Collective Bargaining in 1987: Local, Regional Issues to Set Tone

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Collective bargaining in 1987: local, regional issues to set tone About 3.1 million workers are under major collective bargaining agreements (those covering 1,000 workers or more) that are scheduled to expire or be reopened in 1987. They constitute 35 percent of the 8.8 million employees under major agreements in private industry and State and local government. Scheduled bargaining will cover 2 million private industry workers under 471 agreements, and 1.1 million State and local government workers under 312 agreements. (The U.S. Postal Service will bargain with unions representing its 600,000 employees, but Federal contracts are not included in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' major collective bargaining series.)

In private industry, bargaining activity will be comparatively light, covering about 30 percent of the 6.5 million workers under major private industry agreements. The number of workers involved (2 million) is the lowest ever in the 19 years for which such data have been compiled. This results primarily from the decline in the total number of workers under such agreements--from a peak of 10.8 million in 1970. About 2.5 million of the 4.3-million drop occurred during the last 5 years, part of the overall decline in union membership in private industry.

Also contributing to the low number of workers involved in bargaining this year is the operation of the bargaining cycle. In manufacturing, for example, most industries with more than 100,000 workers under major agreements (apparel, machinery, food processing, transportation equipment--aerospace and part of teh automobile industry--and primary metals) had heavy bargaining in 1985 and 1986 and will have light bargaining this year. The only manufacturing industry with more than 100,000 workers bargaining will be transportation equipment, primarily automobiles.

In State and local government, nearly half the 2.3 million workers under major agreements will be involved in bargaining. This compares with about one-third in 1986, and somewhat more than one-half in 1985, when the State and local government series was initiated. Worker coverage by major contracts in State and local government, unlike private industry, has increased from 2 million in 1985 to 2.3 million in 1987.

The bargaining scene will be colored by smaller situations, with large groups of workers concentrated in construction, trade, and government, and smaller numbers spread through a variety of other industries. (See tables 1 and 2.) Given the nature of the industries in which bargaining will be centered this year, local and regional economic issues are likely to be important considerations, as will the condition of individual firms. The state of the national economy and recent trends will also bear on both sides of the bargaining table.

General economic conditions

Last year, indicators of the Nation's economic well-being were mixed. The unemployment rate remained relatively stable at about 7 percent. The inflation rate was at its lowest level since the mid-1960's. The Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 1.8 percent for the 12 months ending September 1986. The gross national product grew 2.3 percent for the same period. The U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis reported a continued decline in spending on new plant and equipment. Its composite index of leading economic indicators, which forecasts movements in aggregate economic activity, suggests continuing, but slow growth in 1987. The U.S. international trade position is reflected in a trade deficit of $127.9 billion for the first three quarters of 1986, 20 percent above the $106.7 billion deficit during the same period a year earlier.

Labor-management relations

An element of labor-management relations that is likely to be on the minds of this year's bargainers is the continuing low number of major work stoppages. …