What Employers Should Know about Union & Union-Busting

June 9, 20212:34 pm1650 views
What Employers Should Know about Union & Union-Busting
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Employment approaches are different from the perspective of employers and employees. While employers value employees based on the company’s goals, employees often weigh the employment on their personal goals. So how can two sides reach an agreement? The answer lies in unions. Union has played a role in employer-employee dialogue for centuries. However, with the vast change of business environment, so does the understanding of union. It is important for business leaders and board members to understand how unions fit into the current business environment and what role unions play in the modern economy. 

What is union? 

Union is an organisation that negotiates with corporations, business, and other companies on behalf of union members. There is a trade or labour union that represents employees who do a particular type of job, and an industrial union that represents workers in a particular industry. 

Labour union usually consists of an organised group of staff who unite to make decisions about conditions affecting their work. Employees often join unions because of their dissatisfaction with how management treats employees and a belief that a union can make conditions in the workplace better. Pay and benefits are among the most common reasons in union organising tactics. Workers are most influenced to join a union when their company is perceived to be unfair, unresponsive, or offering substandard working conditions to them. 

Meanwhile, an industrial union composed of all the workers in a given industry, regardless of skill, craft, or occupation. The industrial union is sometimes referred to as a vertical union. There are three common types of industrial union, including those consisting of all employees working on the same commodity, those using the same tools to work on different materials, and employees of a given factory regardless of their particular skills. 

Why are unions created? 

When the Industrial Revolution began between 1760 to 1820 and 1840, unions were created to secure improvements in working conditions and wages. Unions are generally formed in manufacturing and resource companies, such as firms that operate in steel mills, textile factories, and mines. Over time, unions have spread into other industries and a large portion of union membership is found in transportation, utilities, and even government. 

As of 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that the union membership rate has increased over the year in the public sector by 1.2 percentage points to 34.8 percent. This increase reflects that there is a decline in total public-sector wage and salary employment due to Covid-19 crisis. By age, union membership rates continued to be the highest among workers ages 45 to 64. In 2020, 13.2 percent of employees ages 45 to 54 and 13 percent of those ages 55 to 64 were union members. The membership rate for full-time workers (11.8 percent) was about twice the rate for part-time workers (5.8 percent). 

See also: China Law and Review: Trade Unions & Employers Associations

How do unions affect the labour environment? 

The power of labour unions can influence two main things in the labour environment: restricting labour supply and increasing labour demand. 

Through collective beginning, unions negotiate the wages that employers will pay. Unions might ask for a higher wage than the equilibrium wage. However, this might lower the hours demanded by employers because a higher work rate equates to less work per dollar. Due to this reason, unions often face problems when negotiating higher wages and instead will focus on increasing the demand for labour. 

Furthermore, unions have a unique legal position where they can operate a monopoly as they are immune to antitrust law. Unions can exert a good deal of influence on the labour supply for a particular company, thus restricting non-union workers from depressing the wage rate. Union memberships can do this due to legal guidelines that can protect them when doing union activities. 

Union-busting: Is it legal or illegal? 

Union-busting is when a company uses their power, wealth, and privilege as an employer to disrupt or intervene when workers organise unions. Since unions are created due to dissatisfaction felt by employees, employers often need to minimise the likelihood that a union would be accepted by employees. Tactics used by employers to minimise the acceptance rate of employees might vary, such as indirect bribes, manipulation, or increased management meetings. Oftentimes, the tactics used might mislead, intimidate, coarse, or otherwise frustrate workers to make organising a union harder than it already is. 

Union-busting is legal although its practices are always immoral and unethical because it is indirectly against employment law. As cited in ILO Labour Code Sect 5: “Basic employee rights. Employee has the right to take part in the formation of a trade union; be a member of a trade union; subject to its rules; take part outside working hours, or with the consent of the employer within working hours, in the lawful activities of a trade union of which he or she is a member; seek and hold office in any trade union of which he or she is a member, subject to its rules; take part in the election of workplace representatives where provision is made for such election; be elected or appointed and serve as a workplace representative where provision is made for this; exercise any other right conferred by this Act.” In short, employees have the right to form and join unions when they think that they are treated unfairly by their employer. 

In addition, practising union-busting means employers are anti-democracy. Democracy is about equality and making free and informed choices. People need to have full and equal access to information, freely express their views and ultimately, vote how they want. Thus, if employers practice or appoint a union-buster, employers are subjected to intimidating not only those workers who want to take part in union memberships but their co-workers as well. 

Given that union-busting is unethical and immoral, employers can minimise employee dissatisfaction by conducting an open discussion, hence employees’ desire to form or join unions will decrease. Strategies that help discourage union acceptance are: 

  • fair and consistent policies and practices; 
  • open door management policies; 
  • competitive pay and benefits; 
  • employee trust and recognition. 

A workplace that fosters a good relationship between management and employees, and addresses employee concerns is much less likely to force employees to ask union representation for assistance. Employers can and should talk to employees about why they think the workplace can do without the union. Emphasis good policies, practices, and culture that are already in place to make the workplace a great place to work. 

Read also: 2 Effective Fairness Practices in Workplace 

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