How Labor Unions Can Survive PART II: Creating a Favorable Public Perception At The Bargaining Table

In Part 1 of this three part series we looked at how Labor leaders can use traditional media to enhance public sentiment. In Part 2 of How Labor Unions Can Survive: Creating a Favorable Public Perception we’ll look at how Labor organizations can enhance their public image by achieving gains for employees at the bargaining table.


It is actually at the bargaining table where Labor organizations can most directly enhance their public image. By providing represented employees with benefits unavailable to nonunion workers, labor organizations can make themselves more attractive to unorganized personnel. So, they must work to protect the pension benefits, health care coverage, family leave rights, child care, and antidiscrimination provisions union members enjoy.

In recognition of the expanding labor force participation of female and minority workers, unions must ensure the elimination of compensation inequities and the eradication of discriminatory bars to entry into training programs and high-paid skilled positions. They must also strive to obtain additional fringe benefits, such as legal care, eye care, dental care, and elder care.

Although these benefits would cost money, they might be cost-efficient. Employers have already discovered that the cost of providing child care is outweighed by the savings gained through reduced absenteeism, improved employee morale, and the employer’s enhanced ability to attract and retain more qualified workers. Individuals with satisfactory personal lives are usually more productive than those experiencing personal problems.

During the coming years, labor organizations must use the bargaining process to protect represented employees from the vicissitudes associated with the introduction of new technology, production relocation, and plant closures. Some unions may be able to obtain contractual provisions restricting the relocation or elimination of bargaining-unit positions. Other unions may have to allow such changes, but will be able to ensure displaced workers continued employment security through guaranteed annual wages or a form of job tenure similar to that enjoyed by many Japanese workers.

These job security programs would not merely benefit the affected employees. When such tenure programs are in effect, workers are less resistant to operational change. This security provides management with greater flexibility and enhances employee morale.

Unions should demand provisions requiring companies to give advance notice of contemplated decisions likely to affect job security. Employees must be given the opportunity to discuss such proposed changes. Even when economic realities make it impossible for labor organizations to prevent the introduction of labor-saving technology or the relocation of unit jobs, they may be able to protect the interests of the adversely affected workers through provisions guaranteeing intra-plant or inter-plant transfer privileges, retraining opportunities, or severance pay.

Ultimately, the availability of these benefits for unionized personnel would encourage collectivization among unorganized workers.

American unions should also try to advance industrial democracy through the establishment of meaningful worker-participation programs designed to enhance labor-management cooperation. They could bargain for the creation of shop-level committees similar to the works councils legislatively mandated in many European countries. These committees would be entitled to information regarding contemplated managerial changes that would affect employee interests, and corporate leaders would be required to consult these committees before making final decisions.

Similarly, labor organizations could demand employee representation on corporate boards to ensure the consideration of worker concerns during debates regarding the future direction of business entities. In order to further their public image, labor organizations must also enhance worker interests through the legislative process. These actions would enable unions to demonstrate a commitment to employees that transcends the mere interests of current union members.

No advantage exists in remaining unorganized, this must be continually proven in addition to just disussed, that way the cost of unionization is diminished. Union leaders fearful that increased legislative activity would undermine the popularity of labor organizations must remember that European trade unions, which historically have been actively involved in the political process, have membership rates three, four, and even five times the declining rate of their American counterparts.

These are just a few ways Union Leaders can create a favorable public impression of unions at the bargaining table. In Part 3 of How Labor Unions Can Survive: Creating a Favorable Public Perception we’ll look at how Labor organizations can enhance their public image through Legislation.


How Labor Unions Can Survive PART I: Creating a Favorable Public Perception Using Traditional Media