Collective Bargaining in the Public Sector

Union membership is today at an all time low. It has been steadily declining since the 1980’s. Private sector union membership has been affected the most, while that of the public sector has remained relatively strong (Devinatz, 2011 Spring). Public worker unions, especially state and federal government unions, must be allowed to continue to bargain collectively to ensure the rights and job security of their members. Collective bargaining allows union members to have a voice regarding their wages, benefits, and working conditions.

According to Raymond Hogler, in the “Labor Law Journal”, Fall 2012, “The erosion of institutions of collective bargaining will inevitably lead to a diminution of wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers” (Hogler, p. 163). Many public employees, especially teachers who work for the state, receive much lower pay than other professionals. Collective bargaining allows public employees a much needed say about their jobs, wages, and benefits. Whereas teachers, for instance, have lower pay than many other professionals, collective bargaining has ensured that they have one of the best retirement systems.

In addition, collective bargaining has protected teachers’ job tenure, thus preventing them from being fired without a due process hearing and other protections. The need for unions were a direct result of the unfair labor practices employed during the Industrial Revolution beginning in the late 18th century and continuing on into the early 20th century. Since there were no labor laws initially, especially regarding child labor, women and children were often employed for long hours at low wages.

At one time, women and children made up 75% of the factory work force since they could be hired for lower wages. Children proved more malleable and adapted more easily to the newer methods employed. Children as young as eight years old were sent to work in the factories or in the mines where their smaller bodies could fit into tight and often highly dangerous places (Bond, Gingerich, Archer-Antonson, Purcell, & Macklem, 2003). Children were also preferred at times to work in factories since their small hands could reach into tight places when moving parts became jammed.

There were few safeguards in place to prevent the children’s hands and arms from becoming maimed if caught between moving parts on a machine. During the late 1700s in England, a man named Slater employed a Pauper system whereby he used children from poor families as workers in his mills. These children worked twelve to sixteen hours a day for six days a week. Instead of being paid wages, these children received room and board, thereby alleviating the burden of feeding them from their families.

Families of the children were appalled at the tight discipline, lack of heat, and the working conditions in the mills. Many of the children chose to run away. When the employment of just children proved problematic, entire households were hired. The father negotiated the contract and stipulated the conditions for each family member (Tucker, 2005 May, p. 24). During the Industrial Revolution, government adopted a hands-off or laissez-faire attitude towards business. Therefore, business owners could treat their workers however they wished.

Since children could be hired for less pay, they were hired in great numbers, working 12 to 14 hour days under horrible conditions. Many of these children became apprentices to the factory owners where they lived in miserable dormitories. They were frequently under-fed, ill-clothed, and beaten with fist and whip. There was a high death rate among child laborers (Hackett, 1992). Since all or most members of the family were working for upwards of eighteen hours daily, the family unit broke down.

Children’s family contact usually amounted to the few hours spent at home sleeping. Since many families lived in shared housing with other families, family units withered even further. Children received little or no education, were malnourished and sickly, and experienced stunted growth. They grew up maladjusted since they had never been taught how to properly behave. The living conditions were appalling with little or no sanitation. As a result, infant mortality skyrocketed during the Industrial Revolution: over 50% of infants died before they

reached two years of age (Bond, Gingerich, Archer-Antonson, Purcell, & Macklem, 2003). It is largely due to the unsafe conditions, abuse of laborers, especially women and children, and the workers’ lack of a voice over their employment that labor unions first came into existence. The earliest unions were established as “friendly societies” that charged dues to be used to assist workers during unemployment or sickness. It wasn’t long before they grew into organizations seeking to win improvements for workers by the use of strikes and collective bargaining.

Industrial workers increasingly became involved politically to encourage the passage of laws favorable to them. This drive by workers to increase their political power, as well as the right to vote, was largely responsible for the 19th century spread of democracy (Hackett, 1992). Today, labor unions seek to control the supply of labor. This control over the labor supply enables unions to secure collective bargaining agreements that have “brought millions of America’s workers into the middle class” (Gitlow, 2012 Summer, p. 124).

The fear of being unionized exerts psychological pressure on employers which can often serve as a check on their otherwise abusive and exploitative inclinations (Gitlow, 2012 Summer). According to Givan and Hipp, in a 24 nations study of workers’ views about the efficacy of unions, entitled “Public Perceptions of Union Efficacy: A Twenty-Four Country Study,” most laborers who belong to unions: feel most positive about the ability of unions to improve working conditions and job security. Women tend to hold a more positive view than men of the effects of unions on job security.

Women are generally more susceptible to various forms of workplace discrimination, which creates a greater need for the kind of protection provided by unions (Givan and Hipp, 2012 March, p. 25). Thus we can easily see the importance of unions for the protections they offer workers regarding pay, working conditions, the right to strike if necessary, and most especially, the right to collectively bargain. Unions and the right to collectively bargain are increasingly endangered across the United States.

