Academic journal article Labor Law Journal

Why Politics Should Not Be Liberated from Collective Bargaining: Problems with the Unbundled Union Regime

Academic journal article Labor Law Journal

Why Politics Should Not Be Liberated from Collective Bargaining: Problems with the Unbundled Union Regime

Article excerpt

The U.S. trade union movement has been in crisis for decades. With the breakdown of the post-war Keynesian welfare state, which was in existence from approximately the late 1940s to the late 1970s, and the subsequent transition to a full-blown neoliberalism, US trade unionism has been hammered. Union density, which has not been this low since 1916, registered 11.1 percent in 2014 with just 6.6 percent found in the private sector.1 This compares to the 1955 peak of union density at the time of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) merger when nearly 35 percent of the work force were union members.2 While the heavy manufacturing industries such as auto, steel and rubber were bastions of union strength six decades ago, the highest unionization rates (40.8 percent) are now found among local government employees, which includes the occupational groups of firefighters, teachers and police officers. Among private sector industries, union densities are the highest in utilities at 25.6 percent, transportation and warehousing at 19.6 percent and telecommunications and construction at 14.4 and 14.1 percent, respectively.3 Although union density has been declining in virtually all of the industrial and post-industrial countries throughout the world, recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) statistics indicate that only France (7.8 percent) has a lower union membership rate, as do the newly industrialized nations of Turkey (5.4 percent) and South Korea (9.9 percent), than the United States.4

Given the declining rate of unionization in the United States, there have been a number of proposals for reviving union density. One of the most recent proposals is referred to as the unbundled union regime argument which calls for the formation of political unions to counteract the fall in union density. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to explain the details of the unbundled union regime and then to indicate problems with the formation of political unions.

The paper will proceed in the following manner. In the first section, factors contributing to the decline in union density and to the weakening of unions will be discussed along with detailing the unions' initial responses to these problems which include investing more money in political campaigns, the attempt to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) after 2008 and the formation of the Change to Win Federation in 2005. The second section will briefly discuss six strategies that have been proposed for reviving US trade unionism as alternatives to the unbundled union regime. The third section will summarize the major points of the unbundled union regime argument while the fourth section will present a detailed criticism of political unions. Finally, the paper's last section will provide a conclusion.

Factors Contributing to Union Density Decline and Union Weakness

While the tremendous loss of jobs in manufacturing industries constitutes a major reason for falling union density, it is not the only one. The state of union organizing, as indicated by the number of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certification elections conducted each year as well as union victory rates in these votes, tells part of the story. While in 1942, 86.3 percent of the 4,212 union certification elections were won by unions, both the win rates and the number of certification elections have been declining for years.5 One factor accounting for such dismal statistics is the existence of intensified employer resistance during unionization campaigns which results in many union organizing drives failing to culminate in a union certification election. For example, the 1,503 NLRB certification elections conducted in 2008 was less than half of the 3,162 elections conducted in 1999.6

Low unionization rates are not the only problem that afflicts today's trade union movement. US strike rates, a measure of the unions' collective bargaining power, have been waning over the last three decades. …

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