Unionism, Job Security, and Quality of Output: A Dilemma?

By Gitlow, Abraham L.; Gitlow, Howard S. | Labor Law Journal, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Unionism, Job Security, and Quality of Output: A Dilemma?


Gitlow, Abraham L., Gitlow, Howard S., Labor Law Journal


I. Introduction

Our purpose is to explore the vital impact of labor-management relations on quality consciousness (i.e., the ability to produce quality products and services in a quality environment), and to propose a view of labor-management relations which promotes quality consciousness. Our view requires the substitution of cooperation for conflict in labor management relations: not a new idea, but one that has yet to be implemented widely, if it is to replace the traditional adversarial one that has prevailed. The substitution involves discussing: (1) the basic problem of job security, (2) the perceived conflicts between job security and the requirements for achieving quality, (3) some plans for improving labor-management relations, (4) a comparison of those plans, and (5) a cooperative approach to labor-management relations. Finally, a look is taken at the implications of the cooperative approach for labor, and at the prospect ofthat approach being adopted.

The advantage of adversity is that it concentrates attention on the basics. Under the intense pressures of World War II, and its insatiable demand for enormous quantities of high quality military hardware, American industry adopted and applied widely the methods and philosophy of statistical quality control. Dr. Walter Shewhart, Dr. W Edwards Deming1, Dr. Joseph Juran, and others, were the intellectual leaders of this effort. After the war almost anything produced by American industry had ready and eager buyers, both domestically and internationally. American industry was a colossus standing astride a devastated world. Amid that devastation, Japanese industry was to be found, in physical ruin and the psychological trauma of defeat. It had also a worldwide reputation from the pre-war period as a producer of shoddy imitations of the superior goods manufactured by other industrial nations.

What did the Japanese do? Among other things, they invited W. Edwards Deming to teach them the philosophy and methodology of quality improvement. And they took man, philosophy, and method to their hearts. Slowly, yet Phoenixlike, modern industrialized Japan rose from the ashes of war. Buried with the debris was the reputation for shoddiness. The hallmark of the new Japan was the reputation for exceptional quality. Its output of autos, cameras, radios, TV sets, and much more were enthusiastically sought worldwide. And, the American industrial giant staggered and reeled in the face of this competition.

Only in 1980 did American industry begin to seriously listen again to the now octogenarian W. Edwards Deming. The acuity of American industry's hearing was greatly enhanced by the seriousness of the Japanese competitive threat, as well as that from an emergent and restored Europe. By the dawn of the 21st century, American industry had realized the need to restore its competitive global strength. The answer to this restoration depended, in large part, on the degree to which American labor and American management reviewed and altered their perceptions of their conflicting goals.

II. Job Security, Employment Security, High Wages and Cooperation

There is considerable literature which seeks to analyze and understand the goals of the American trade union movement. Some writers have emphasized the wage rate; others have focused on total compensation (i.e., wage rate X hours worked, plus non-wage benefits); and still others have concentrated on job security and employment. We are reminded at this point of the influential article published in the American Economic Review of September 1947 entitled: "The Trade Union as a Wage-Fixing Institution," by the late Professor Arthur M. Ross. In that article, Dr. Ross expressed the view that the American trade union movement could set wages without significant regard for the employment effect. The article was very widely quoted, and had a large impact on academicians and others. Of course, the immediate postwar period was one in which American industry dominated a war devastated world, and effective competition was non-existent.

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