Labor Unions Essay
Labor Unions and the Dynamics of Race in Unions
Labor unions have been in America for a very long time. There are many unions in a myriad of different fields. Labor unions were and are used to allow for equal treatment of workers. Employers always want to maximize their profits and they try to give the least to get the most in return. For reasons such as this is why unions were formed. Generally a union boss is appointed or hired to protect the rights and privileges of the employees. The union boss is generally very representative of the demographics of the workers. The leader of the employees needs to know what they want and what is fair for them and this is why he tends to represent one type of work force, such as the teachers union. This type of representation is made easier when most of the workers come from the same background. Background meaning family size, education, race, etc. Labor unions have helped shape the American work force, as have the backgrounds of the men and women who have worked in them. America was founded on diversity and the freedom to choose. Many different backgrounds have found their way into America and labor unions. As stated earlier, labor unions have people of the same background in them. America’s first settlers were generally of the same background and because of that, so were the members of the first labor unions. As the United States expanded so did the work force and the diversity in it. Diversity and understanding the challenges and benefits is what enables America to be great. In the pages of this paper we are going to look at the change in the make-up of labor unions by the entrance of African-Americans and how they have influenced America and the labor unions for the better. This paper is and expansions on my paper “A Shield Against the Power of Industrial Capitalism”.
In my paper I examined an article by Alexander Saxton. In his writing he discussed the formation of unions in the Alabama coalfields. The make up of the coal unions were very similar to the make-up of America and unions today. This was very peculiar to have such a conglomeration of workers because of the racial sentiment amongst the races of that day. The workers in the coalfields had the same background generally, except for their racial roots. These miners were brought together as the title of the article states, to protect them from the power of industrial capitalism. These men did not want to interact with one another except through the confines of work. Saxton stated that they lived in tent cities and that the blacks lived in one section of the city and the whites lived in another. This type of behavior confirms their disdain one for another, but the fact they formed unions together showed their need for one another as well. This dependency one for another was shown in their unity of union even in defeat to the owners of the coalfields. These men would...
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Thanks to labor unions, wages have improved, the workweek is shorter and the workplace is safer.
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However, employers sometimes complain that unions are harmful to business and to the economy. From an employee standpoint, is being a union member beneficial? Here are some pros and cons of union jobs.
The Pros of Belonging to a Union
Better wages. The median weekly income of full-time wage and salary workers who were union members in 2010 was $917, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For nonunion workers, it was $717.
More access to benefits. Some 93% of unionized workers were entitled to medical benefits compared to 69% of their nonunion peers, according to the National Compensation Survey published last year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey represented about 101 million private industry workers and 19 million state and local government employees.
Unmarried domestic partners -- same sex and opposite sex -- also had access more often to these benefits if they were unionized. Workers with union representation also had 89% of their health insurance premiums paid by their employer for single coverage and 82% for family coverage. For nonunion workers, the comparable numbers were 79% and 66%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And 93% of unionized workers have access to retirement benefits through employers compared to 64% of their nonunion counterparts.
Job security. Nonunion employees are typically hired "at will," meaning they can be fired for no reason. There are exceptions. Employers can't terminate a worker for discriminatory reasons such as race, religion, age and the like. Nor can they fire an at-will employee for being a whistleblower and certain other reasons.
However, workers with union jobs can only be terminated for "just cause," and the misconduct must be serious enough to merit such action. Before an employee can actually be fired, he or she can go through a grievance procedure, and if necessary, arbitration.
"If I know I can't be easily fired, I can speak up more freely," says Monica Bielski Boris, assistant professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois.
Strength in numbers. Unionized workers have more power as a cohesive group than by acting individually. "What you gain is the muscle of collective action," says Hoyt Wheeler, a professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina who is now a labor arbitrator. Through collective bargaining, workers negotiate wages, health and safety issues, benefits, and working conditions with management via their union.
Seniority. Rules differ among collective bargaining agreements, but in the event of layoffs, employers usually are required to dismiss the most recent hires first and those with the most seniority last -- sometimes called "last hired, first fired."
In some cases, a worker with a union job who has more seniority may receive preference for an open job. Seniority also can be a factor in determining who gets a promotion. The idea is that seniority eliminates favoritism in the workplace.
"The chief advantage of seniority is it is objective," Wheeler says.
The Drawbacks of a Union Work Life
Union dues and initiation fees. Dues can range from $200 to several hundred dollars per year, partially offsetting higher wages. Some unions also require a one-time initiation fee. Dues help the union pay for officials' salaries and conducting union business, but members sometimes complain about the amount they pay, how the money is spent, and how it is allocated between the national and local union.
Loss of autonomy. The flip side of job security is that union members sacrifice individuality by belonging to a group. You may disagree with the union's decisions, but you are bound by them.
"It's a trade-off," Bielski Boris says.
Less collaborative work environment. Unionized workers experience less of a sense of partnership and trust with their supervisors, according to a survey conducted by the Gallup and Healthways organizations last year.
More than 149,500 interviews of workers were conducted. Regardless of whether they worked in local, state or federal government or outside of government, unionized employees more often said their supervisor treated them like he or she was their boss and not a partner than did their nonunion counterparts. Among nongovernment employees, for example, the margin was 48% to 36%.
Similarly, nonunion employees across the board said their supervisor created an environment that is trusting and open more often than those who were unionized. Among nongovernment workers, the margin was 80% to 71%. Despite this, there aren't large differences in job satisfaction between the two groups, according to Gallup and Healthways.
Employers' relationships with unions have become more acrimonious since the 1970s, Bielski Boris says. And nowadays, some governors of revenue-starved states are blaming public sector unions for their woes and aggressively attempting to reduce benefits and curtail collective bargaining rights. (Public sector unions account for more than half of all union members in the United States.)
"The political climate can often turn against unions and their members," Bielski Boris says. The political attacks, combined with declining membership rolls, could weaken gains made by unionized employees.
Seniority. The advantages that seniority provides can be a detriment to newer employees. You may be more productive or talented than a veteran worker, yet you're the one who likely will be laid off in a downsizing. A union's collective bargaining agreement also may require employers to provide other perks based on seniority rather than merit to the detriment of junior workers with union jobs. Some agreements enable a worker displaced from a job to "bump" another worker with less seniority and take his or her job.
Wheeler, the labor arbitrator, understands the pros and cons of being a union member better than most. "On balance, I think workers are better off with a union than without one, by far," he says.