Organization of the relevant workforce

Organization of the relevant workforce

To solidify bargaining power, an important union goal is to organize those workers that represent a threat to union member wage levels and job security. Union structure and goals and the labor market in which it operates help determine the appropriate organizational focus for that union.

  1. Craft-based unions
    In some unions, the goal is extending the collective bargaining agreement to all workers sharing the same skills. This is particularly common in the construction industry where unions tend to be organized along strict craft lines. For example, the primary threat to union-represented electrician wage scales is a contractor's ability to find and employ non-union electricians. A traditional method for protecting against this risk is for the union to control the craft knowledge through union-controlled or dominated apprenticeship programs and hiring halls or referral systems.

    A majority of craft unions exercised short term planning in the relatively prosperous years of the 1960s There was plenty of work for union members, and the unions enjoyed relatively low unemployment and concentrated their referrals to the lucrative industrial and commercial projects. The less stable, lower wage residential construction market was left to the non-union sector of the industry. In the short term, this was not a major problem because most union members were working. However, by allowing non-union entry into the residential market, unions' control of craft knowledge suffered significant erosion. The non-union sector became a training ground in direct competition with the union apprenticeship programs. As the construction market weakened, these non-union workers became more attractive to industrial and commercial builders because they brought lower wage levels and an acceptable level of skill.

  2. Industrial unions
    Industrial unions' goal is to bring all workers engaged in specific manufacturing processes under the same bargaining patterns. If a union's jurisdiction is defined by identifiable product or service lines, it is described as an industrial union. A goal of the United Steelworkers of America, for example, is to extend the same or comparable working conditions to all workers engaged in the domestic steel industry.

    If an industrial union is successful, any employer manufacturing the specific product anywhere in the country would be subject to the same general terms and conditions of employment. If the union is not successful, the presence of non-union plants with substandard working conditions undermines the union's bargaining power in the organized sector.

    Logically, this strategy results in wage and benefit levels being highest in those economic sectors with the highest percentage of union-represented workers. In sectors where unions have been less successful in organizing, wages are generally lower. In the 1980s and 1990s, employers have emerged in nearly every industry that have remained non-union, even in their domestic operations. The presence of Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and other non-union automobile facilities in the United States represents one example of the erosion of traditional union bargaining power.

  3. Geographical constraints
    In any situation, the relevant workplace for organizing and collective bargaining is defined in part by geography. If a union focuses organizing attention on the assumption that workers are part of a local labor market, but the employer is able to import workers or export work to a different market, the union stands to lose bargaining power. For example, construction work has traditionally been a local labor market industry. However, in recent years, large and highly mobile national contractors have developed the ability to move non-union workers into and out of local markets, creating a new definition of the relevant workforce for construction unions.

    The same trend has occurred in industrial unions. Major corporations first began to move work out of the high wage, heavily unionized northeastern and midwestern states and into the low wage southern regions of the country. Those same employers subsequently moved increasingly offshore, out of the organizing reach of unions that are traditionally based on national labor market assumptions. Industrial organizing strategy is to follow the work wherever it is done. To respond to the international mobility of capital, unions have a vested interest in the development of strong unions internationally.

  4. General unionism
    Traditional industrial union organizing assumptions have not worked with many employers that can no longer be identified with a single product. Industrial diversification allows an employer to become less dependent upon any single product, and therefore more capable of avoiding union bargaining power. For example, R.J. Reynolds began its corporate life in the tobacco industry but now owns businesses engaged in dozens of unrelated product lines. If a company has the power to avoid high wages in each industry by getting out of that industry, union bargaining power in the core industry will erode.

    General union principles suggest that a union's organizing and bargaining goals should follow a company not only geographically but also industrially. If USX (formerly US Steel) can avoid steelworker wages by redirecting its capital investment into the oil industry, the steelworkers' bargaining strength is eroded. Some unions have made attempts to follow the money, building relationships with worker alias in other industries that are in whole or in part owned by the same people. In some ways this is like unions following the work when jobs that used be be done in house are contacted to outside firms. Similarly, diversification of General Motors Corporation represents a threat to the UAW's bargaining power. Corporate-wide pattern or coordinated bargaining, either multi-craft or multi worksite, is a response to the conglomerate mergers that is like the development of industry-wide pattern bargaining in traditional product-defined industrial unionism.