Unions — Wherefore Art Thou??

According to the DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 12.5 percent of wage and salary workers were union members this year, unchanged from the year before. Union membership rate has continued its steady decline, from a high of over 20 percent in 1983.

Some additional tidbits:
— There are nearly 15.7 million union members
— Over 70% of all union members are public/government employees, including civil service, fire, police, teachers, etc.
— Private industry union membership remains less than 8%.
— Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
— Men were more likely than women to be union members.
— Workers in the public sector had a union membership rate more than
four times that of private-sector employees.

The largest numbers of union members lived in California (2.4 million) and New York (2.1 million). Just over half of all union members in the U.S. lived in six states — California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and New Jersey — though these states accounted for slightly less than one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

Texas, though having the second-largest number of employees, had less than one-fourth as many union members as New York, despite having nearly 1.5 million more wage and salary employees.

So, that’s all good, right???

Though unions are certainly weakening in private industry, don’t fall asleep at the wheel just yet. The news of their death has been a little exaggerated.

For instance: “Change to Win” is a new coalition of seven unions (UNITE HERE, Teamsters, Laborers, UFCW, United Farm Workers, Carpenters, and SEIU. The “Change to Win Federation” was created in late 2005 when those unions split from the AFL-CIO over disagreements in spending — the AFL-CIO was focusing on politics and legislation, while the newly-formed Federation believes the focus should be on grass-roots, aggressive organizing, via targeted corporate campaigns.

The Change to Win plan of attack created at their recent convention in Las Vegas calls for an unprecedented organizing campaign aimed at “core industries” of the member unions. The Change to Win unions already represent workers in each of these industries, and include:

** Transportation
** Distribution
** Retail
** Construction
** Leisure and hospitality
** Health care
** Property services
** Food production and processing

The Las Vegas gathering created local multi-union teams that will work together to increase union density in each of these “core” industries on a local or regional basis.

This “Change to Win Federation” also announced multiple targeted organizing drives at the convention. According to news reports, these priority campaigns included a company-wide corporate campaign led by the UFCW against a meat packing company to compel union recognition at a pork processing plant in North Carolina. The union has twice been rejected by the employees at that plant in NLRB-conducted secret ballot elections, and thus the union is reverting this time to the corporate campaign strategy to force “top-down” organizing.

New Tactics

Given free choice on union representation, exercised via secret ballot elections, employees reject unionization almost half the time. Because of this, unions have turned to a “less-friendly” approach, called the “corporate campaign.” Here, union organizers tries to pressure company executives to submit to the union’s demands. They attempt to force recognition via a “card check” instead of the normal election.

Get a load of this: One UNITE HERE union official dismissed the democratic election process spelled out by the NLRB, saying that “there’s no reason to subject the workers to an election.” Another union official actually said, “we don’t do elections.”

Incredible. Simply incredible.

So, “they could never convince me to accept union demands,” eh?? Some tactics they use include:

* Filing charges with the NLRB, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor (OSHA and wage-hour complaints), and other agencies that regulate the employer’s business.

* Filing class actions and other lawsuits alleging various trumped-up violations, discrimination, etc.

* Pressuring banks and other lenders, and others within the financial community, with threats of union boycotts against those lenders.

* Picketing at the homes, clubs, private gatherings and offices of corporate executives and board members.

* Purchasing stock and attending shareholder meetings to challenge top executives and board members regarding various policies.

It can get messy. As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Regardless of dirty tactics, unions will only work for strongholds where they believe they can effect publicly noticable change. We can immunize ourselves by simply managing. Manage your companies well, including proper oversight of policies, procedures, and practices that directly impact your employees. Remember that “details matter” to rank and file employees, and not every economic downturn or business cycle needs to be placed on their backs. It means remembering that almost 90% of your employees live paycheck-to-paycheck, so small percentages really do matter.

Pay attention and manage your business. Though I don’t subscribe to the axiom, “Companies get the unions they deserve,” I do believe that good managers can prevent unions — under any circumstances.

Stay focused…


Kevin Berchelmann

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