The labor movement is currently experiencing several challenges, including a decrease in union membership, globalization, and employers’ focus on maintaining nonunion status. As mentioned in the opening of this section, the United States has seen a steady decline of union membership since the 1950s. In the 1950s, 36 percent of all workers were unionized, 1 as opposed to just over 11 percent today.
Human Resource Recall
When you are hired for your first job or your next job, do you think you would prefer to be part of a union or not?
Claude Fischer, a researcher from University of California Berkeley, believes the shift is cultural. His research says the decline is a result of American workers preferring individualism as opposed to collectivism. 2 Other research says the decline of unions is a result of globalization, and the fact that many jobs that used to be unionized in the manufacturing arena have now moved overseas. Other reasoning points to management, and that its unwillingness to work with unions has caused the decline in membership. Others suggest that unions are on the decline because of themselves. Past corruption, negative publicity, and hard-line tactics have made joining a union less favorable.
To fully understand unions, it is important to recognize the global aspect of unions. Statistics on a worldwide scale show unions in all countries declining but still healthy in some countries. For example, in eight of the twenty-seven European Union member states, more than half the working population is part of a union. In fact, in the most populated countries, unionization rates are still at three times the unionization rate of the United States. 3 Italy has a unionization rate of 30 percent of all workers, while the UK has 29 percent, and Germany has a unionization rate of 27 percent.
In March 2011, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker proposed limiting the collective bargaining rights of state workers to save a flailing budget. Some called this move “union busting” and said this type of act is illegal, as it takes away the basic rights of workers. The governor defended his position by saying there is no other choice, since the state is in a budget crisis. Other states such as Ohio are considering similar measures. Whatever happens, there is a clear shift for unions today.
Globalization is also a challenge in labor organizations today. As more and more goods and services are produced overseas, unions lose not only membership but union values in the stronghold of worker culture. As globalization has increased, unions have continued to demand more governmental control but have been only somewhat successful in these attempts. For example, free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have made it easier and more lucrative for companies to manufacture goods overseas. This is discussed in International HRM. For example, La-Z-Boy and Whirlpool closed production facilities in Dayton and Cleveland, Ohio, and built new factories in Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labor and less stringent environmental standards. Globalization creates options for companies to produce goods wherever they think is best to produce them. As a result, unions are fighting the globalization trend to try and keep jobs in the United States.
There are a number of reasons why companies do not want unions in their organizations, which we will discuss in greater detail later. One of the main reasons, however, is increased cost and less management control. As a result, companies are on a quest to maintain a union-free work environment. In doing so, they try to provide higher wages and benefits so workers do not feel compelled to join a union. Companies that want to stay union free constantly monitor their retention strategies and policies.