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The Global Workforce and Unions

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The Global Workforce and Unions
HRM 330
Human Relations
Prof. Morris
2/23/2014

Labor unions in the United States began as a way to protect worker’s rights and interests in the company they worked for. They began after the Civil War, but lost momentum due to poor organization and leadership, and from very strong opposition from employers as well as the government. After WWII, President Roosevelt’s New Deal included the Wagner Act, which gave legal protection to unions and workers. From there, the legendary Teamsters and other powerful unions formed. Although the primary purpose was to benefit and protect employees, corruption and political interests became an integral part of many of these organizations. Increasing amounts of imported goods coming into the US added to the unrest, already caused by corruption, creating situations where workers, upset over time lost due to decreased production, or other problems that were arising, would go on strike. A strike was when workers rallied outside the workplace, usually carrying picket signs and demanding the changes they wanted. Anyone willing (usually nonunion members) to cross these picket lines and go to work in member’s places to keep up production were called scabs. These individuals were subject to attack and treated as traitors, and took great risks even showing up for work. The idea being that if a union could stop a company’s production, they made it more willing to negotiate, thus giving the union even more power to get what they and the workers demanded. However, union member ships have continued to decline since the mid 70’s due to more of our goods and production being imported and outsourced. Today’s economy includes a global market and with that comes the need for understanding new cultures, traditions and ways of doing business. When companies founded in the United States began moving to foreign lands, there is of course the question of the union representing the foreign employees of that company. Can unions successfully cross national borders, shed the negative reputation and represent the best interests of workers in a global market?
Union Survival In order for a union to be able to work within a country outside the US, there is a basic criteria they will have to meet. The representatives of the union will have to understand not only the language but local and national culture of the people they will be serving. In the US, a handshake is a sign of trust and good faith, but in many Arab countries, shaking with the wrong hand is very insulting, and would cause a potential member or company representative to refuse negotiations. A union representative would most likely need to be a native of the country hosting the employer. This individual would help the union adapt to national laws, labor issues, and help be a liaison for employees. Every union in each country would work under the same basic policy, tweaking it where it was needed to conform where appropriate to abide by those specific national laws. In many European countries, work days, holidays, sick leave, etc., are much varied from the US standard. Understanding and working with these traditions will go great lengths to making a union successful. Strong arm tactics and stonewall behavior will only serve to alienate any relationship an American company may begin to grow within that country.
Membership Revival In order to build up a membership of healthy proportion, a union will face the challenge of making their services and benefits attractive and useful to employees. They will have to prove that the union can be the champion of the worker, protect their rights and interests, without becoming a threat to the company or even the national culture. To renew the reputation as a positive advocate of the worker, policy and procedure would have to be very cut and dry, and have no exceptions on items of great importance. These policies would have to be explained to workers and employers alike, so that there were no misunderstandings. Things that needed to be altered for cultural reasons would have to be respected. For example, in a country where religion may dictate how someone dresses, or that requires prayer at certain times throughout the day, considerations would need to be taken and accommodations made. The United States is a relatively new country in comparison to others, and we are known for our ability to change and adapt to new things. An older, culturally settled country would be much harder to convince and gain trust from. The government itself would play a major factor in the ability of a union to even exist within its borders. Communist socialist countries would be difficult, if even possible, to maintain a union in. A union would have to be able to function within a country, but also be part of a multinational community. Communication with other “branches” in other countries would be essential, as well as the need to understand slight to major differences in policy in each one. Expenses in identifying, training and maintaining trusted representatives could cost more than the actual benefit of having a union, considering the amount of time and maintenance that would be required for startup. In many countries, belonging to union carries a negative militant air, and would have to be overcome. In countries where corruption was commonplace, the workers would have difficulty placing trust in the union as a possible advocate. Negative ideas of traditional union issues would be the most difficult hurdle to overcome.

Viable Options As the United States has moved thru the last half century, we have endured recessions and also times of great prosperity. However, in the present recession we’re facing, we see our production being outsourced, our factories shutting down and in the most serious instances, our citizens struggling to survive. Foreign policy put into place to help us thrive have not done so. The intent of NAFTA was to spur economic growth by creating competition for domestic companies. Instead it has been blamed for causing us to lose business by making foreign countries a more viable option for location due to lower wages, production costs, taxes, etc. For example, the South is still reeling from the impact of textile mills and suppliers being shut down and outsourced, creating unemployment, displacement and an economic nightmare within a large region of the South. It has begun to creep into other manufacturing avenues, including medical supply, automotive, and electrical supply production. Entire communities and towns that traditionally depended on a factory as a source of income and a way to make a living are now in limbo, and in some states, dying out completely. Unions cannot compete or control the draw a foreign country has for these companies. Where the union would represent employees in the US, it would be difficult to do the same in a country where a worker is paid much less, and has fewer right as a worker. The whole point of moving to another country is to save money and increase profit, not create an environment to have to pay higher wages and/or benefits. Some organizations have already been formed to help unite workers on a global basis, and be the advocate they need. The AFL-CIO is an example of this type of activist company. They are advocating women’s rights in countries where this is an issue. One of the major undertakings they are addressing is labor laws in underdeveloped countries such as Sri Lanka, Guatemala and Vietnam. Working to create better work environments, treatment of employees and helping to better lives in these countries is an example how a union or union type organization can have a positive impact on a foreign country.
Many countries already have unions in place and like the US, these unions push for higher wages and standards. A few of the countries that allowed the unions to work freely and represent workers, and as a result pay higher wages, have enjoyed a successful manufacturing economy. Countries that seem to feel like they had to better the union and keep wages lower, have suffered a decrease in the amount of manufacturing business they have had, and in some instances, experienced recessions.
Conclusion
Unions are, in theory, an ideal solution for worker’s rights and all that it entails. If the human aspect of greed and need for power isn’t factored in, they would work perfectly at maintaining acceptable wage levels, demanding that labor laws were followed to the letter, and protecting workers as well as their families. Unfortunately, the corruption and lust for money and power that became a part of union standard has tarnished their reputations and made it hard for workers to trust them. The same issues have plagued unions in other countries, making it doubtful that a large following could be expected as companies begin to set out on a global path. Large scale improvements in policy, accountability and a huge marketing push would be required to raise the acceptance and trust of workers to a level that could make domestic unions in foreign countries succeed. If unions are able to gain the trust of workers and follow through with what they are needed for, they could gain in popularity and become a viable force on behalf of workers. Cultural understanding as well as the ability to blend and accept change are all major hurdles for a union to overcome. Being able to make that leap would only serve to benefit both parties, and in the long run, serve the economy of that country. The demographics of each country and workplace would have to be the main focus of operation. Unions can no longer be a money maker for a few and a source of fear and coercion to many.

References:
Sergie, Mohammed Aly. "NAFTA's Economic Impact." Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.
“Labor Unions in the United States." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
"International Labor Movement." AFL-CIO. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.
BUDD. Labor Relations: Striking a Balance. McGraw-Hill Learning Solutions, Bookshelf.…...

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