Labor Unions


Learning Objective

  1. Explain why workers unionize and how unions are structured, and describe the collective-bargaining process.

As we saw earlier, Maslow believed that individuals are motivated to satisfy five levels of unmet needs (physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization). From this perspective, employees should expect that full-time work will satisfy at least the two lowest-level needs: they should be paid wages that are sufficient for them to feed, house, and clothe themselves and their families, and they should have safe working conditions and some degree of job security. Organizations also have needs: they need to earn profits that will satisfy their owners. Sometimes, the needs of employees and employers are consistent: the organization can pay decent wages and provide workers with safe working conditions and job security while still making a satisfactory profit. At other times, there is a conflict – real, perceived, or a little bit of both – between the needs of employees and those of employers. In such cases, workers may be motivated to join a labor union – an organized group of workers that bargains with employers to improve its members' pay, job security, and working conditions.

Figure 7.10 "Labor Union Density, 1930–2010" charts labor-union density – union membership as a percentage of payrolls – in the United States from 1930 to 2010. As you can see, there's been a steady decline since the mid-1950s, and, today, only about 12 percent of U.S. workers belong to unions". Only membership among public workers (those employed by federal, state, and local governments, such as teachers, police, and firefighters) has grown. In the 1940s, 10 percent of public workers and 34 percent of those in the private sector belonged to unions. Today, this has reversed: 36 percent of public workers and 7 percent of those in the private sector are union members".

Figure 7.10 Labor Union Density, 1930–2010

Why the decline in private sector unionization? Many factors come into play. The poor economy has reduced the number of workers who can become union members. In addition, we've shifted from a manufacturing-based economy characterized by large, historically unionized companies to a service-based economy made up of many small firms that are hard to unionize. Finally, there are more women in the workforce, and they're more likely to work part-time or intermittently.

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