Advances in Industrial & Labor Relations: Volume 12

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(10 chapters)
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INTRODUCTION

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Volume 12 of Advances in Industrial and Labor Relations (AILR) contains eight papers that deal with contemporary and historical aspects of unionism and other forms of union representation, union-management relations, union political activity, labor market regulation, and interpretations of selected leading labor scholars’ writings about the evolution of welfare capitalism in the U.S. Four of these papers, by Daniel & Siebert, Borgers, Rubinstein, and Pereles, were winners of the 2002 AILR/Industrial Relations Research Association (IRRA) “best papers” competition.1

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The topic of company unions – employee associations sponsored and organized by management – has generated strong feelings. For many years, conventional labor unions have been vehemently opposed to worker representation through company unions.1 Conventional labor unions have viewed company unions as devices by management to forestall or thwart independent unionism (i.e. unions organized by workers).2 According to this interpretation, a company union would give the appearance of providing employees with representation and induce workers to temper their demands for genuine collective bargaining. Thus, at their Annual Convention of 1919, the American Federation of Labor described company unions as “…a delusion and a snare, set up by the companies for the express purpose of deluding the workers into the belief that they have some protection and thus have no need for trade union organization: therefore be it Resolved, That we disapprove and condemn all such company unions and advise our membership to have nothing to do with them…” (Quoted in Douglas, 1919, p. 103).

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The study analyses production worker hiring standards based on time series personnel records drawn from matched plants in the U.S., U.K., Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. Our hypothesis is that labor market regulation pushes upwards hiring standards for production workers. Labor market regulation is measured both by an employment protection index, and by workforce average tenure as a proxy for insider power. We find that the average tenure variable gives more robust results than the index. Its effect is to increase education standards, but to reduce starting age standards. The expected positive effect of employment protection on hiring standards is found in simple regressions, but is not generally supported by the multivariate analysis once other influences are held constant. However, union density is found to increase hiring standards, and might take over the effect of employment protection as an indicator of overall regulatory pressure. We also find a strong substitutability between recruits’ prior experience and education. This substitutability indicates the power of education to widen job opportunities for inexperienced workers.

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JoAnn Wypijewski, reflecting on the experience of workers laid off from General Electric’s (GE) Bloomington, Indiana refrigerator plant, as GE announced profits of $12.7 billion, and the relocation of half the production to Celaya, Mexico, asks: What will it take to match fire with fire at GE, not just in Bloomington but everywhere? Twenty years ago, Jack Welch openly articulated a strategy for taking the company to where it is today. The GE unions never developed a parallel strategy, and 100,000 lost jobs later, most of them still haven’t shed their faith in what the AFL-CIO likes to call “high-road capitalism.” During the 2000 national contract talks, Robert Thayer, the Machinists’ representative to the CBC, was trying to convince the company to agree not to interfere in future unionization drives, arguing that a “contract is a partnership, not a hindrance.” To which the company coolly asserted, “GE has never been neutral and doesn’t intend to be neutral” (Wypijewski, 2001, p. 22).GE has become an icon of global capital mobility and union avoidance. However, GE’s current capacities can be traced back to a long term, explicit strategy of corporate reorganization initiated in the 1940s. At that time GE was a vertically integrated manufacturing conglomerate, based in a series of huge, northern U.S. plants, organized at extremely high density by the left and militant UE. In the sixty years since, GE has transformed itself into a networked and globalized conglomerate, whose manufacturing capacity has been relocated endlessly, first into smaller U.S. greenfield sites and then increasingly overseas, decimating U.S. union density, and replacing UE with a patchwork of AFL-CIO affiliates that have embraced a far more conservative and limited vision of unionism. U.S. labor has been unable to halt this transformation.

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This paper evaluates the only industry-wide process initiated by a union through collective bargaining to reorganize traditional work systems and transform labor relations. It analyzes attempts over the past decade by the United Steelworkers of America to introduce its model for a more participative work system in an effort to gain access to business information, share in business decision making, improve quality, reduce costs, and build better relations between management and the union in the U.S. basic steel industry. This study shows that the Cooperative Partnership Agreements have produced mixed results. Using survey and interview data, the paper compares plants that successfully implemented the CPA with those that did not and analyzes the reasons for the variation in their impact. Further the paper draws out the lessons from this unique union-driven contractual approach to industry reform.

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Although the organizational practice of using “contingent or non-traditional workers” has been escalating since the mid-1980s, only recently has research begun to focus on the consequences of this practice. In unionized workplaces, labor leaders have begun to organize these workers. Although it is believed that contingent workers are responding positively to union organizing drives, little is known about the attitudes and behaviors of contingent workers as union members. Using the Union Commitment scale developed by Gordon, Philpot, Burt, Thompson and Spiller (1980), the research project reported here compares the Union Commitment of traditional faculty and three categories of adjunct faculty. The results reveal that there are no significant differences across these employee groups for the factors of Union Loyalty, Responsibility to the Union, Willingness to Work for the Union and Alienation from the Union. The implications of these findings for research and practice are discussed.

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For the AFL-CIO, the 2000 presidential election was a test of a revised political action program that concentrated resources on “issue based” political education and intensive member contact. Using quasi-experimental methods, I evaluate the effect of direct mailings, telephone calls, and workplace mobilization on the presidential preferences and voting rates of members from a Milwaukee area local union. Results indicate that only workplace mobilization successfully communicated the labor-endorsed candidate and shifted preferences toward that candidate. Voting rates were higher among union members that received a get-out-the-vote telephone call prior to the election.

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John Andrews Fitch spent a year studying labor conditions in the steel industry around Pittsburgh during 1907 and 1908. The results of his research became The Steel Workers, one of six volumes in the Pittsburgh Survey, a groundbreaking 1910 analysis of conditions faced by working people in a modern industrial city. Introducing his discussion of common employment practices in the steel industry, Fitch declared, “A repressive regime…has served since the destruction of unionism, to keep the employers in the saddle.” He traced the origins of management’s arbitrary power to the Homestead lockout of 1892, when Carnegie Steel destroyed the last stronghold of organized labor in the mills of western Pennsylvania. During his stay in Pittsburgh, Fitch saw the results of fifteen years of management domination. “The steel worker,” he wrote, “sees on every side evidence of an irresistible power, baffling and intangible. It fixes the conditions of his employment; it tells him what wages he may expect to receive and where and when he must work. If he protests, he is either ignored or rebuked. If he talks it over with his fellow workmen, he is likely to be discharged” (Fitch, 1989, pp. 206, 232–233).

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The employment practices of major American companies underwent a marked transformation in the fifteen-year period dating roughly from the beginning of World War I to the oncoming of the Great Depression in late 1929 (Jacoby, 1985; Lescohier, 1935). At the start of World War I, the practice of personnel management was unknown in American industry. Instead, employment practices were largely informal, unscientific and administered in a decentralized, often heavy-handed and capricious manner by foremen and gang bosses. Labor was typically viewed as a commodity to be bought for as little possible and used for only as long as needed, leading to an employment relationship that was short-term and insecure. The prevailing methods of management were also highly autocratic and arbitrary, with workers expected to obey whatever orders were given and at risk of being fired for any offense real or imagined.

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DOI
10.1016/S0742-6186(2003)12
Publication date
Book series
Advances in Industrial & Labor Relations
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-0-76231-028-9
Book series ISSN
0742-6186