Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Collective Bargaining in 1989: Old Problems, New Issues

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Collective Bargaining in 1989: Old Problems, New Issues

Article excerpt

Collective bargaining in 1989: old problems, new issues

Some problems which plagued negotiators throughout the decade continue into the next, and are joined by additional issues such as rising cost of health insurance, family care, and health and safety concerns

Collective bargainers closed the decade of the 1980's still facing some of the same problems they did at the beginning of the decade. But certain aspects of 1989 bargaining may be a prelude to the issues likely to be at the forefront of bargaining in the 1990's.

Problems stemming from overseas competition and from new or expanding operations of foreign-owned facilities here at home continued to plague some industries, such as steel manufacturing and automobile manufacturing. Deregulation of the airline industry near the start of the decade contributed to its disarray at the end of the decade. Deregulation of the telephone communications industry a few years into the decade and the breakup of the Bell System in 1984 continued to affect negotiations in the industry.

Rising health insurance premiums were even more of an issue this year. Bargainers in many industries had to deal with this problem, especially in the telephone, airline, and longshore industries. Concern over workers' need to care for family members, including young children, elderly parents, and disabled family members, drew more attention, and new or improved plans addressing such care were adopted in the auto, steel, and telephone communications industries. Health and safety issues, which were of particular concern to bargainers in the meatpacking industry, became prominent in other industries, including auto and tire manufacturing.

Work stoppages were more prominent in labor-management relations this year than in earlier years of the decade. After 9 years of virtually steady decline, the number of major stoppages (those involving 1,000 workers or more) increased; by the end of October, there already had been 45 stoppages, more than the record low of 40 in 1988. Other measures of work stoppage activity also were higher--the number of workers involved in stoppages, at 522,000, was sixth highest in the decade, and the number of days of idleness, 10.5 million, was fifth.

The improving conditions in some industries were reflected in the size of wage adjustments in major collective bargaining settlements reached during the first 9 months of the year. Wage rate adjustments averaged 3.1 percent annually over the life of the contracts, compared with 2.4 percent the last time the same parties settled, typically 2 or 3 years ago. If the same pattern holds through the fourth quarter, 1989 would be the first year since 1981 (when the measure was introduced) in which over-the-term wage adjustments were larger in new contracts than in expiring contracts.

Other characteristics of labor-management relations in 1989 are not easily measured in statistical terms, but are evident in the following discussion of developments in individual industries and firms.

Telephone industry

Collective bargaining results in the telephone industry continued to show increasing diversity, as AT&T and the seven regional companies that had made up the Bell System prior to its 1984 court-ordered breakup adjusted to competing with each other. But, there were common aspects to the talks and settlements. One was the adoption of "family care" benefits, which has become of national interest because of the growth of two-earner families and the resulting difficulty in obtaining care for children and elderly or disabled family members. Another common feature of the talks was the interest in containing the rise in medical care insurance costs.

To some extent, similarities in contract terms result from the companies negotiating with only two unions, the Communications Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which jointly formulated demands and coordinated their bargaining. …

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