Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Future of Organized Labor

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Future of Organized Labor

Article excerpt

This summer Americans witnessed an event that has become increasingly rare - a strike with a happy ending for workers.

After a 15-day Teamsters walkout that paralyzed the United Parcel Service - and many businesses that rely on it - management blinked. Though final contract details are still murky, the union prevailed in its key demands.

UPS workers will remain in the multi-employer Teamster pension plan. Thousands of part-time UPS workers will move into full-time jobs. Instead of getting bonus pay tied to company profits, full-time workers will get a pay hike that is equivalent to 3 percent a year and part-timers will see their pay rise approximately 7 percent a year. The settlement hardly signals a turnaround in the fortunes of American labor, however. The long-term trends that have weakened unions remain firmly in place. Decline of union clout Union membership must start growing again if organized labor is to wield the clout it enjoyed in the early post-war period. By international standards, union membership in the United States is low, and it continues to shrink. In the mid-1950s about 1 worker in 3 on non-farm payrolls was a member of a union - and membership rates were even higher in the private sector. But by the mid-1990s fewer than 1 worker in 6 had a union card. In the private sector, just 1 worker in 10 is a union member today. Industries that were once union strongholds, like coal mining, auto assembly, and trucking, have shrunk or been challenged by powerful nonunion competitors. (UPS and the federal Postal Service, which dominate package delivery, have been unionized for decades, but they now face competition from nonunion upstarts like Federal Express.) Even worse, unions have failed to establish a toehold in most of the nation's fastest growing industries, such as financial and business services. Unions are conspicuously less confrontational than they once were. Labor disputes only rarely result in major strikes, which helps explain the news media attention lavished on the UPS dispute. In 1970, approximately 30 potential workdays out of every 1,000 were spent in idleness as a result of labor disputes. …

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