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Unionization and Workers’ Quality of Life Essay

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Unionization is the act of people coming together for collective bargaining. It is a way of bringing all the people in a particular industry together to form a union irrespective of their business, skills, or occupation. Its aim is to bring unity and to create solidarity among the workers. It is believed that a single worker cannot confront the full power of the respective company without the support of others. When workers come together, they become a formidable force that is capable of fighting for their rights.

Quality of life can be defined as the well-being of individuals in a particular locality. The quality of life is measured by social and economic indicators. These are things like: accessibility of social services (hospitals and schools) and purchasing power. These are the tools that are used by the government while doing its economic planning for the country. This aspect is looked at differently by various organizations or cooperate bodies because it entails how the welfare of the workers is. That is whether they have access to hospitals, are they exploited or not? Are their human rights are protected within that company?

The history of labor unions extends back to the history of America in the 17th Century when many pilgrims who were craftsmen settled in Plymouth Rock. Later, John Smith, the Captain requested for more workers from London, Guilds of cobblers and carpenters arrived. These workers later helped Americans in the struggle for independence until the independence was granted in 1776 after signing a declaration agreement. After this period, different groups of workers who were in pursuit of better working conditions and payments started airing their grievances either through negotiations or through strikes.

The first group to agitate for better pay was of the printers who wanted higher pay for shorter hours in 1794, New York 1820S, many unions had started showing some interest in unionism so that they could pursue their common objectives like reducing working hours in a day from 10-12 hours. Though the effects to organize people were not successful, they portrayed the necessity of people coming together to fight for legal, social, and economic rights. (Greggs LH.1963; 78)

As various workers recognized how powerful the employers were, they stopped hesitating in forming unions. By mid 19th century, the number of local unions had significantly risen. Different unions came together to form federations and the first National Labor Union came to being in 1866. All through the 19th century, the trade unions were not strong in the united states of America. After a period of five years, the National Labor Union and Federation of Trades that was founded in 1881 changed its name to the American Federation of Labor (AFL) which was founded by Samuel Gompers. This organization believed there could be a more effective labor union.

Their move came at a time when there was an increase in machine use which greatly affected the job opportunities. This federation had the sole motive of protecting the skilled workers from becoming beggars due to the introduction of machines that rendered skilled labor useless. Thus (AFL) was a federation formed by unions of skilled workers.

In 1884, the strike occurred at a plant in Chicago when the American railway called for a boycott. This strike was finally suppressed by the federal court ruling. The Pullman strikers were blacklisted and forced to renounce their strike. The strike was not properly addressed as it used military force to end it but a better approach was witnessed in 1902 when the Anthracite coal miners strike under their United Miners Workers Union. This time Roosevelt formed a commission that would help in arbitrating and mediating the case. After five days, they resumed their jobs and five months later, their pay was increased by 10%.

Another notable move was made in 1911 after a fire erupted at the Triangle Company. About a hundred and fifty workers perished while others who tried to jump to the ground died, this provoked the need for reforms in industrial safety and measures that would prevent fire outbreaks by forming a committee to investigate the case. In November of 1935, the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) was formed to carry on with the task of unionism.

The newly formed CIO quickly succeeded in introducing the idea of unionism to the big sectors of industries. The scene of the union has changed of late, in the past, there was no law and order even the wages were fixed by the employer himself. It should be known that the shape of our modern labor organization is a result of series of evolutions. It is these gradual stages that made the present trade unions constitution which came to be as a result of heroic deeds of the former working men. These labor unions of the past were as beneficial as they are today as far as bargaining power is concerned. (Freeman R.B 1980; 18-20)

Today any union can organize its workers to particular unionism for example craft or even a variety of traders into what is called general unionism. Modern unions vary both in structure and in politics. Unlike in the past unions’ leadership positions are vied through free and fair elections. The present unions are of different forms that are determined and influenced by political and economic backgrounds.

Most of these unions have similar objectives, for example, collective bargaining power; they can talk with their employers on particular issues that are affecting them. Another objective is to provide members with some benefits like insurance against unemployment, sickness, and funeral expenses. They are also formed so as to help the workers to take industrial action. This is because a particular union can organize a strike or a boycott to make their grievances heard but if you strike alone, then you would be fired. Finally, they are formed because of political matters. For example, a trade union is useful in pressurizing the government to enact may be legislation that would protect their interests.

The formation of trade unions has led to a number of significant changes in our society. It is these unions that have led to; the end of child labor improved safety of workers in organizations, negotiation of wages and salaries, provision of other benefits to the members, and also the reduction of working hours in a day. Despite the role they play in the country, they have been criticized that they are only geared towards benefiting the members, consumers of the services and the goods that they produce, and also the union’s shareholders. It is said that the unemployed do not fully enjoy the existence of trade unions.

