American Unions in the Twenty First Century

Last Updated: 25 May 2020
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The number of people joining labor unions in the United States today is declining. Scholars offer several reasons for this decline. Globalization happens to be one of the reasons, seeing as international outsourcing has become common especially in the area of manufacturing. The most important reason, however, appears to be that the organization has begun to view the employees’ interests as its own, thanks to the budding field of organizational behavior. Introduction In the United States, union membership had peaked in the year 1954 with at least 28.

3% of all employed workers joining labor unions. In the year 2003, however, only 11. 5% of employees were known to be union members. The number of employed workers in the U. S. who had joined labor unions was at a peak in the year 1979. There were approximately 21 million union members all across the country at the time. In the year 2003, on the other hand, there were only 15. 8 million union members in the nation. Labor unions were essentially important because they allowed union members to collectively demand higher wages and better working conditions.

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The demand for higher wages had to be curtailed in the face of globalization, however. Faced by global competition, American organizations began to demand concessions during the late 1970s. They could no longer listen to labor unions’ demands for very high wages seeing that expensive American products and services – due to the high price of labor in the country – could not be efficiently sold in the foreign markets. In the 1980s, there were “widespread manufacturing layoffs and plant closings” in the country.

Another important aspect of globalization had showed up – that of hiring cheap labor in countries where new manufacturing plants could be set up by the American organization in order to cut its costs. As an example, “toys can be produced more cheaply in China than in the United States or France. This makes it generally unprofitable to have toy factories employing workers in these richer countries (except for upscale toys); it also means American and French workers can enjoy the benefits of lower price toys. ”

In the year 1981, former President Ronald Reagan announced that air traffic controllers on strike as members of a union had to be fired. After all, strikes are costly for the economy as a whole. More than a decade later in 1992, when the United Auto Workers went on strike, the Caterpillar Corporation threatened to replace them all permanently, following the example of Mr. Reagan. The company was successful through this tactic in breaking the strike. Even today, Wal-Mart and other big corporations are known to stifle union efforts.

What is more, the government is said to encourage employers in failing to listen to the demands of union members. The Washington Post reports that the government is known to “allow employers to block union-certification elections and use stalling tactics and threats to discourage organizing drives. ” The main reason for this appears to be the fact that the American organizations have now found a better way to deal with employee grievances, and to essentially satisfy all employees. Union memberships that have the potential to create difficulties for businesses as well as the economy as a whole are being discouraged.

The union method of strike, for example, costs a great deal to businesses in addition to the economy. Organizations had to find a more convenient way to make their employees more productive and to satisfy them at the same time. Thus came into being the field of organizational behavior. Organizational Behavior Removes the Need for Union Membership The most important reason for the diminishing role of labor unions in the United States appears to be the direct opposite of a labor strike: the satisfaction of the labor force.

According to a federal publication published in the year 2004, “employers may have become more sensitive to employee concerns, resulting in greater job satisfaction among nonunion workers and reducing the demand for unionization. On the other hand, management may have become more sophisticated in opposing attempts by workers to unionize” Indeed, both of the above reasons for the diminishing role of union membership are true. Employers have really become more sensitive to the concerns of the employees, thanks to organizational behavior.

Moreover, the management of American companies has been improved, also thanks to organizational behavior. The twenty first century began with a great deal of excitement especially as the innovatory technologies of the twentieth century started to appear commonplace and every organization had already been supplied with tools through academic research to deal with additional organizational changes in the offing. The discipline of organizational behavior had been through its trials and tests, finally emerging as an indispensable area of learning for all twenty first century managers to have gone through.

Arthur P. Brief and Howard M. Weiss describe this relatively new field of applied psychology thus: “The organizations in which people work affect their thoughts, feelings, and actions in the workplace and away from it. Likewise, people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions affect the organizations in which they work. Organizational behavior is an area of inquiry concerned with both sorts of influence: work organizations on people and people on work organizations. ” Organizations act as the engine of the American economy in our day.

So, for the first time in the latter half of the previous century, the psychology of workers in an American organization became a focal issue in studying organizations. Employee development, organizational cultures, organizational citizenship, work attitudes, organizational attachment, job design, leadership, turnover, absenteeism, and employee work motivation turned out to be the centers of attention with advances in psychological theory and changes in the workplace. There were developments in the understanding of cognition, personality, and emotion, and their respective influences on work choices as well as goal striving.

