unions. Furthermore, there were perceptions that Reagan?s National
Relations Board (NLRB), a committee organized under the NLRA,
practiced ?pro-manager? tendencies (Pollock, 1985).
only resided for one term, he accomplished plenty in the eyes of
labor. For example, Bush signed three executive orders that hurt
implemented the 1988 Supreme Court decision in ?Communications
Workers of America Vs. Beck? which allowed union members to retrieve
any dues that went toward political actions,
2) Bush freed
contractors from the pro-union Davis Bacon Act after Hurricane Andrew
which had made contractors pay union-wages,
agreements? became illegal which in the past excluded non-union
contractors from working on major, federal, public jobs (Frum, 1993).
had its hopes up when a democratic president took office. Democrats
are typically known for ?embracing organized labor? unlike
republicans (Wojcik, 1992, p. 25). Clinton?s promises fell short;
however, likely due to his largely republican Congress. Furthermore,
under the Clinton administration, the 1994 North American Free Trade
agreement was passed which will progressively remove tariffs off of
auto and auto part imports (Smith, 1998). The implication of this
compounds unions? battles against outsourcing as previously
Demographics. The fact that demographics of American society have
changed, poses a third potential cause for the decline (American
Labor, 1998). It is no secret that the economy has become more
service driven and increasingly less product driven. Associated with
this is an increase in the quantity of professionals in the workforce
today as compared to decades past. Census Bureau data shows that
today?s workforce is approximately 26% college graduates while in
1960 this figure was less than 10% (American Labor, 1998). In
addition, more people are making more money. The percentage of
workers in the $75,000 income bracket (inflation adjusted) has
doubled since 1970 (American Labor, 1998). Professionals with high
incomes tend not to participate in unions; however, this trend may be
changing as will be discussed later.
Management Philosophy. Looking at the history of management
development can shed some light on yet another possible cause. The
well-known Hawthorne studies resulted in a change in management
approach that has been evolving for many years. These studies found
that productivity not only depended on the scientific approach to
optimizing production, but factors inherent in the workers could
increase productivity, as well. Hence, the birth of the ?human
relatedness? approach to management occurred.
management theories like McGregor?s Theory Y management style
(Rakich, 1996) and recent continuous quality improvement philosophies
taught by Deming, Juran and the like (Rakich, 1996), a focus on more
human and productive relationships between the employee and employer
has emerged. The perception has been that collective bargaining is no
longer needed since the ?factory-line? approach to management has
been de-emphasized and a more positive, employee-empowering
atmosphere is taking its place (American Labor, 1998).
Related to this
idea are the attitudes that people have regarding organized labor. In
light of the changing work environment, employees may be more
apprehensive to scuff their ?new bonds? with employers by associating
with unions. Furthermore, results of American surveys suggested in
1985 that union leaders were ranked last among different types of
leaders (i.e. business, religious, government, etc.) in having
positive impacts on the U.S. (Robinson, 1985). The author of this
resource stated, ??a large percentage of the general public regard
union leaders and their goals with, at best, suspicion and perhaps
hostility? (Robinson, 1985, p. 81).
Factors? Lane Kirkland. The topics mentioned thus far have been
forces external to organized labor that are perceived to have led to
its decline in the United States. However, what internal factors
adversely impacted organized labor within the last 20 years? More
specifically, what strategies did John Sweeney?s predecessor, Lane
Kirkland, possibly follow that may have perpetuated the decline?
Kirkland?s 15 ? year reign as AFL-CIO began in 1979 and expired in
1995 when he resigned. During that time, the drop in union membership
continued its steady decline. While Kirkland was not solely blamed
for the decline, environmental factors played larger roles, the
general attitude was that Kirkland?s strategies to fix the problem
and his leadership were weak (Bernstein, 1995).
that Kirkland failed as a leader. Kirkland was thought of as
unfocused and had no plan to revive unions. Since he seemed removed
from domestic union problems, he reinforced the false idea that union
leaders across the board were far removed from their union members?a
public image that discouraged potential union candidates. According
to Bernstein, Kirkland ??shunned TV interviews and spoke in endless
Proustian sentences? (1995, p. 44).
Kirkland?s priorities were questionable since he tended to focus
efforts on foreign issues instead of concentrating on U.S. labor
issues. The Newsweek article recalls that he would spend $100 million
of the annual budget in support of labor unions in other countries,
and that he would ??spend an extraordinary amount of time dealing
with Eastern Europe while we were going to hell in a handbasket?
(Bernstein, 1995, p. 44).
The union leader
was further criticized for idly waiting for a democratic president to
take office, and once one did, the AFL-CIO leader idly waited for
Clinton?s promises to materialize? which never did. Although
subjective, it appears that Lane Kirkland?s weak leadership is worth
adding to the list of possible causes that decreased membership over
the eighties and early half of the nineties. Today, what is being
done by Sweeney and others to reverse the trend?
It has been said
that the labor movement in this country is very decentralized, and
the success of unions depends largely on happenings of individual
unions at the national, and especially the local level (Milkman,
1998). This being as it is, how can any one person or group reverse
the seemingly out of control land slide that unions seem(ed) to be
on? In the decade of the nineties, unions have been done in by many
factors, one being poor leadership.
Kirkland had a lot to do with the downfall as earlier mentioned. Many
point back to Kirkland?s failure to mount a strong labor challenge to
NAFTA and GATT, and numerous inside games with the White House as the
source of his ultimate undoing (Cooper, 1995). Many union members saw
the loss of labor?s clout along with failure after failure to pass
labor favoring legislation and ultimately asked for Kirkland?s
resignation in 1995. It seemed Mr. Kirkland wanted to rest on his
laurels and just take the status quo, not trying to right the ship in
A New Era. Enter
John Sweeney. Sweeney was elected president of the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU) in 1980 and served four terms. At a time
when unions were declining, the SEIU doubled its membership to 1.1
million. The primary reason behind this surge in membership was
Sweeney?s organizing tactics and abilities among low paid service
employees, especially among women and minorities (John Sweeney to
receive?, April, 1999). This was a welcomed change to the old
stereotype of the prototypical union member being mostly older white
males. Mr. Sweeney obviously had the background and accomplishments
to stand on. His lofty campaign promises won over voters, and he was
elected in 1995.
success. The main thing that Sweeney wanted to accomplish now that he
was running the AFL-CIO was, and still is, to focus efforts on union
organizing. Sweeney has increased spending on organizing efforts from
5% of the budget to 30% ($20 million) of the budget since he has
taken over. This number is much greater than the 3% on average that
unions spend on organizing. Employers today spend much more money on
trying to crush organizing plans than they did even a decade ago.
Given this, Sweeney has called on all unions to keep pace and spend
more on organizing (AFL-CIO sets aside?, 1999).
called on members to give less to political parties and more to the
organizing effort, hoping that registering a target of 4 million new
union family voters will restore labor?s political clout (Germond &
Witcover, 1997). Besides devoting more money to where it needs to go,
Sweeney is also taking steps to appeal to minorities and women. He
increased the AFL-CIO Executive council to 54 members, up from 35
members. In doing that, he named many women and minorities, expanding
their share on the Executive Council from 17% to 27%.
reaching to women and minorities, he is reaching to young people. His
administration recruited over a thousand young adults to ?Union
Summer? internship programs where they developed skills and expertise
on issues relating to labor (Milkman, 1998). Couple that with $40
million spent on new ?feel good? commercials aimed at improving the
looks of unions to the general public (Zapenski, 1997), and Mr.
Sweeney seems to be doing al
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