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In their Own Words: Why Unions Say They are Needed

By Joel Anderson | 05/23/2013 | 7:49 PM

Why does union participation in the private workforce, as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics, continue to decline? This decrease in participation comes despite massive injection of funds in union organizing and politics.

The unions claim the reason is aggressive “union-busting tactics” by employers. With that in mind, I decided to conduct my own research on the value proposition presented by unions to employees. Here is what a leading union had to say on its website about why employees unionize:

“When employees of a company form a union, a much better system for communicating with management is formed. Companies that have unions have a legal partnership between their employees and their managers. A lot of managers say that they have an open-door policy, but in reality the communication is only from the top, down. Many companies with contracts have formal labor-management committees that meet regularly to find solutions to make the company and its employees stronger. “

The essence of this value proposition is the benefit of a communication conduit guaranteed by a collective bargaining agreement. However, compare this value proposition to what you will find in today’s employee handbooks. Most handbooks now include a strong communication policy. As IWLA labor attorneys will tell us, an employee handbook is also a commitment from the company to employees.

So, if you have and practice strong, open and direct communication at your place of business, you have eliminated one of the key “benefits” unions say they give to a workforce. This behavior is not “union-busting.” It is just good personnel practices and good business practices.

I believe the reason for the union decline is simply this: Employers have improved on the value-add benefits unions used to claim. Labor law has become so comprehensive with respect to the duties of an employer to an employee that little space remains for a union to occupy. And employees, being smart people, see a lack of fair exchange in the cost of union dues versus value received.

To me, this last statement is the reason for the steep decline in union participation. Employers have improved. In doing so they have removed the economic, safety and social justification for employees
to feel they need a union to protect their self-interests.

I offer this as a coda: The one place unionization has grown is in government. This result speaks volumes about the government as an employer who communicates with its workforce. Disempower the employee (as the government does), you get a union. Empower the employee and you don’t.



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About Joel Anderson

Joel Anderson

Joel D. Anderson is president and CEO of the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA). Based in Des Plaines, Ill., IWLA is the 120-year-old association of the warehouse-based third-party logistics industry, with 500 members in the U.S. and Canada. Before joining IWLA, Anderson spent 28 years at the California Trucking Association, the last 13 as executive vice president and CEO. An economist by training and profession, Anderson was also a past board member of Cascade Sierra Solutions. He is a frequent speaker before supply chain industry groups.


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