What Happened to the Labor Accord?

By Nordlund, Willis J. | Labor Law Journal, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

What Happened to the Labor Accord?


Nordlund, Willis J., Labor Law Journal


I. Introduction

Harmonious labor relations in the United States should be a goal of government, business, and workers. Currently, there is simmering below the surface of industrial America an imbalance that could erupt into a full boil at any time. What is not apparent to many Americans is that the playing field of labor-management relations has been tilted - some might say, upset - so that most workers have few rights in the employment relationship and the unions who represent them have even fewer rights and very limited power. A process commonly referred to as the "Labor Accord" dominated labor-management relations for almost four decades.

The Labor Accord, however, no longer exists and, as a consequence, employees are now at the mercy of employers and the government to determine what they will be paid, what the conditions of employment will be, whether they have any semblance of job security, how secure their pensions are, how vulnerable they are to national trade policies, and dozens of other relationships that frustrate and worry American workers. What the trigger point may be and how it will work its way out are unknown, but any reasonable critic must acknowledge that all is not well in the American house of labor.

II. What Happened?

Unions in the United States are experiencing one of the most difficult times in their history. While over 15 million American workers are either members of unions, or are represented by unions, there is concern that unions, as institutions, are becoming relics of by-gone years. American unions came into being because of the working conditions in American industry and have been an important part of Americana for almost two centuries. This short review is designed to explore the changes in perception and attitude of government and the productive sector toward the role of unions as organizations that represent workers.

From roughly the end of World War II, until the end of the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, American corporations and labor unions experienced what has been called the Labor Accord. During that period, it appeared that corporate America had accepted the existence and role of labor unions as partners in the productive enterprise. Other terms, such as the "corporatist period" of American labor relations, are also used to suggest an accommodation of labor unions in the productive sector. Importantly, during the early Labor Accord, while public sector workers had attempted to organize unions of government employees, there was less acceptance of unions in the governmental sector. Several states, most notably Wisconsin in a leadership role, had legislatively accepted collective bargaining by state employees, but they had not been legislatively accepted at the Federal government level.

Ill.The Law

The enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935 is a watershed event in union growth. Early Federal legislation including the Railway Labor Act of 1927 had started the process of union acceptance, but 1935 was the most pivotal year in this process. The nation was in the around in the twenty-five percent. President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that the lop-sided power relationship between employers and their employees contributed to the onset and depth of the Great Depression. Therefore, in an effort to equalize power in the private productive sector, federal law gave workers the right to form and join unions. American workers made use of the law and union membership exploded from 3.6 million union members in 1935 to 14 million in 1947. l

IV. Post War Work Stoppages

The nation entered World War II in December, 1941, and the federal government pressured both unions and business to support the war effort through peaceful labor-management relations. While there were a few work stoppages during the war years, it was not until 1946 that the restraints blocking unions and employers from unrestrained work stoppage activity were removed. …

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