Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Brief History of Labor Unions in the USA

A Brief History of Labor Unions

Americans have always had conflicted and varied thoughts on labor unions and their utility in the work force. Some people associate the term with mob affiliations and famous gangsters, but mostly people just envision a group of people fighting for fair pay, decent work conditions, and good benefits from employers. Legally, a labor union is the representation of United States workers in various industries. These representatives have the interest of the employee, and group of employees at heart. Labor unions have played a hugely important role in the American workforce for centuries and continue to advance labor laws in modern days.

When Labor Unions Were Established and Why

In the Revolutionary era, temporary formations of unionized workers generated the ideas which would eventually lead into the formation of permanent unions. Initially, labor unions were formed for many of the same reasons they still exist today – workers wanted protection for their physical safety in the workplace, and wanted to be compensated fairly for the time they worked for the company. The movement really caught wind in the post-civil war era where many national labor organizations began, and many also met failure.

Up until the 1900s, national unions were the only workers’ advocates until around the 20’s when local unions started rallying for workers’ rights – this is also when the now common act of striking began to catch on. In the 1930s, an act called the Wagner Act became the first act to protect the rights of unions to organize. About a decade later, an oppositional act called the Taft-Hartley Act began the start of a weaker era for unions; negative attention caused by corruption and mob affiliation caused many companies and workers alike to distance themselves from organized labor unions from the 50s moving forward.

Modern Labor Unions

Today, labor unions are mostly about negotiating for better wages, healthcare benefits, sick pay, overtime pay, and working conditions. The main role of a modernized union is to ensure that labor laws already in place are being upheld by employers. If it is found that an employer is violating laws and guidelines in place for the treatment of their employees, a union representative will go up against the company on behalf of the employees. Unions which operate on a larger scale typically spend the most time rallying for better labor laws and lobby at the state & federal levels.

Recent lack of compliance and opposition from private companies has reduced the amount of unionized workers. An estimated 11.4% of United States workers belong to a union in the modern workforce - this is quite a bit less than other countries with similar industries; that number is even less in the private sector with only 7% of private sector employees belonging to a labor union. Most modern unions are based in the Northeast, Midwest, and the state of California with a large amount of workers being predominantly older males. Union workers also get the benefit of making up to 30% more annually than their non-unionized counterparts. Although employers are growing increasingly more oppositional to unions, the workers protected under unionization are going to continue to fight to keep this aging concept working for them. The United States Department of Labor has initiated many laws which protect the rights of workers, and because of this many see unions as a pre-dated concept. 


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