The entire human resources departments of the United States were revolutionized at the same time as technological, economic and organizational changes encouraged further research on the influence of socio-cultural in addition environmental factors on employee motivation. The emergence of new paradigms, theories, and organizational concerns did not only provide a rich matrix for the exploration of organizational behavior, but also provided firms with a rather attractive theoretical framework for organizational behavior modification, and in general, the art of running a firm with special reference to its people.

As a matter of fact, organizational behavior turned out to be at least as important as computer technology to an American organization. In order to compete in foreign as well as domestic markets, the American organization was required to produce high quality products at low costs. This mission was most likely to be accomplished through satisfied and productive labor, rather than union members on strike. What is more, in order to deal with the organizational changes brought about through the introduction of new technologies, organizations had to learn the principles of organizational change through organizational behavior theories.

Indeed, these theories performed their job rather well by helping organizations to introduce technological change effectively. The employees were pleased with the organizational efforts using theories to predict and manage their behavior in the organization. According to Fred Luthans: We found that Organizational Behavior Modification had an average increase of 17% in employee performance. We think that is pretty impressive, especially when you consider many technological innovations or some of the better known human resource techniques such

as goal setting do not have evidence of that big an impact. In addition, we also found through…meta-analysis some significant theory driven moderators. Specifically, we found that the type of organization and the type of contingent reinforcement intervention moderates the relationship between Organizational Behavior Modification and employee performance. For example, we found that Organizational Behavior Modification had a bigger impact in manufacturing organizations, approximately 33% average improvement, than in service

organizations at about 10%. However, it must be remembered that this 10% is still highly significant and can make a big difference in the labor intensive service industry. Whereas the manufacturing industry had traditionally been filled with union members, organizational behavior modification made it possible for the American manufacturing organization to satisfy its employees without a union, especially toward the end of the twentieth century when union membership was falling dramatically.

This, indeed, is a big achievement for the field of organizational behavior. Organizations had learned to satisfy their employees without the need for unions to voice the employees’ concerns. By the commencement of the twenty first century, a modern field close to the heart of organization behavior had also been introduced by the name of organizational development.

For the present century, organizational development consultants have pointed out the following trends: (1) The range of organizational development techniques is expected to expand, spurred mainly by the information explosion; (2) The number of employees involved in organizational development would increase, which implies that all members of the organization would have to show interest in all phases of organizational operation; (3) It will be increasingly important to improve organizational communication; and (4) The implications for organizational behavior – including stress, responsibility, and learning – would be repeatedly addressed.

The United States has led the global research into organizational behavior, and there is new information about the field expected in the future with further research. The second prediction of the organizational development experts is that the American organization of the near future would give greater importance to all employees by involving everybody in virtually everything. By increasing the importance of employees in the perspective of the organization, the American firm would continue to lower union membership, seeing as the satisfied employee who participates in virtually all organizational efforts would not need the support of unions.

Organizational communication is already very efficient through the use of new technologies. The latest software and Internet-based applications help to bridge communication gaps between employers and employees in all states of America and across the globe. As a matter of fact, Information technology has gifted the organization with new communications tools that allow collaboration in addition to cooperation in the form of wireless communications, electronic mail, shared electronic databases, videoconferencing, and various other groupware technologies.

Lastly, the organizational development consultants understand that the organization would continue to take increasing interest in the wellness of its employees. Factors like stress and learning would continue to be addressed. By addressing stress, the organization shows its employees that it cares about their wellbeing. By addressing learning, the organization cares for their essential intellectual and professional growth. In point of fact, progressive organizational behavior theories that stress the need for greater organizational learning are uniquely significant in the twenty first century.

In the fast changing business environment, successful American organizations promote learning by getting everyone focused on a common objective; allowing easy communications between and among all members; and then allowing the system to self-organize and to reconfigure itself so as to deal effectively with the emerging new environment. Before the widespread application of organizational behavior theories, it must have been quite stressful to introduce change among union members. Today, if an employee is unhappy at the job, he or she may communicate with the employer in the matter of a few minutes using electronic mail.

Perhaps the most important achievement of organizational behavior theories in the United States is that these theories have made the employers realize the true significance of their employees. Consider the following examples of organizational leaders that have tapped their human resources potential: Take Bill Gates, the ultimate techie but a great leader. A reason he has done so well is because he believes in the people part of his leadership role. In fact, one of his quotes that I like is “My inventory, the value of my company, walks out the door every night.

