Labor Unions and Changing Labor Relations

Unions are organizations formed for the purpose of representing their members’ interests and resolving conflicts with employers (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2004). Unions came about as a response to unsafe working conditions, low pay, and unethical behavior by employers. Unions provide a place for employees to receive better pay and health benefits as well as guaranteed safety regulations.

There are different types of unions. Craft Unions are unions that have members with one particular type of skill or occupation such as electrical workers or carpenters (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2004). Craft unions are responsible for training their members and finding employers skilled employees. Industrial unions are unions grouped by industry. AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) is an association most unions want to be a part of. AFL-CIO is an association that wants to further the interests and benefits of its members (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2004).

Employees and employers connect through the union steward: the person elected by the union to represent them. Union management interactions is a necessary tool for many managers and is known as labor relations. Labor relations has three levels of decision making.

� Labor relations strategy-For management, the decision involves whether the organization will work with unions or develop (or maintain) nonunion operations.
This decision is influenced by outside forces such as public opinion and competition.
For unions, the decision involves whether to fight changes in how unions
relate to the organization or accept new kinds of labor-management relationships.

� Negotiating contracts-As we will describe later in the chapter, contract negotiations
in a union setting involve decisions about pay structure, job security, work
rules, workplace safety, and many other issues. These decisions affect workers’ and the employer’s situation for the term of the contract.

� Administering contracts-These decisions involve day-to-day activities in which
union members and the organization’s managers may have disagreements. Issues include complaints of work rules being violated or workers being treated unfairly in particular situations. A formal grievance procedure is typically used to resolve these issues. (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2004)
Impact on Employee Relations

There has been a great deal of debate as to whether unions improve or worsen employee productivity. On one hand union employees have workload limits that they abide by as well as unionized strikes which can completely shut down organizations. On the other hand unions can reduce turnover by allowing the employee-employer relationship to grow by being an outlet for both sides. (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2004)

The growth of unions made a huge impact on organizational structure and made employees the focus for organizations. Wanting to avoid unionized employees organizations are making sure that they provide safe working conditions and competitive pay (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2004). Unions have assured better working conditions in factories across the United States as well as equal pay for same skill job thus proving everyone with equal opportunities.


Unions will hold an “organizing campaign” to attract employees from a certain company or industry. The union will try to show the employees that if they join they can be provided with better pay, benefits, and employment conditions. If the employer is not wanting to have a unionized staff they will need to take measures to counteract the offers of the would be-union. In order for the union to gain access to the employees and to start the union process they must have at least 30% of the employees agree to sign an authorization card. If over 50% of the employees sign the card the union can then ask if the employer will voluntarily recognize that the employees are now unionized. If the employer refuses the union then takes its next step. (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2004)


If an organization does not choose to recognize an employee union through the above methods then the union holds a secret ballot election. In the election workers vote for or against the union representation and which union they want representing them.

Collective Bargaining Agreements/ Contracts

Collective bargaining is when the union and the management representative (HRM) negotiate terms for an employment contract. This contract consists of pay, benefits, work regulations and how workers will resolve grievances. Reaching a contract is crucial for the employee-employer relationship to functions smoothly. Preparing for collective bargaining is important for both sides. Union representatives have to know exactly what it is that the employees want and the organization has to be ready for some give and take on the benefits side of the agreement. In addition knowing what competitors pay union employees is beneficial to both sides as well as solid knowledge of the previous contract.


If a union employee feels that the organization has done something to violate the union contract. An employee first talks to his or her manager, and then the union steward if necessary. The complaint will next be put into formal writing and submitted to the manager. Then the union steward meets with the organization to try and resolve the issue. Lastly the decision resulting from the submission is put into writing.

When the union representatives and the HRM can no longer reach agreements to satisfy themselves often time’s employees will turn to strikes or picketing. Neither side prefers these methods as it shuts down productivity for the organization and employees lose wages during this time. These methods are rarely used anymore but are still available as is being threatened by New York City transit unions. Unable to reach agreements on a pay increase the 33,000 member union has been threatening to strike the subway lines and finally did strike from two bus lines on Friday December 16th, 2005 (MSNBC, 2005).

Before strikes or pickets mediation should be attempted to resolve any issues between the organization and the union. In mediation a third party hears both sides of the issue and tries to help in reaching resolution. A mediators recommendations have no legal bounds unlike in arbitration. An arbitrator is also a third-party however they make actual decisions that are binding.

Unions are not as relevant today as they once were. State regulations require safer work environments and this is one of the most important reasons for their emergence. Additionally organizations know the costs that are involved with having unionized employees and do their best to prevent unions from forming. While unions have helped improve safety for employees across the world the current law enforced regulations and competitive market will keep them from flourishing into the giant power they once were.


Noe, R., Hollenbeck, J., Gerhart, B., & Wright, P. (2004) Fundamentals of Human Resource Management, [University of Phoenix Custom edition e-text]: The McGraw-Hill. Retrieved December 12, 2005, from University of Phoenix, Resource, MGT/431 website.

MSNBC, (2005), NYC official Transit workers rejected final offer, Retrieved December 16th, 2005 from

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