Support through your toughest HR challenges: A network of 285,000 HR professionals.
Shawn Premer shows how doing the right thing for employees leads to positive business results.
Is your employee handbook keeping up with the changing world of work? With SHRM's Employee Handbook Builder get peace of mind that your handbook is up-to-date.
Build competencies, establish credibility and advance your career—while earning PDCs—at SHRM Seminars in 12 cities across the U.S. this spring.
#SHRM18 will expand your perspective – on your organization, on your career, and on the way you approach HR. Join us in Chicago June 17-20, 2018
As workers’ wages fall, organized labor may experience a resurgence.
Members may download one copy of our sample forms and templates for your personal use within your organization. Please note that all such forms and policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel for compliance with applicable law, and should be modified to suit your organization’s culture, industry, and practices. Neither members nor non-members may reproduce such samples in any other way (e.g., to republish in a book or use for a commercial purpose) without SHRM’s permission. To request permission for specific items, click on the “reuse permissions” button on the page where you find the item.
Organized labor in America is in decline. Unions currently represent less than 7 percent of the private-sector workforce, the lowest percentage in decades. Those numbers trouble Damon Silvers, policy director for the AFL-CIO. Yet Silvers anticipates a resurgence in the labor movement as workers seek to regain bargaining power. Falling real wages coupled with cuts to health and retirement benefits make that push inevitable. A federation of U.S. labor unions, the AFL-CIO represents more than 12 million public- and private-sector union members.
What is the greatest threat to the American worker’s economic security?
It’s not a threat, it’s a reality—and it’s falling wages. There are two big issues at work here. One is essentially a policy decision to push our economy to compete globally on flat, low wages. The other is that plummeting wages create a country that cannot maintain its place in the world, one that is unable to preserve its infrastructure and educate its workforce. That’s a scary situation because if you don’t have infrastructure and educated workers, you go from being an economy that can make choices to one locked into decline, or close to it.
Organized labor has long worked to protect wages only to see its influence wane. What’s holding the labor movement back?
The American labor movement has been badly damaged by the generation-long, societal choice of trying to compete globally through lower wages. Unions are and will continue to be an obstacle to that strategy, as their purpose is to make sure workers get their fair share of the wealth they create. The Great Recession has also hurt, as mass unemployment kills labor unions. Job losses not only diminish our numbers but also damage the average worker’s ability to organize, since being out of work or fearing for one’s job damages self-confidence.
What could lead to labor’s revival?
The issue comes down to rebuilding the collective confidence of the workforce in their own ability to bargain effectively. The labor movement’s success going forward will come from being an effective tool for that effort.
Where does the labor movement stand in terms of its political influence?
The numbers bounce around a little bit, but labor union household membership has remained around a quarter of the electorate.
That’s nothing to sneeze at in terms of political clout. But the reality is it all depends on the ability of labor unions to be a vehicle for working people to bargain for themselves. If we don’t do that, the political power we have will not be sustainable.
How can HR professionals improve their relationships with labor and workers?
The most important thing is to be interested in having a productive relationship. Once a business or an HR director starts from that place, many things become rather simple. In every relationship a company has with the people who provide it with the resources to do business, there is both an element of conflict and an element of collaboration. Whether company leaders are sitting down with a lender, a vendor or a labor representative, everybody wants to get the deal done, but at their own price. It’s normal for there to be some contentiousness in all relationships of this kind.
What advantages do HR departments with in-house labor experts have over those that wholly outsource that role?
Outside firms can be good sources of expertise. Yet if you depend on them for anything really critical, you run the risk that the firm’s own agenda comes into the process. What is the firm’s priority? More business? More fees? With any critical function, it’s wise to have in-house expertise in line with your organization’s interest.
Adam Van Brimmer is a journalist and freelance writer based in Georgia.
You have successfully saved this page as a bookmark.
Please confirm that you want to proceed with deleting bookmark.
You have successfully removed bookmark.
Please log in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please sign in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please purchase a SHRM membership before saving bookmarks.
An error has occurred
Recommended for you
Talent Attraction Study: What Matters to the Modern Candidate
SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition
SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 3,200 companies