While analyzing the employer’s costs for wages, salaries, and benefits in 1987 March, (Nathan F. 1987; 6) employee benefits as per the hourly costs accounted for not less than ¼ of what the private companies spent on compensation. That is 13.42 US dollars per hour and the straight-time wages, as well as salaries, accounted for 73.2% of the total costs which was averaged to be 3.60 dollars accounted for the benefit costs. This is as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Cost Index. The bureau measures the quarterly employer’s money that is spent on the employees. The data that is got from ECI is vital in deriving the levels of the cost that is spent on compensating workers without going in the field to survey new respondents. All that is required is the employment weights of the current employees.

This article calculates the cost estimates on the money that the private industries spend on compensating their workers by the division of that particular company or industry and the job group of the worker. After the Second World War period, the benefits that we’re entitled to the employees were part of their labor costs and the income but nowadays about a fourth or more of the money that is given to workers as compensation is catered for in the money that is given as benefits.

A big lot of this compensation is what is termed as the legal requirement and it includes social security, insurance against unemployment, compensation to the worker, and some other benefits like benefits given to the disabled temporarily. This legally required cost that every employer was required to meet averaged 1.13 U.S dollars in one hour in 1987. This was approximately 1/3 of all the cost spent on benefits.

Today a lot of money is spent in an effort to increase the wages of the employees because of the widespread collective bargaining that is being made possible by the trade unions. In 1987 the total amount that each customer received, that is all the wages, salary, and all other benefits that were paid were 82.5% of the total compensation that was made after one hour. The percentage that remained that was given as benefits and included pensions, savings, legally required, and other smaller benefits like overtime payments.

By industry division, the hourly paid compensations were higher in industries that produced goods than those that provided services. The former spent 15.86 U.S dollars while the latter spent 12.41 U.S dollars. However, within the service providers, the compensation cost differed because the transportation and public utility costs were higher especially in the companies that dealt with data entry. It should be noted that the importance of benefits and the cost of compensation vary from industry to industry. This is so particularly in wages and salaries because the benefits given depend on the size of your salary or earnings. An example of this benefit is the paid leave which is given at the workers earning rate though the compensation cost is influenced by the span of the leave period.

By occupational compensation as per the 1987 report, the compensation cost that employers were to pay their workers varied with the occupation of the worker. That is the managers received the highest while the service workers received the lowest. The compensation per hour to the white-collar workers was more than that of a blue-collar worker who got $15.56 and $13.43 respectively. This difference was accounted by wages and the salaries, white-collar getting 24% higher than the other one. The compensation for the service worker was less than half that of the white or blue-collar workers. All these differences as far as the benefits depending on the type of work that was done. (Nathan F.1987; 6)

Below is the 1987’s tabulation for the benefits paid per hour worked depending on the type of worker’s occupation.

The benefits paid per hour worked depending on the type of worker’s occupation.

This shows that the compensation that each worker received, that is the premium payments, insurance as well as other benefits for the blue-collar worker was higher than for the other two. Even the security benefits and unemployment money was higher than for the white-collar and service worker. Here every payment for the blue-collar was slightly higher than for the two others. When the compensation and other benefits were paid either by occupation or industries the variation occurred even when it was made in accordance with the occupation of the worker within an industry. The cost depended on the occupation thus; the highest valued jobs were paid more than twice the lowest jobs.

In calculating the cost of compensation two approaches could be used. That is looking at the past expenses of the worker. The other approach focus on current expenses. In estimating the amount to be paid as compensation for an hour, the ECI or the employment cost index notes the type of benefit given seconds it determines the current payment then the hourly cost and finally, it combines the total cost of the benefits and the straight time wage or salary rate.

There are various benefits that go hand in hand with unionization (Lawrence M. and Walters M. 2003; 143) for example they negotiate on behalf of the members on salary on wage and on the quality of life for both nonunionized and unionized. It also helps in the payment of fringe payments (benefits).

The unions through their negotiation skills raise the wages of workers who are unionized by 20% and are also capable of making the wages and benefits of these workers increased at least by 28%. They help in reducing inequalities among various categories of workers. For example, they increase the poorly paid workers like service workers as well as raising the wages for those who don’t have an academic degree. The union does not discriminate between the unionized and the nonunionized in fact, the impact on wages on both is the same. Workers who are members or unionized are more advantaged than those who are not unionized.