At least 17 states have passed legislation or have bills pending that would severely curtail the right of employees to collectively bargain (Rigiero, 2011 April). According to Deb Rigiero, in “You are now entering the United Corporations of America,” “We are rapidly becoming the workplace of the past… the workplace without safety regulations; the workplace without workers’ rights; and the workplace without recognition of and appreciation for the worker” (Rigiero, 2011 April, p. 14). Right to work (RTW) laws have been steadily eroding workers’ rights for many years already.

Over 22 states have passed RTW laws. The RTW laws aren’t there to guarantee workers the right to a job, but are instead aimed at the unions’ abilities to collect dues to aid in administering the unions. Under RTW laws, it is illegal to for unions to require workers to pay these dues. Without members’ dues to support them, unions’ power and strength of collective bargaining are severely undermined. Many unions may eventually find themselves endangered or extinct (Lafer, 2012 February 6).

Then workers will find themselves without representation or even a voice regarding their rights. Those people against public employee unions and collective bargaining feel that public sector employees are receiving excessive pay and benefits at the expense of the American taxpayers (Schulz, 2012 January 10). Unions restrict the authority and management of company managers. In addition, unions may have a polarizing effect between management and the employees of a company. Unions also restrict the ability of managers to deal one-on-one with employees.

When unions are involved, management is unable to make unilateral changes that may involve hours, wages, or other issues dealing with employment (University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2012). In “Why U. S. should cheer for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker,” Nick Schulz feels that “The collective bargaining privilege gives teacher unions political power that is used to block reform efforts and shield K-12 education from entrepreneurial disruptions that threaten established ways of doing things” (Schulz, 2012, Para. 11).

Many Republicans espouse school vouchers as the answer to declining test scores across the United States. Vouchers are opposed by teacher unions and most educators who say that they would disrupt or damage our public education system in the U. S. If parents are allowed to use vouchers to choose which school their children attend, then those parents will be able to select the school that best fits their children’s needs and learning style. Whereas this might be great for the child involved, it could pose difficulties for already cash-strapped public schools that would lose some of their state funding.

Public school employees who belong to teacher unions should be treated as professionals, yet they receive pay far below that of other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Collective bargaining has allowed public union members to speak on their own behalf regarding their working conditions and job benefits. Public sector unions are currently “under attack” by right-wing politicians supported by large corporations (McAlevey, 2011 March 7). If public union members are not allowed to use collective bargaining, then they will no longer have a voice in their wages, benefits, or working conditions.

Wages could be cut at the whim of management. To finish their jobs for the day, many public employees might find themselves working “off the clock” since management can require more from them without recompense. According to an article by Raymond Hogler and Christine Henle, entitled “The Attack on Public Sector Unions in the United States: How Regional Culture Influences Legal Policy,” “Coincident with union declines, American workers experienced stagnant wages, a diminution of benefits, and overall degradation of working conditions” (Hogler and Henle, 2011 Fall, p.

137). 22 states have now passed right to work laws which “interfere with unions’ ability to maintain solidarity and acquire resources” (Hogler and Henle, 2011 Fall, p. 138). Those states with right to work laws have less union density, as well as “less equality for their citizens in terms of health care, education, and income” (Hogler and Henle, 2011 Fall, p. 143). Public union employees must be allowed to continue bargaining collectively to protect their right to have a voice in their working conditions, wages, and benefits.

Collective bargaining ensures that public union members make a livable wage to support their families now, as well as having a secure retirement pension waiting for them when they retire. Many politicians indicate that teachers earn too much money. A teacher I know now makes below the national poverty level, yet he holds a Master’s Degree plus 30 hours. He is not an isolated case. Many teachers who belong to a teachers’ union still make salaries below the national poverty level. If their pay erodes even further, then many teachers will be unable to afford to continue teaching.

Teachers’ and other public employee unions are there to support and protect great teachers, not cover for any “bad” ones. Don’t we want to hold on to the dedicated teachers who have given of themselves to ensure that all children receive a free quality public education? ? References Bond, E. , Gingerich, S. , Archer-Antonson, O. , Purcell, L. , & Macklem, E. (2003). Impact of the Industrial Revolution. Retrieved Sunday, October 21, 2012, from http://industrialrevolution. sea. ca Devinatz, V. (2011, Spring). U. S.

Trade Unionism Under Globalization: The Death of Voluntarism and the Turn to Politics? Labor Law Journal. 62(1). 16-29. Retrieved Saturday, September 29, 2012, from EBSCOhost AN: 59982464 Gitlow, A. (2012, Summer). Ebb and Flow in America’s Trade Unions: The Present Prospect. Labor Law Journal. 63(2). 123-136. Retrieved Saturday, October 13, 2012 from EBSCOhost AN: 78023126 Givan, R. & Hipp, L. Public Perceptions of Union Efficacy: A Twenty-Four Country Study. Labor Studies Journal. 37(1). 7-32. Retrieved Saturday, October 13, 2012, from EBSCOhost DOI: 10. 1177/0160449X11429264