A labor union is as defined in the dictionary, an organization of wage earners formed for the purpose of serving the members' interests with respect to wages and working conditions. Today there are about 16 million workers in the U.S. that belong to a labor union. The pressure upon the employers to raise wages and improve working conditions in a major goal of the labor unions.
Labor unions have been around for a long time. The earlier unions were called craft unions, consisting of only a couple members who worked in the same craft. The way unions negotiate for an employment contract is by collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is negotiation between the representatives of organized workers and their employer or employers to determine wages, hours, rules, and working conditions. When in collective bargaining, the unions represent its members in negotiations rather than have each worker negotiate individually with an employer.
In order for the collective bargaining process can start a union shop must be organized. A union shop is a business or industrial establishment whose employees are required to be union members or to agree to join the union within a specified time after being hired. Once a union shop is formed the union will look to negotiate a labor contract, which is a written agreement between the employer and the union representing employees. The labor contract sets the conditions of employment.
Although many union contracts are worked out through collective bargaining, there are times when this process fails to bring agreement between the union and management. In looking to achieve the union’s goals, labor unions may use a variety of tactics. For example: striking, picketing, boycotting, slowdown, and in some cases illegal methods.
A strike is when workers stop working for the purpose of gaining concessions from management. Strike is labor’s most powerful weapon because of the financial loss imposed upon the employer. The downfall to a strike is that is that it also costs participating workers a loss in income. Picketing is similar to a strike; it takes place when workers march outside a business carrying signs. The main objective of picketing is to discourage workers from entering the workplace. A union boycott is a refusal to buy services or goods from a business whose workers are on strike. Unions tell their members to tell their friends and family to boycott the products of the company. Unions also try to get the general public involved and support their cause. When there is a boycott on a certain brand name the boycott is called a “primary boycott”. If there is a boycott on a store because they sell a certain brand name this is called a “secondary boycott”. A slowdown is when workers, on purpose, decrease their output in order to force concessions from their employer. Because the workers are not on strike workers can still collect their pay. Some Unions have resorted to tactics that are illegal. There are three main tactics. The first on is secondary boycott, which has been discussed previously. The second is strong-arm methods were unions hire thugs to force management into accepting the union demands. The third method is called jurisdictional strike is one caused by dispute between two unions over which one can represent certain workers.
Management sometime will put pressure on unions when there is a breakdown in labor-management negotiations. Some important management tactics are lockouts, injunctions, and strikebreakers. Lockout happens when management shuts down a workplace in hope of bringing the workers to the companies’ terms. Sometimes a court will issue an injunction to halt a strike. Injunctions are very uncommon. Strikebreakers occur when management hire new people to replace the people that are on strike. Strikebreaking, in my opinion is the best way to handle a strike. If people don’t want to work they shouldn’t.
There are peaceful ways decisions can be solved without strikes or lockouts. For example: fact-finding, mediation, and arbitration. When there are labor disputes, the government might assign a “fact-finding board”. This board investigates the problem and suggests a solution. In mediation a third party is brought in to analyze the situation and offers a solution. In the arbitration method of settling labor problems a third party is brought in and the management and Union must abide by the solution as set by the third party.
“What is a Labor Union?”
Antell, Gerson. Economics: Institutions and Analysis. New York. ASP, 1997
The World Book Encyclopedia, World Book L 12. U.S.A., 1998
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