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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

 

"The Limits of Solidarity"

In the current edition of The Economist there is an article discussing the decline of unions in America as well as legislation and legal battles questioning aspects regarding the formation of unions and how much power they should possess. The National Labor Relations Board (the politically appointed body that interprets American labor law) is about to rule on the 'Kentucky River' cases. The findings of this decision will determine which jobs may be classified as 'supervisory'-"supervisors do not have a legal right to collective bargaining (this) would broaden the range of jobs deemed supervisory (which) reduces the pool of workers who can be unionized." The consensus seems to be the rulings will be bad for unionists because "8 million people could lose the right to organize" according to the AFL-CIO. Of that unions could loose up to "2 million existing members or 13% of current membership."

Unions are fighting back with the Employee Free Choice Act which would "stiffen punishments for employers who intimidate workers trying to form a union; mandate third-party arbitration and unions if bosses cannot agree on a contract; and it would get rid of secret ballots as a prerequisite for union recognition." Unions propose a "card-check" system which requires employers to accept unions if a majority of their employees say they want one. The argument for the card-check system is problematic because it opens up the door to intimidation, bribery, and coercion by both employers and unionists. Public opinion is not conceding this problem so unions are turning to "corporate campaigns designed to pressure firms into allowing unionization by card check." They have already accomplished this goal with Cingular Wireless and Unite Here by publicly attacking the firms.

Despite the success of unionists in limited areas union membership is still on the decline. Which is partially the result of the unions ability to provide the same reliable incentives to workers as it was previously able to- "Unions can no longer protect against job losses, as Detroit's carworkers know only too well." In addition the ability of private firms to provide the same services as unions has also had a negative impact on membership. "Sophisticated human resource departments now allow employers to replicate many of the unions' traditional functions such as dealing with workers grievances."

I am against the restriction of individuals ability to be able to form and participate in any group they wish as long as it does not cause harm to someone else. However, sense unions have the coercive force of government behind them, they are more of a hindrance to the market and to those very individuals that are participating in them. When unions force wages to increase, it has to be paid for, the money has to come from somewhere. If the wages are increased in service industries, the price would be passed on the the consumer which would presumably hurt the disadvantaged. Americans seem to be understanding this phenomenon "the share of American workers carrying union cards has plunged from over 20% in 1980 to under 13% in 2005." In America, membership in unions is decreasing which seems to be a global trend across many wealthy countries.

Comments:
Mandy,

Your post doesn't have a working link to the article you refer to, so I can't really check on my own for how I think we might apply Olson's theory.

One thing I do react to in your discussion is when you note the supervisors don't have a legal right to collective bargaining. I suspect this is not correct. Everyone has a right to voluntarily form a group, and a group may attempt to do all sorts of things, one of which would be to bargain collectively with an employer or employers. I would be surprised if government had made it illegal for supervisors to form a group for such purposes. . . but perhaps.

Instead, I think what is meant is that supervisors do not have the coercive power of government behind them to force employers into collective bargaining.
 
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