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Labor Unions

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Essay title: Labor Unions

Since the great depression in the 1920’s, labor unions have been a forced to be reckoned with in business. Unions are not as large or as powerful as they once were due to shifts in the mode of the U.S economy, however, unions still retain the power to change the nature of employee management relations in any company that has or will have unionized workers. Labor relations are a specific type or specialization for Human Resource professionals and negotiating the relationship between the employees and management in unionized workforces can be difficult. If handled correctly negotiations can be mutually beneficial to the workers and the management of a given company. By defining unions and labor relations and examining their impact on organizations, on human relations policies and practices, and on organizational performance, one can determine whether or not unions are still relevant in the US.

Unions are organizations that look after the employment interests of its members such as working conditions, pay, and other benefits. Unions are organized along professional lines and cover diverse groups including skilled workers, like electricians or plumbers, and unskilled workers like supermarket employees and truckers. Unions provide training and apprenticeship programs for its members in order to further their careers. Union offices often work with companies who employ union members to ensure proper working conditions and resolve disputes between company management and employees. Labor relations are the relationship between the company management and labor unions. Unions recognized by a company will negotiate a contract on behalf of its members that spells out working conditions, rate of pay, and benefits for its members. Company management will then assess the strength of the union and may make its own demands. The conflicts that occur are often the result of a union trying to provide higher pay and better benefits for its members, while management is working to maintain growing profits that may be eroded by increasing pay and benefits (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhert & Wright, 2003).

Unions send pamphlets to employees of a particular company and ask them to join the union and allow the union to negotiate with the company for a more favorable contract for the employees. The employees will respond to the union by signing an authorization for the union to negotiate on their behalf. This process may involve a meeting where employees can cast a vote as to whether they want the union or not. During this time company management can use a number of tactics to dissuade the employees form joining. Companies have used illegal tactics like humiliating employees, or legal tactics like simply mailing a statement to the employee’s explaining the company’s position on their employees unionizing. If the employees agree to join the union, union representatives will meet with management to negotiate a contract (Hawaii State AFL-CIO. 2006). The first contract negotiation can be volatile because management may not have accepted the presence of the union. In fact many times an agreement can not be reached. If a contract agreement can not be reached the result can be a strike. In a strike workers refuse to work until at least some of their demands are met. This is costly for both the employer and the workers because of the loss in production and the loss of pay during the strike. Another option may be to have an outside mediator arbitrate between the two sides until and agreement can be crafted (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhert & Wright, 2003). Once a contract is signed by both parties the union is now the voice of the workers and the day to day operations of the company may change to conform to the new contract.

Once a contract is establish the union members of a company will elect a shop steward. The shop steward is charged by the union and employees with making sure the union’s contract with the employer is not violated. The shop steward is also central in a grievance process by which employees can file a complaint if they feel there has been a violation by the company with regards to the union contract. The presence of a union also has an impact on a few HR procedures. Performance as it relates to wage increases may be affected because unions prefer to have wages increases based on seniority rather than by performance appraisals administered by the company. Organizational performance may also be an issue because workload restrictions are often placed on the company. Union workers generally make more money than their non-union counterparts, creating greater operating expense for the company and lowering profit levels. However, if steps are taken by

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