The Future Challenge For Unions

Larry Price
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Wednesday - September 14, 2011
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All of the evidence on unions indicates that job dissatisfaction leads to an interest in organizing. All of the polls suggest that the general public sees unions and their leaders as beneficial to the public interest, but can also lead to tension in the work place.

A significant minority of unorganized employees say they would vote for union representation if an election were held at their workplace. Cohesiveness appears to be the necessary ingredient for successful organizing effort.

Also well-documented, it’s a fact that similarities among group members and external threats from management have a positive influence on cohesiveness.

Union members have had a rough year, both nationally and locally.

As we have seen in Hawaii, our labor unions have always been politically active, casting their lot with the Democratic Party. But since the passage of the Wagner Act in 1936, no major law and regulations have been enacted that enhance union power. Simply put, unions have not benefited much from a Democratic president and U.S. Congress.

Moreover, they have been at risk from Republican presidents, governors and majorities in Congress.

None of these circumstances gave the unions anything to celebrate on Labor Day, with buses running on a holiday schedule and picnics for retired workers. The outlook is dismal, because many unions, both private and public, are in dire straits with more retired members collecting benefits than there are dues-paying members. It’s happening right before our very eyes: the U.S. Postal Service.

If the evidence is true and it indicates that dissatisfaction leads to interest in organizing, how come nobody is organizing dissatisfied workers? They are everywhere, not only in Hawaii, but all over the world. Where’s the leadership?

The $64,000 question is, what should unions do?

Should they continue to cooperate with management and government leaders in the workplace and political arena, or maybe just maintain the status quo or become more militant and adversarial?

It seems clear a new kind of unionism is on the horizon for the Hawaii work force.

No one in power seems to know what the collective bargaining law says.

Even the state Constitution is ignored and challenged in court.

In fact, everything to do with labor relations is being challenged in court whenever there is a disagreement.

We are close to some kind of social unionism in which industrial and social justice becomes the touchstone to catalyze reorganization. Management would be more interested in a unionism that would enhance productivity.

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