Following the Great Depression, the U.S. Congress gave labor unions legitimacy (Colorado State University-Global Campus, 2014) with enactment of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1935) which established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Post-World War II union membership was at its peak of one-third of the work force; today it is less than half that amount due to fewer jobs being in traditionally union fields of employment, with many manufacturing jobs moving overseas (Colorado State University-Global Campus, 2014, p. 2).
Function of Unions Generally
Unions’ collective bargaining efforts focus on wages, hours, ...view middle of the document...
General Level of Effectiveness of Organized Labor and Collective Bargaining
Carillon and Sutton (1982) observe that unions are organizations designed to protect and enhance economic and social welfare of members, although they point out that there is little consensus as to how to define and measure union “effectiveness” (p. 171): “the collective bargaining process…the union-management contract…and union-management relations in general…all have important consequences for the quality of worklife of unionized workers” (p. 172). Union effectiveness in providing direct services, and economic bargaining effectiveness were found to positively correlate with members’ quality of work life and compensation satisfaction (p. 178). Sheflin (2001) cites the Wagner Act as a key determinant of early 20th century union membership growth “reflecting the costs of union membership over the period 1904-1960…to variables reflecting the costs and benefits of membership, as well as to political and social variables” (p. 74). Post-Wagner Act, the cost of union membership was largely offset by increased wages and fringe benefits, reflecting “the increasing ability of workers to match price increases with wage increases, thus reducing the real-wage threat of inflation” (p. 78).
But as union membership has decreased in the private sector while growing in the public sector— private sector union membership in 2009 fell to 7.4 million compared with 7.9 million members in the public sector, even though there were five times more private sector wage and salary workers (p. 176, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010)— a primary focus of union political activity during the Obama adminsitration has been the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) (U.S. Congress, 2009), which would regulate employer opposition to union organizing drives. To date, that legislation has not moved forward amidst “[s]igns that unions can’t deliver rank-and-file votes present another challenge for labor leaders trying to salvage their legislative priorities, including a bill that would make it easier for them to organize workers and win initial labor contracts from employers through arbitration” (Holger & Henle, 2009, p. 176, citing Trottman, 2010).
Difference, If Any, Where the Union Is Public Versus Private
For the first time in 2009 public employees became the majority of union members in the United States. The concurrent Great Recession led to strong public sector antiunion sentiment: “[A]ntiunionists in the education reform movement were blaming unions and collective bargaining for the poor state of many urban schools” (McCartin, 2013, p. 55), contending “that unionized government workers now constituted an “elite” whose pay and pensions were not sustainable in a world of rapidly diminishing expectations, lost benefits, and wage stagnation among private sector wage earners” (p. 56). In 2011, Wisconsin passed Act 10 “stripping st government employees of their collective bargaining rights”...