Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Dealing with Alternatively Organized Workers: Recruitment and Retention Strategies among Danish Shop Stewards

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Dealing with Alternatively Organized Workers: Recruitment and Retention Strategies among Danish Shop Stewards

Article excerpt

Introduction and background

Although Danish union densities remain comparatively high, a declining tendency has been observed during the last 15 years (Due et al. 2010; Visser 2006). This development both reflects a rise in the number of workers with no union affiliation at all and a rise in the number of workers organized in alternative unions. In the Danish context, alternative unions refer to unions that offer individual juridical guidance and assistance but rarely contribute to collective bargaining. This means that they are significantly cheaper to join than traditional unions, who invest the majority of their resources in collective bargaining activities. Surveys have demonstrated that the cheaper membership fee is one of the most important reasons why workers make the shift from traditional to alternative unions. Another important reason is dissatisfaction with the individual service delivered by the traditional union (Ibsen et al. 2012). Furthermore, the alternative unions seem to attract a lot of young workers, which is a group that traditional unions in Denmark as well as in other countries find it difficult to recruit and retain (Ibsen et al. 2011, 2012; Tailby and Pollert 2011; Visser 2002).

The development in union densities is also evident at the local level. Today, shop stewards who represent the traditional unions increasingly face a complex environment of traditionally organized workers, alternatively organized workers, and unorganized workers on the shop floor. Whereas one in three local shop stewards had unorganized or alternatively organized colleagues in 1998, this was the case for two in three shop stewards in 2010 (Navrbjerg and Larsen 2011). Danish as well as international studies have demonstrated how local employee representatives play an important role in the retention and recruitment of union members (Larsen et al. 2010; Oesch 2012; Pilemalm et al. 2001). Several unions in Denmark and other Western countries have launched initiatives to strengthen this role, for instance, through organizer campaigns (Arnholtz et al. 2012; Badigannavar and Kelly 2005, 2011; Hickey et al. 2010). An increasing number of unorganized and alternatively organized workers therefore mean that shop stewards must focus more of their work on recruiting and retaining union members.

However, it might be difficult for shop stewards to combine certain recruitment and retention initiatives with their other tasks at the workplace. Danish shop stewards are elected among members of the traditional unions at the workplace, and they are only obliged to represent those members. Yet, surveys have indicated that shop stewards split into two groups when it comes to non-members. Approximately half of the shop stewards (48%) choose to represent non-members in the same way as members, whereas the other half (39%) choose not to (Larsen et al. 2010: 99; Navrbjerg and Larsen 2011: 91). How can we explain this answer? A possible explanation might be that many Danish shop stewards are involved in extensive bargaining activities at the company level. A large part of the private sector in Denmark is characterized by local-level wage setting (within the framework of sector-level agreements). Hence, the majority of shop stewards in the private sector need to establish a strong bargaining mandate toward management, which can affect their choice of recruitment and retention strategies.

Previous studies have shown that it is often more difficult for shop stewards and other forms of employee and/or union representatives to coordinate bargaining objectives among the workers than it is for management representatives to coordinate bargaining objectives among the other managers (Ilsøe 2012; Walton and McKersie 1965). The presence of alternatively organized or unorganized workers might make this process of intra-organizational bargaining even more challenging for local shop stewards. If shop stewards depend on a strong bargaining mandate, they may prefer inclusive strategies toward non-members to avoid conflicts among workers. …

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