The Recession Opens the Door for Organized Labor
Workers have been hammered by cutbacks; if companies don’t address the needs and expectations of employees, they will look to third-party support. Pro or con?
Pro: Employees Are on the Tipping Point
Almost 3 in 4 employees say the economy has affected their career in the past two years, according to a recent Glassdoor.com Employment Confidence Survey. In the past six months alone, 57 percent of workers reported reduced pay. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 is making less money than he or she has historically. Employees are also taking on more work without receiving additional compensation or advancement. Many feel stuck in their current positions because of the dire job market.
So what’s the message to employees? Keep working hard, do more for less, and stay put. How much more pressure without reward can employees take? An outside advocate is likely to step in and become an attractive option for employees.
The unionization of America the first time around happened because of bad working conditions and maltreatment. Many of the same underlying issues resonate today. Contemporized, more sophisticated unions can use their experience to unite employees to negotiate pay increases, more reasonable hours, better working conditions, and greater job security.
Companies and their human resources departments have long lost the skills of union avoidance and could be caught flat-footed. If the Card Check Bill—officially known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which would change how unions can organize workers—passes, watch out!
Without swift and direct attention from employers, we may see the organizing of the workforce like we have never before.
Con: Employees Will Stand on Their Own Two Feet
In a tough economy, it makes sense that unhappy workers would band together in collective bargaining units to add heft to their negotiations with employers. But we’re not seeing that happening. If downtrodden retail workers, the ones that labor unions have been trying mightily to organize for the past 20 years, haven’t jumped on board, we’re not likely to see white-collar office types rushing to sign union cards anytime soon.
In a knowledge economy, negotiating en masse for pay and benefits makes less sense than ever. In a knowledge economy, the one-on-one, "hub and spoke" relationship between each employee and his or her manager becomes more important than a one-size-fits-all agreement between a team and its bosses. Perhaps that’s why white-collar employees have been shunning union organizing efforts in droves for decades.
As difficult as the job market is, and as stingily as employers have been in forking over pay raises or other rewards lately, most employees prefer striking their own deals to casting their lot with organized labor. That’s why union membership is at its lowest point in decades, if not ever. With the country’s manufacturing base heading overseas, American labor unions may well become a thing of the past.