The Negotiator Magazine

Back to Index

prev 1 2 3 4 5 next
download printable version (MS Word .doc)

Over the past fifty years, the decline of union membership has greatly affected bargaining interactions. By the mid-1950s, 35 percent of private sector workers were union members who had their employment terms determined through collective bargaining. As the U.S. was transformed from a manufacturing to a service and white-collar economy and American firms were directly affected by global competition from emerging countries, the elevated labor costs associated with unionized personnel became detrimental to many corporations. Nonunion companies hired law firms and labor consultants to keep their firms nonunion, and organized companies began to seek ways to get rid of their unions. At the same time, Labor Board and court decisions made it easier for companies to "predict" job losses and other dire consequences associated with unionization. Unions sought to organize post-industrial entities like Wal-Mart and McDonald's, but they used blue-collar techniques to appeal to white-collar and service personnel who thought of union membership as "lower class." Union membership steadily declined, resulting in a union membership rate today below 8 percent. If this trend continues and unions are unable to develop new organizing plans that appeal to post-industrial workers, they will become irrelevant outside such traditional industries as autos, steel, and electrical manufacturing.

In their recent book, What Workers Want (1999), Professors Richard Freeman and Joel Rogers found that over 80 percent of employees would like some form of collective interaction with management, with almost half of these respondents indicating an interest in traditional labor unions. On the other hand, most of the individuals indicating an interest in unionization suggested a desire for less adversarial labor-management relationships. Representative unions can no longer sit down with employer agents and simply negotiate the terms they would like to have. In out global economy, they must be cognizant of the impact of their bargaining decisions on firm competitiveness. If they unduly increase labor costs or decrease productivity, corporate earnings will decline and workers will be laid off. They have to work together as partners to achieve results that reward employees for their contributions to firm success, while simultaneously recognizing the need to keep companies competitive.

A number of successful unionized firms have taken courses together on interest-based bargaining designed to teach labor and management representatives how to look for ways to satisfy the underlying needs of both sides simultaneously. Despite the recency of this approach, its underpinnings were recognized forty years ago by Professors Richard Walton and Robert McKersie in their classic book A Behavioral Theory of Labor Negotiations (1965). They discussed the need for participants to prioritize their underlying interests and look for ways to maximize the returns achieved by both sides. When difficult issues are raised, parties may use separate committees to explore different options that might be employed to handle these matters. These groups can meet away from public bargaining sessions and look for innovative alternatives that might not have been used previously. Without the glare of public scrutiny, they can explore options that might not be ultimately adopted without the fear of embarrassment.

prev 1 2 3 4 5 next
Back to Index


April 2005