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History of the Union Movement in the United States
The history of the union movement in the USA goes back to the end of the eighteenth century. Most of the first labor unions were created on a temporary basis to achieve a particular purpose, a pay raise, for instance. However, it was the Industrial Revolution that really triggered the union movement. Numerous new factories created the need for more labor force, which in its turn needed an organization that would protect workers’ interests.
In the effort to gain more influence over the employers, small unions merged to form the National Labor Union in 1866. It collapsed in 1872 because of divergent electoral strategies (Geisst, 2006).
Another influential union of the time was the Knights of Labor organization, created in 1869 in Pennsylvania. Excepting skilled and semi-skilled workers regardless of gender and race, the organization quickly enrolled new members. But the disagreement between the radicals, who sought the implementation of many reforms, and the moderates led to the eventual dissolution of the organization (“Knights of Labor,” 2003).
In 1886 the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was created. It was the first union to address the skilled workers nationwide (Brody, n.d.). By means of strikes and negotiations they tried to obtained higher salaries and better working conditions. One of the most important legislative changes was the passing of the Clayton Act in 1914. It greatly enlarged workers’ rights, providing them with more protection.
However, the conditions deteriorated, when the Great Depression struck. It brought unemployment and reduced wages. Unsatisfied with AFL policies, John L. Lewis with several followers formed in 1935 the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) (Geisst, 2006).
The Fair Labor Standards Act, the Equal Pay Act and other similar acts, passed by the government, laid the foundation for the fair working conditions. The enactment of these acts brought an increase in the living standards of the majority of middle-class Americans (Grossman, n.d.). This resulted in the decline of the labor movement. A well-paid and well fed citizen no longer saw the need to fight for his or her rights.
When World War II broke out, most of the unions signed a no-strike pledge (Geisst, 2006). After the war, renewed efforts of the trade unions led to prohibition of child labor, guaranteeing fair working conditions, and further eliminating discrimination. In 1955 AFL and CIO merged, in order to gain more power, forming an influential union organization.
The establishment of the anti-union administration after the presidential elections in 1980 continued the union influence decline. This political change led, according to Thomas B. Edsall (1984), to facilitated “adoption of a set of economic policies highly beneficial to the corporate sector and to the affluent.”
The possible reason why fewer Americans seek union membership nowardays is that many people do not know that the unions can play a major role in country’s political life. Since 1980s, when they lost much of their influence, trade unions have not initiated any major changes. Thus, living in the society of the corporate culture, employees have forgotten that the eight-hour working day, social benefits, and the prohibition of child labor are actually the merit of trade union work.
Resolution of Disputes in Labor Negotiations
Resolution of a labor dispute implies mutual efforts of the employer and the employee or the trade union to agree on terms and conditions of employment. Besides litigation, there are several alternative methods of dispute resolution.
In-house negotiation is the technic that allows the parties to solve the dispute by finding a compromise. This is the simplest technic as it involves no third party. Through the negotiations of the representatives from both sides the pasties try to find the solution that would be acceptable for both.
When the parties are unable to find a compromise themselves, they may resort to meditation. This technic implies the participation of an independent intermediary. The procedure of mediation is usually employed to help the willing parties to find the root of their disagreement. The third party, the meditator, helps the parties to reach the decision. However, if the parties are unable to negotiate agreement, the meditator does not have the power to take a binding decision (Goldberg, Green, & Sander, 1985).
Arbitration is similar to both meditation and litigation. The impartial arbiter examines the evidence provided by both sides and makes a decision. However, unlike the judge in the court proceedings, the arbiter is selected by consent of the parties. The feature that differs arbitration from meditation is that the decision made by the arbiter has binding power (Silverstein, 2011).
Common law of the shop is a bulk of past practices that an arbiter uses to make a decision. This can be considered as an appropriate exercise of the power, because all the arbiter does is compare the currently heard case with previously judged cases (Rubenstein, 1966). Thus, the decision taken by the arbiter on the basis of the common law of the shop is binding.
Litigation is usually resorted to when all the above mentioned alternative dispute resolution technics fail. This is due to the fact that legal proceedings are costly, can take a lot of time, and involve many participates besides the parties themselves. However, complicated court procedures have their advantages. For instance, they do not accept hearsay evidence, which can be used when alternative dispute resolution technics are applied (Goldberg et al., 1985).
When a labor dispute arises, employers prefer to solve it in the fastest and simplest way. The unresolved dispute can result in undesirable negative publicity and, in case of trade union involvement, even in a strike. That is why employers in many cases use alternative dispute resolution technics, which allow the parties to compromise efficiently with least effort.
Norris-LaGuardia and National Labor Relations Acts
The period from 1932 to 1945 was a pro-union era in the government policy (“Has the American government,” n.d.). The convulsion of the Great Depression brought fundamental changes in the estimation of the organized labor, and, consequently, legislative changes.
The Norris-LaGuardia Act, enacted by the Congress in 1932, was the first and very important step to the liberation of organized labor. Cosponsored by George Norris and Fiorello La Guardia, the act removed major constraints upon employee’s right to join unions. Firstly, the so-called yellow dog contracts were outlawed. Under the terms of such contracts the employee was prohibited to join labor unions (Bernstein, N. N. 2004). Secondly, the notion of labor dispute was broadly defined. This permitted to classify almost any controversy over terms and conditions of employment as a labor dispute. And last but not least, the act also removed the barriers to peaceful assembling and striking. Before it was passed, the employer could get a court injunction, if he provided affidavits that the planned strike or boycott might violate the law. Even though such injunctions had power for no more than several days, the strike or boycott often lost momentum. Under the provisions of the act injunctions were now issued only after a complex court procedure (“Has the American government,” n.d.).
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed by the Congress in 1935, and has governed labor relations in the private sector ever since. According to its provisions a clear relationship was established between employer, employees, and their labor unions. The act has three aspects. Firstly, exclusivity principle secures the right of the employees to elect a sole representative. Without consulting with this representative the employer cannot make any changes in the terms of employment. Secondly, free collective bargaining foresees the freedom of employees’ self-organization. At the same time it obliges the employer, if the representative is elected, to bargain with him. Thirdly, structural autonomy prohibited any influence or support of the representatives on the part of the employers, thus, ensuring their independence (Kohler, T. C. 2004).
The NLRA also gave the unions full power to act as a lawful party in labor disputes and arbitrations. The NLRA broadly defined labor organizations, thus, enabling employees to freely organize themselves (“Has the American government,” n.d.). Besides, the act established the National Labor Relations Board — an independent body, regulating the relations of the employer and the union, and protecting the right of the employee not to join the union.
Both acts were important steps to protection of employees’ rights and freedoms. Making the powers of unions broader, the acts encouraged them. The NLRA strongly influenced the employer-union dealings, making the latter an independent and established party of labor negotiations. The Norris-LaGuardia Act, strictly stipulating the issue procedure of injunctions, enabled the unions to freely manifest their demands and organize strikes or boycotts if the employer violates employment conditions or is unwilling to negotiate the requirements. However, ensuring the rights of the unions, these acts left the employee the freedom to decide whether or not to become a union member.
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