This is because the former are entitled to the fringe benefits such as paid leave and family leave. Those who are entitled to these leaves have a chance of about (18-28) % more than nonunionized. Also unionized have a probability of (23-54) % of being included in the pension list of their employers. The unionized workers stand a better chance of enjoying the union’s benefits. For example, their health care burden is reduced by 18 percent, and they also part with a lesser amount on their family requirements. Also, the unionized workers are most likely to be covered by insurance on their health that is sorely provided by their employees. (Lawrence M. and Walters M. 2003; 143)

It is better to be unionized than being nonunionized in that you are more likely to merit retirement benefits and their employers add to them about 28% more on their pension. They also get the vocational time and absent leave and yet they are paid during those days unlike those who are not. Thus, by the virtue of being unionized, you are more valued by your employer than that worker who is not. It should also not be forgotten that unions play a vital role in putting pressure on the government in enacting some legislation that would protect their interests. Such legislations touch various aspects of life. For example, they may be on the safety of their work, health, family, health, and overtime and housing allowances.

Trade unions have been very vibrant in enacting certain labor legislations like the National Labor Relations Act, occupational safety and health act of 1970, the family medical act of 1993, and the social security act of 1935. It is also through these unions that the workers enjoy unemployment benefits like an insurance for the jobless and compensation for the workers. Thus, unions act as a mediator between the government and the workers.

It is through trade unions that the number of working hours was reduced from twelve hours to eight hours in a day. These were some of the reforms that were made as early as 1847 in France as a result of the pressure from the eight-hour movement that originated from Britain’s industrial revolution. In the past, the non-cash payments were termed the fringe benefits. These were things like retirement benefits, health insurance, paid leave as you went to attend to your family needs but nowadays they are not regarded as fringe benefits. Today the union is even more concerned with the welfare of the workers than it was in the past.

Each and every benefit that is entitled to the unionized workers is higher than that of the non-unionized ones. Unions are more capable of raising benefits than they are on wages. They mostly agitate for these benefits because it is only unionized workers who are entitled to them as opposed to nonunionized workers. The labor laws which are enacted as a result of the trade unions effort to protect workers in the labor market as well as in their working places

Apart from playing the role of enacting these legislations, trade unions make sure that they are enforced in all working places and violation of any of them is subject to prosecution. Other roles that they may are being a watchdog of whether these laws are being violated and if they are, trade unions become the voice of the workers by pointing where the companies have erred. They also make sure that all the workers are informed about these laws so that they could when they are not being respected. They do this by conducting seminars and another program where all workers are encouraged to attend.

Trade unions also encourage workers to fully exercise their rights and act as arbitrators when a dispute between the employer and the employee arises. (Lawrence M. and Walters M. 2003; 143). Some of the worker’s protection that is provided is unemployment insurance which is a program that was initiated in 1935 by the social security act. It advocates for workers who have lost their jobs due to situations beyond control to be given a certain portion of their salary. They assess the amount that the jobless worker has spent on his expenses and then they decide what he would be given unemployment benefits.

Many workers do not file a claim of this benefit because they think that they are not eligible. This is because they think that their employers would hit back by refusing to employ them in the future. What the workers should know is that the unions give detailed information about the rules, what workers should expect, and the procedure that they should follow in claiming these benefits. This reduces the stigma that might be attached to filing these claims.

Another form of workers protection is workers’ compensation. These laws are made for states and by the states themselves as opposed to the federal courts. They ensure that workers are taken care of and that human rights are observed to the letter. They ensure that any worker who is injured while in the place of work is compensated.

The two main obstacles to workers filing claims to these benefits are lack of proper information on how to go about and fear that their employers would retaliate by refusing to rehire them in the future (Lawrence M. and Walters 2003; 143) When the safety of the workers is ensured in the working places the company avoids spending its money unnecessarily by avoiding loopholes that workers. This money is spent on paying for the treatment cost of the sick. The money that would have been spent on these cases is channeled to other useful projects or programs.

Another thing is that if you don’t provide safety for the workers in the workplace, then you will indirectly incur some losses either in form of cash or in work output. When workers, for instance, get injured while working and are given a paid sick leave, the company must part with some money to pay these workers even though there is no work that was done. When workers fail to attend their working places because of some protection-related problems, the amount of work that is done normally falls below the level or mark.

Provision and maintenance of safety in all working places also save the employer from spending a lot of premiums on medical expenses like insurance cover, medical bills, and other related costs. It is therefore important that companies should prioritize safety in working places above all other things. Most of these huge expenses that companies occur are generated by a small group of workers.

Also when the safety of the workers is guaranteed the level of accidents goes down. People who would have become victims of disabilities do not, thus the company does not spend its disability premiums. Instead, the money saved is redirected to other areas that might be in dire need of funds.

Another advantage of ensuring the worker’s safety is provided is that the company’s production level goes up and thus the company grows. This is so because the money that would have been spent in paying medical bills, unemployment benefits, insurance covers, and paying disability premiums is used in the company’s expansive strategies. Also when people are absent or become disabled, the company’s output goes down. This is because the part that they play is not represented by anybody and yet they must be paid because it was not their wish to be sick or disabled.

