Twenty million people with a common identity, that of being union members, constitutes the single largest group in the United States exclusive of major political parties. Causes of the decline in union influence are many and complex. Traditional manufacturing industries, especially steel and automobiles, which have been a major mainstay of large unions, have declined in number of employees. Both mining and construction, also traditionally unionized industries, have increasingly become nonunionized.
A mixture of public perceptions, changing employment patterns, more capable management, somewhat dated political stances in some unions, have all had an impact on union growth and effectiveness. Regardless of their difficulties, union leaders are promising a strong comeback as a major part of organizational life in the United States. Although proving their statements either correct or incorrect may take several years, unions are still an important component of organizational life and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future (Kelly and Willman, 2004).
Douglas Fraser, past president of the United Automobile Workers International Union, has been, like many other progressive union officials, as leader in defining the future course of union-management relations. He views the future as one that must include greater job security, improved productivity based on technological advances, greater worker participation, in corporate decision-making, and rededication to quality. Many managers are restating Fraser’s views in their own words.
Significantly, there is some indication that union-management relations are cautiously moving toward a more cooperative stance (Blackard, 2000). A look at today’s organizations indicates a number of ways in which unionization and accompanying human relations principles are highly influential. First, the influence of unionization can be clearly seen in the general attitude of management toward employees. It would be difficult indeed to find a manager today who would characterize his or her subordinates as interchangeable cogs.
Rather, managers today do not question the fact that the employees in their organization have needs and desires that must be considered in organizational functioning. This is not to suggest that these human needs always take precedence in decision-making. International market forces sometimes lead organizational leaders to put human needs second, but these human needs tend to be an integral part of decision-making in today’s organizations (Levine, 1995). Today, these needs are even protected by legal means.
Many governments now seek to ameliorate the often-devastating effects of long-term unemployment through Unemployment Insurance and Social-Welfare programs. For instance, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also known as Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) mandates, prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against applicants and employees in all aspects of employment, including recruiting, hiring, pay, promotion, training and termination, on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion or gender (Blake, 1991).