The Future Of Unionized Labor

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 13, 2005
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We are about to witness a showdown concerning the political power of unions.

In July 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed federal legislation that created the National Labor Relations Board and gave workers the right to organize and bargain collectively for wages and benefits. It was the beginning of a labor movement. One of Harvard’s most famous philosophers, Arthur Schlesinger, said “From a role of obscurity, the labor movement advanced so rapidly after 1935 that today no single interest group is more important, economically, politically or socially.”

Furthermore, the labor movement is considered by many to be one of the 10 outstanding developments of the first half of the 20th century, sharing the distinction with such tremendous events as the two World Wars, The Great Depression and the harnessing of atomic energy.

The legislation of the 1930s guaranteed the right to organize without interference from the employer. Additionally, employers were required to bargain in good faith with authorized representatives of employees.

The record shows it’s been a rocky road for labor organizers ever since. There is ample proof that organized labor has for years exercised a much greater economic and social power over the lives of Americans than mere membership would indicate. But no one has been able to actually prove that workers vote for a particular party because they are members of a union, that there is such a thing as a “labor vote.”


Today, the unemployment rate in Hawaii is the lowest in the nation. You would think that would make our union leaders happy, but they are not, even though there are more jobs available than ever before. The question is, why?

There has emerged a new collective bargaining tactic. It is called project labor agreements (PLA). What has happened is developers have signed project labor agreements with a consortium of unions. The agreements last for the duration of a project. In the agreement, work rules, hours, pay and benefit are all spelled out. It even includes overtime pay and dispute resolution procedures.

Example: Napa Valley California Actus Land Lease signed a massive redevelopment for the Army valued at $1.7 billion over its 10-year development. Another new twist, the contractors will own and operate the military communities for at least 50 years. That will add billions more for maintenance and renovation costs.

What does this do for the labor movement?

First, it stabilizes the construction industry.

Second, it changes the way unions will negotiate. The PLAs have in effect merged the trade unions. All the contractors from the consortium become signatories to the agreement.

Third, all the workers have to join the designated union that represents his or her craft and pay union dues. This means local unions will be receiving dues and a dramatic increase in membership.

What does management receive in return? There can be no organized work stoppages or lockouts.

The PLAs may be a sign of things to come outside of the military environment. Imagine a construction project without the threat of strikes or lockouts.

This change is probably positive for Hawaii’s unionized workers. They are naturally nervous about what the future holds. No one should blame them for being uneasy. After all, 50 years is a very long labor contract. Said another way, that will span six governors (two terms) and six presidents (two terms) and a host of new federal judges. Of course, the federal courts have never been sympathetic to the labor movement, and if they have to rule on bankruptcy hearings for management, which can cancel all collective bargaining agreements, management still has the final laugh.

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