A company’s profit goes up when there are fewer expenses or deductions. That is if the gross profit is high and there are fewer expenses then, the net profit remains high. If workers are guaranteed their job security, the level of production goes up. Job security in the U.S.A refers to the confidence of the workers that they’ll remain in their jobs as far as their skills will remain useful. When your job is secure you are even insured against unemployment. This reduces stress and psychological tension to the workers. They work confidently and comfortably without thinking of how they will lose their job and go to look for another or stay jobless. (Thompson S. and Hopwood D. 2006; 256)

There is a difference between unionized and non-unionized blue-collar workers. These blue-collar jobs include craft, repairers, machine operators, assemblers, transportation handlers, laborers, and equipment cleaners. Though many of the workers in blue-collar jobs are not unionized those in the parastatals. All unionized workers who are in the blue-collar occupation irrespective of the category of their work received more benefits than their counterparts who were not unionized. (Foster A.C. 2003; 1)

There are various disadvantages of having trade unions for example they create unnecessary bureaucracy by creating some posts like that of specialist human resource and emergency room departments. Other workers think that trade unions are only there to protect the status quo. There is also this issue of politics and prejudice that exists. This comes when a particular union is seen as a communist and the other as a capitalist (Pettinger R. 1999; 205)

In the USA racism still applies in employment opportunities because people from ethnic minorities are not given equal job opportunities. This goes hand in hand with racism where white employers refuse to recruit blacks even if they have the relevant skills. This problem is solved by trade unions, which set their strategy of recruiting employees to ensure that all people irrespective of their employed equally. These trade unions ensure that all people are treated the same. It is the poor, the marginalized, and women that benefit most from the union because they work very hard to protect them.

Featherbedding can be said to be an act of recruiting more workers than the number that is needed. It is a term that is used by various companies in referring to the behavior and rules that workers who are seeking jobs should follow. Trade unions intervene when workers are rendered jobless due to technological changes. Unions have ensured that workers remain in their jobs whether there is enough or no job to they must be controlled to avoid union excesses. This is done by ensuring that there is a power balance between the company and the union. Members who are said to have committed excesses than what is required are prosecuted under certain provisions of the law without suspending or banning the whole movement. (Mc Cathy Svensson A. 1998; 350)

When a comparative study is done between the US, UK, and Canada as far as unionization in women and men from 1973-2001 is concerned, a very gap was noted. This was because of the unionization of workers in the public sector than in the private for most women are found in private sectors while men are found in the public sector. Studies revealed that there was inequality in wages in the three countries, which provoked the need for trade unions in addressing this inequality.

They try to raise the wages of the nonunionized in these countries in a bid to close the gap. Also in all these countries, trade unions tried to address the gap between the skilled and the non-skilled workers by increasing the wages of the skilled more than that of the unskilled. In these countries, the impact of unionism is different between women and men as women. According to (card David et al 2003; 31) it was because of the concentration of men and women in public and private sectors respectively. Another reason is that high skilled men are paid more than less skilled but this does not apply to the women as most of them are in well wage-paying jobs. In the past, more men were unionized in the three countries than women but today the gap is small even the wage difference now is not as big as it was in the 1980s.

To conclude we can say that the emergence of unions was like a knight in shining armor as the rights of workers started to be addressed properly. In the past, workers had no say in their places of work but now they can freely talk with their employers through these trade unions. It is because of these trade unions that their salaries and wages are increased; their rights are protected and other work-related benefits are paid. The wage and salary gap between the unionized and nonunionized has also been addressed. In short, we can say that the quality of life has significantly improved as a result of unionization

Reference

Card, D., et al. . National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper No. 9473. Cambridge, Mass.: NBER. 2003. Web.

Freeman R.B.Unionism and the Dispersion of Wages. Industrial and labor relations review, 34.1980; 18-20.

Foster, Ann C. Differences in Union and Non-union Earnings in Blue collar and Service Occupations: Compensation and Working Conditions. 2003; 1. Web.

Greggs LH. Unionism and Relative Wages in the United Nations. Chicago Press.1963; 78.

Hooker, R. The Industrial Revolution. Washington State University. 2004. Web.

Lawrence M and Paula B.V. Unions and Economic Competitiveness. Economic Policy Institute. New York: M.E. Sharpe. 1992.

Lawrence M. and Walters M. How Unions Help All Workers. 2003, 143. Web.

Nathan F. Analyzing Employers’ Costs for Wages, Salaries, and Benefits. Monthly Labor Review, 1987; 6. Web.

Pettinger R. Effective Employee Relations. Kogan Page. 1999; 205.

Svensson-McCarthy A. The International Law of Human Rights and States. Martins Nijhoff Publishers. 1999; 350.

Thompson S. and Hopwood D. Work Place Safety: a guide for Small and Middle Sized Companies . 2006; 256.

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