” I think Gates appreciates the human side of enterprise. He has reward systems, he has teams, he has all the things we talk about in Human Resources; you can find not only the most sophisticated technology in the world, but also textbook examples of effective Organizational Behavior/Human Resources at Microsoft. Gates is obviously the ultimate techie, but he is also appreciative, and an effective leader of human resources. So is Jeff Bezos, the cyber architect of Amazon. com. All of his top people have become millionaires through his Human

Resources policies of sharing the wealth through pay for performance and stock ownership in this amazing e-commerce firm. Conclusion Who needs union membership when employers equipped with the new theoretical tools of organizational behavior are wiling to go out of the way to satisfy their employees? This question leads all researchers to expect that union membership would continue to diminish in the twenty first century. New research into employee satisfaction would continue to enlighten employers.

Moreover, employees will be quick to notice the changes brought about through organizational behavior tools, given the advancement in technology that makes it possible for organizational communication to take place at all levels within moments. Although the research for this paper encompassed a variety of reasons suggested for the decline in union membership across the United States in recent decades, organizational behavior appeared to have played the most important role in the diminishing role of labor unions. This is because of the employee satisfaction factor in the organization today.

If employees were merely being discouraged by the government or the organization taking actions against union membership, or if they were truly unsatisfied only on the basis of lower wages as a result of increased competition and globalization, America’s economy would not have achieved a high rate of growth because employees would have found a way to disturb the organization as well as the economy as whole. However, this did not happen. Rather, employees grew to be satisfied, their productivity increased, and the principal reason why this happened was because employers began to take greater interest in the wellbeing of their employees.

By addressing stress, for example, employers ensured that their employees would be mentally and emotionally well in order to perform their job functions most efficiently. Furthermore, employers were made to realize that their employees might have to be involved in the entire organizational process in order to be more interested in their work. Finally, employers who were learned in organizational behavior theories, for example, Bill Gates, appeared to make employees feel that they truly are an integral part of the organization. No more did employees have to be concerned about monetary payments alone.

Instead, the workplace was made a truly satisfying and stimulating experience, thanks to organizational behavior theories. Employees could feel that they were a part of the organizational culture. The value of organizational citizenship was additionally recognized. Hence, once again, who needs to join labor unions in order to find more work satisfaction? The American worker has responded to the application of organizational behavior theories and found group satisfaction in organizational teams. The application of organizational behavior theories has been the major reason for the diminishing role of labor unions in the U.

S. , and will continue to be the main reason for a decline in union membership in the twenty first century. There is no reason to believe in another direction that union membership might take in the twenty first century. Works Cited 1. “21st Century Organizational Development Consulting. ” Management 2006 (2001). Retrieved from http://www. manage2001. com/index. htm. Accessed 28 October 2006. 2. Brief, Arthur P. , and Howard M. Weiss. “Organizational Behavior: Affect In The Workplace. ” Annual Review of Psychology, 2002. 3. Edsall, Thomas B. “Labor's Divisions Widen As Membership Declines.

” Washington Post (7 March 2005), p. A02. 4. Hodgetts, Richard M. “A Conversation On Fred Luthans Leadership In The 21st Century. ” Journal of Leadership Studies, 1999. 5. Kanfer, Ruth. “Work Motivation In The 21st Century: Mapping New Directions For Theory And Research. ” Society For Industrial And Organizational Psychology Inc (2006). Retrieved from http://www. siop. org/. Accessed 28 October 2006. 6. Compa, Lance. “Labor Rights and Labor Standards in International Trade. ” Law and Policy in International Business, Volume 25, Issue 1, 1993. 7. Mayer, Gerald. “Union Membership Trends in the United States.

” Congressional Research Service (2004). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons. ilr. cornell. edu/key workplace/174. Accessed 7 April 2007. 8. Mowday, Richard T. , and Robert I. Sutton. “Organizational Behavior: Linking Individuals And Groups To Organizational Contexts. ” Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 44, 1993. 9. Peterson, John L. “Getting Ready For The 21st Century. ” USA Today, Vol. 127, May 1999. 10. Walton, Michael. “Unions In A Global Labor Market. ” The World Bank Group. Retrieved from http://www. worldbank. org/mdf/mdf1/index. htm. Accessed 7 April 2007.

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