Labor unions in the United States were prompted into existence by economic and social impact of the industrial revolution (Maria, 23). At the national level, labor unions gained ground after the civil war. In 1880s, the knights of labor became very powerful, but ended due to ineffective leadership, poor organization, disagreements regarding goals, and opposition from government forces and employers. The American federation of labor, formed in 1886 provided a better and more viable option and combined several local unions. It led several major strikes and due to its perceived influence, it became a major political player mainly supporting democrats. In 1930s, the unions received a major boost from the New Deal policies that was formulated by Franklin Roosevelt. One of the specific acts that protected unions’ right to organize was called Wagner Act. Labor unions’ growth increased rapidly after the Second World War, but not without resistance from more conservative business interests who were supported by the Republican Party. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act was formulated to contain and weaken labor unions. The Act restricted labor unions from contributing financially to political parties and restricted them to engage in strikes with the pretext that the strikes were a threat to national security. In 1954, the number of workers in labor unions was at its peak (35%). In 1979, the total number of union members reached 21 million. However, the current number of workers in unions has declined to 14.8 million. The union workers helped its members to have a better bargain through negotiations with employers. Among issues that were facilitated by the unions are high wages to match the work done, benefits programs such as health care and pension plans.
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Today the labor unions in the United States are formed around two major national umbrella organizations known as the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial organizations (AFL-CIO) and the change to Win Federation (Richard, 65). The Change to Win Federation broke away from fro AFL-CIO. Currently, the two organizations play a big role in advocating for policies that favor workers welfare. AFL-CIO is mainly concerned with economic issues and global trade. The functioning and performance of private labor unions are governed by the national Labor Relations Act (NLRB), which is an independent federal body. On the other hand, the public sector labor unions are governed by both state and federal laws. The unions have worked to ensure that there is growth of wages and working conditions for their workers through negotiations with elected state and local officials. Regardless of whether the union is in the public or private sector, it has the mandate for negotiating conditions for employment for its members. In case conflicts related to contracts arise, the unions negotiate with the employers on behalf of the members involved in the dispute. I addition, when the negotiations with the employers fail to bear fruits, it is the responsibility of the labor unions to report the deadlock to an arbitrator to more intervention. Another role played by labor unions is representing its members in cases where the members are facing disciplinary cases waged against them by the management of their organizations. In the United States, trade unions play a major political role. Many of the trade unions have politically favored Democrats (Stanley, 1). This preference has resulted from the perception that democrats are in favor of policies that favor the trade unions. Labor union shave historically campaigned and voted in democratic presidents. Apart from voting for democrats, the labor unions contribute financially to the democratic campaigns. Moreover, due to the bulk of the work involved with political campaigns, volunteers play a great role in facilitating them. Labor unions have continuously volunteered to facilitate the democratic campaigns.
The existence of trade unions in the United States and whether they should be there is always controversial. Depending on the person exploring the issue of trade unions, there have been heated debates on whether the trade unions are helpful or detrimental to the economy and the welfare of the United States (Burgess, 102). For business owners, unions are viewed as a source of trouble and confrontation, which leads to negative financial implications. From the perspective of workers, unions provide them with a forum to defend their rights and advance their aspirations against capitalist investors with fewer considerations for the welfare of their workers.
There is justification by workers for their need for protection against exploitation by their employees. Moreover, they require favorable working conditions that are safe so that they can develop their careers and work life. However, there are events that have been caused by unions that have discredited the need to have such unions. The strength on many union workers has made many organizations very rigid. These organizations cannot effectively respond to changes in their environment nor can they be competitive. A good example of a corporation that has been affected negatively by trade unions is the General motors. This company was among the best performing automaker in the world in the 20th century. However, its current performance is at the edge of collapsing due to bankruptcy. Most of General Motors’ current and former employees belong to the united auto makers union. General Motors had committed itself to pay for health care benefits and health pensions for many of its retirees. This commitment was arrived at after the worker s’ union negotiated with general Motors. The economic conditions that prevailed then are totally different from those in the current world. All organizations have been hit hard by the recent recession experienced in the world. Such changes require flexibility so that the organizations can remain competitive. However, the retirees have refused to bulge on their demands for the bargains they had reached in the past through their union. The costs that the company is incurring due to these agreements are massive to the extent that it cannot afford to pay the retirees unless it collapses. The burden placed on general motors’ by the rigid retirees reduces its competitiveness among other auto makers who do have no such burdens to shoulders. Failure by the union representing General Motors workers to relax their terms against the company may lead to the company’s collapse, which will negatively affect the current employees and the auto making industry at large. This General motors’ case clearly shows that the demands put forward by unions undermines their legitimate reason for survival. Unions are supposed to fight for employees rights, but in a manner that considers current economic situations (Chaison, 33).
Changes in business models can have far reaching consequences on the profitability of an organization. When an organization is forced by circumstance to change its business model, then all other factors affected it should be reorganized to fit the new model. Many newspapers in the United States have highly unionized workers such as reporters, printers and truck drivers. The emergence of the internet has dramatically altered the business models of many newsrooms. The internet has taken over most of the business from newspapers. Print journalism is facing a crisis due to financial loses. Major dailies in the United States such as Rocky Mountain News have collapsed. Others such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Christian Science monitor and the San Francisco Chronicle are at the verge of collapse. If these news corporations collapse, there will be negative consequences on the economy and on individual employees and stakeholders. The main cause of difficult financial situation in News papers emerges from the demands the unionized workers put on the corporations that employ them. Despite the reduction in business volumes, the highly paid workers cannot accept to re-negotiate for lower benefits and salaries so that the companies can remain competitive and in existence.
In conclusion, unions are not good when they act on behalf of employees to ensure that they get good working conditions and relative compensation for their work. Moreover, it is indisputable that in a country made up of capitalists like America, there are high chances that employers might tend to exploit employees. For these reasons, labor unions are good and should be encouraged. However, their negative consequences sets in when they become a big force that is rigid. When labor unions fail to recognize the changing environments within which they operate, then they lose their legitimacy since their insensitivity to these changes undermines the good they yearn to achieve. For unions to be viewed with a favorable perception, they must act in manner that is sensitive to all players with regard to the prevailing conditions. These players include the employers, the industries within which their members work and the welfare of those they represent. Considering the prevailing economic conditions should ensure that the unions are reasonable in their demands so that corporations remain viable and in existence. As long as the labor unions remain insensitive to their immediate environment, the need to have them will be undermined.
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