Labor Unions Are Obsolete

by Denny Strigl

There was a time when labor unions served an important purpose in the United States. Undoubtedly, we can all recall learning about the important contributions unions made to improving the dreadful working conditions and paltry wages of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unions, too, fought to bring an end to sweatshops and pushed hard for government regulation of child labor, unhealthy working conditions, workplace safety and numerous other labor laws.

There is no doubt about it, the early union movement provided a real and necessary service to American workers.

Let’s now shift our focus to the union movement today in the U.S.

According to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics union membership today stands at only 11.8% of the total workforce. This number is down from 12.3% just two years ago. (25 years ago 20% of U.S. workers belonged to a union.) In fact the New York Times reported in an article written on January 21, 2011 that union membership in the U.S. fell to a 70-year low in 2010!

What has happened to U.S. labor unions? Why is membership down so significantly?

The fact of the matter is, in the modern business world unions are obsolete. Workers no longer need to join a union to be treated fairly by their employers and most private sector employers today provide excellent wages and benefits. These same employers provide their employees with many forums to air whatever grievances they may have. For example, bosses are better trained to listen and respond to the needs of their employees. Group meetings with employees are held regularly to discuss productivity and improvements in processes, methods and procedures which may be necessary to improve working conditions and make work easier to perform. Most companies also require managers to meet regularly with each of their employees to establish individual goals and objectives and to regularly discuss performance. Modern managers are trained to address issues proactively before they become problems. There is no need for an outside, third party, like a union, to step-in to mediate an issue between employees and their managers when they are able to work together in an environment where trust, respect and integrity flourish. (For more information please refer to Chapter 9, “Building a Culture of Performance,” in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?)

Furthermore, unions are disruptive. In my experience I have found the only way unions can flourish is if they can drive a “wedge” between managers and their employees. Unions can gain power only when they are able to show their members, or employees they are hoping to get to join the union, that management isn’t listening or management is doing something to adversely impact their workers. I often found unions even created issues where there really weren’t any simply for the purpose of drawing attention to the union’s claims of being able to benefit employees.

Finally, I believe unions deceive employees. This is especially true during their organizing drives – when they are attempting to get employees to join a union. I have personally seen unions promise wages, benefits and job security that they had no possible way of delivering….and they knew it. I have also known unions to hold strike votes and even cause members to strike in the name of “solidarity” only to forfeit pay for no reason and certainly no gain.

For all of the above reasons, I predict union membership in the United States will continue to decrease. There is also one other reason which is even more significant than anything yet mentioned; workers don’t want to join a union. They don’t see union membership providing any value, and they certainly don’t want their hard earned money deducted from their pay checks and given to union bosses to spend as they see fit.

Let’s face it; today corporate America and its managers have been schooled on the methods used by unions in years past and the assistance they used to provide their members. In the modern business world workers don’t need unions to fight for their rights any longer. Workers do quite well without unions…thank you.

Labor unions in America are obsolete and will remain so unless, and until, they can reinvent themselves into something useful.

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