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Labor Unions and Relevance

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Labor Unions and Relevance

In the United States, labor unions are seeing an increased amount of controversy surrounding their helpfulness to the U.S. economy. Recently, comparisons between the successes of a company such as Toyota versus Ford have brought the issue of unions to the forefront. Many cite the cost Ford has due to the fact that the employees are unionized and receive more benefits at a higher cost to the company. On the other hand, many people see great benefit for Americans who are protected under a union contract; however, it is possible to create a work environment that is successful, safe, fair, and beneficial to employees without being a union shop.

In 1953, approximately half of the workers in the United States were protected by a labor union. Today, only 12% of American workers are members of a union (Farmer, 2006). A union is an organized group of people that bargain their work conditions as a team. Some of the most well-known unions in the local area include United Food and Commercial Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Teamsters. Unions have a serious impact on organizations whose workforce is protected under a collective bargaining agreement. Everything from wages to benefits and incentives are affected by a union contract. Policies and other items that can change an organization's culture can also be guided by a union's demands. A union's basic goals are to help their members earn higher wages, receive the best benefits possible and protect against unfair treatment and job termination.

At this writer's workplace, the employees are protected under a collective bargaining agreement. Everything from vacation and sick leave, pension plans, pay scales, and the time that checks are handed out on payday is detailed within the contract. The contract is renewed every three years. The contract also has a "no-strike" clause that states that employees cannot strike, even if the contract is failing to reach agreement. This past spring, meetings at the UFCW union building were started to decide what the employee demands to the company were going to be for the contract renewal. Some requests for change were outlandish, while others were simple. The union representatives were honest by bringing to light that there needed to be a consensus as to which items were the most important, while disregarding those that would probably not be viable to the business. The negotiation came to a quiet conclusion a couple of months later and only a few minor changes were enacted including a 2.5% pay increase per year until the next contract negotiation. Most employees did not care that much about the process, and the small group of people that did were those who wanted huge raises in wage and pension.

Administering the contracts "involve day-to-day activities in which union members and the organization's managers may have disagreements. Issues include complaints of work rules being violated or workers being treated unfairly in particular situations" (Noe et al., 2003). One recent situation which somewhat involved this writer in regard to a grievance being filed through the union shows a basic rundown of the general attitude about the negotiated contract at this workplace. An employee was reprimanded for leaving work for a doctor's appointment without getting an official pass from the supervisor. This employee did not forewarn or fill out any of the required paperwork for sick/personal time. This employee just decided that at 2:00 p.m. she would be done for the day. After it was noticed that she was gone, a manager was notified. This manager walked the entire building looking for anyone with authority to ask if permission was given to leave early. No such permission was granted. This employee was officially written up and given notice that if it was to happen again, suspension without pay would ensue, and a third time would result in termination.

This employee felt disgruntled and put upon because of the write-up and decided to go to the union representative and file a complaint. The union representative called the manager and talked about the issue and requested a meeting with the manager, the shop steward (elected to represent employees during the contract period), the employee and herself. The following meeting essentially turned into a gripe festival in which the employee complained about the management, fellow employees, the workload, and the lack of recognition

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