Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Labor Faces More Hard Times; Strike Weapon Fails

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Labor Faces More Hard Times; Strike Weapon Fails

Article excerpt

ORGANIZED labor - which saw its influence shrink in the 1980s, following President Reagan's firing of 11,000 striking air controllers in 1981 - is again on the defensive.

In Washington it's seeking a bill that would bar employers from hiring permanent replacement workers during strikes. But the measure, if passed, is expected to be vetoed by President Bush. And an override is unlikely, experts say.

Meanwhile, labor is in trouble in disputes around the United States. In New York, striking unions have been unable to force a settlement at the New York Daily News. Management says it will close the paper if it is not sold. And British press magnate Robert Maxwell, the prospective buyer, is known as a tough, anti-union employer; he has indicated he wants at least 800 jobs cut.

Union officials here have been forced to challenge a plan by City Hall to defer some municipal-employee wages to help close a city budget gap. A number of Hollywood film executives have said they might suspend production in New York - the No. 2 center in the US for filmmaking, behind Los Angeles - unless unions curb featherbedding practices. Meanwhile, a long strike against Greyhound Lines Inc. continues. Greyhound is operating its buses with replacement workers.

"The size and importance of the union movement in the United States has been reduced to anecdotal status when such (minor) incidents seem to cluster together in one year," says Audrey Freedman, an economist with the Conference Board, a business group. The various incidents simply "show that striking is just not very effective these days."

At the most, strikes are more likely to destroy an employer's business than bring about wage increases, says Ms. Freedman. She maintains that unions should shift priorities away from bargaining about wage packages to meeting social needs of members - such as better police protection, adequate and inexpensive public transportation, and so forth. …

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