The Demographic Changes of American Trade Unions

Abstract

The labor movements in the United States of America have a long history, spanning from the mid-nineteenth century. The movements originated in Europe, from where they spread to other parts of the world. They became popular especially during the industrial revolution when the working class expanded and the conditions within which they were working deteriorated. The major aim of these movements is to fight for the rights of the workers. Many changes have occurred in the American trade unions since their inception. Demographic change is one of them. This paper looked at the demographic changes of American trade unions over the years, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) was used as the case study. The paper meta-analyzed literature in the field and this was the major source of data. It was found that several demographic changes have taken place in IBEW since its inception. These include a change in leadership, change in membership among others. These changes had impacts on the welfare of the workers. This is given the fact that the changes either strengthened or weakened the movement.

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Introduction

Many employers in the United States of America, as well as the Constitution of the United States, recognize that it is the right of the employee to join any labor union that he or she wishes to join in their line of work. The labor unions are also recognized by the law and by the employers as the legal representatives of workers who are members in various sectors of the employment market (Twomey, 2005). Employees organize into unions and then elect their representatives who are tasked with the responsibility of looking after the welfare of their members. The unions are concerned with the working conditions of the workers, the wages that they receive, and how they are treated at the workplace among other issues. The labor unions also lobby and petition the legislators in this country so that they can pass laws that are beneficial to the workers or block those laws that may harm the welfare of the American worker.

A labor union can be conceptualized as an amalgamation of workers who have come together to attain shared goals such as improved working conditions (Trant, 2005). The leadership of the labor union negotiates with the employer on behalf of their members. The labor union, tasked with the negotiation of labor contracts or what Trant (2005) refers to as the collective bargaining, performs one of the major roles of a union. This is given the fact that individual workers will not be able to negotiate with their employers effectively. They have to organize so that their impact can be felt by the employer.

Some industries in the economy are more organized in terms of labor unions and collective bargaining than others. For example, public-sector employees in the United States of America, employees such as the teachers and police, have stronger and more robust organizations than most of their counterparts in the private sector. It has also been argued that employees in industries that pay low wages are more organized than those that pay higher. For example, it is possible to find more organized labor in the blue-collar industry, such as factory employees, than in white-collar employment such as executives in the corporate sector.

However, this fact does not mean that labor unions exist solely in low paying jobs. Some white-collar employees form labor unions to fight for their rights as employees and human beings at the same time (Trant, 2005). These are for example lecturers, doctors, and others.

Different labor unions in different sectors of the economy are organized differently. This is in terms of membership and the laws governing those unions among other differences. However, the roles performed by most of these unions in the United States of America are more or less similar. They all share the common interest of fighting for the rights of their members, though they might go about it using different strategies.

Labor unions, according to Trant (2005), have their origins in Europe. They have a long history in this country, but they were popularized and adopted in many countries around the world during the industrial revolution (Twomey, 2005).

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The industrial revolution was characterized by an increase in the number of industries and the number of laborers working in these industries. Many people in Europe and other countries with this development moved from rural areas and into the urban areas to look for employment. The expansion of the market meant that owners of the factories needed to increase production so that they can increase their profit margins. This put the laborers at risk of being exploited by the employers. Exploitation could take the form of working extra hours without extra pay, working under dangerous conditions, termination of employees without following due procedure among other forms. This is given the fact that the employers were not interested in the worker as a human being; rather they were interested in the worker because of their labor (Joelle & Williamson, 2008).

This development necessitated the organization of workers so that they could fight for their rights and avert this exploitation and fight it where it already existed. These organizations were in form of labor unions, and they became popular after the workers realized that they stood to gain if they bargained collectively as opposed to bargaining on an individual basis.

The labor unions realized that the employers needed the labor of their members for them to survive in the economy. As such, the employers had no option but to meet the demands of the employees as orchestrated by the leadership of the labor unions. The demands were of course within reasonable limits in most of the cases, and both parties realize the need to cede ground and compromise on various issues. This is why negotiations are important as a form of engagement between the employer and the leadership of the labor unions.

The negotiations and other forms of engagements between the employer and the employee, the latter through the labor unions, have not been always smooth and uneventful. Rather, it is characterized by a lot of conflicts and disagreements as both parties stand their ground. This explains the various strikes that have been seen in various industries over the years. When the labor leadership feels that their terms are been ignored by the employer, and the employer is uncooperative when it comes to negotiations, they are left with no option but to call for strikes. This is, for example, what happened during various strikes such as those of coal miners in the United States of America and other workers over the years.

The employees, through their labor unions, have the right to go on strike if they feel that their employer is infringing on their rights. The right to take industrial action on the part of the employee is enshrined in the constitution of the country (Joelle & Williamson, 2008). However, this should be conducted by the law that governs such activities. For example, it is expected that the employee, through the labor union, would have given the employer sufficient notice before going on strike. They should also show sufficient cause to go on strike, and failure to adhere to these rules might lead to having the courts declare such industrial actions as unconstitutional.

Various benefits come with the workers organizing into labor unions. These benefits accrue to the employer, the employee, and the economy in general. On the part of the employee, they can get better employment deals with their employers, given the fact that their numbers and level of organization makes it easier to influence the employers. The employers benefit by having to engage with fewer organized representatives of the employees. This is as opposed to having to engage each employee on a personal basis, a tedious and haphazard engagement. The workers are also able to concentrate on their work, having delegated the negotiation task with the labor union leadership. This is as opposed to spending a lot of their time in industrial actions and other forms of negotiations with the employer. This leads to increased productivity and the economy benefits from this at the end of the day for both parties.

In contemporary American labor union organization, it is noted that most of these bodies are affiliated with either of the two major umbrella organizations in the country. One of them is the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (herein referred to as the AFL-CIO). The other umbrella organization is the Change to Win Federation, which is a splinter of the original AFL-CIO, a recent amalgamation of labor unions having been formed in the year 2005 (Trant, 2005).

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Both of these organizations push for the rights of the workers in the United States of America and also in Canada. All the labor unions in the country find it important to organize into these two larger bodies given the fact that the latter can engage in active politics on behalf of their member organizations and in extension, on behalf of the employee (Twomey, 2005). The AFL-CIO takes this advocacy further and looks at the global trade issues that might affect the American worker (Twomey, 2005).

Various workers in various industries in the United States of America, as earlier stated in this paper, are organized into different labor unions depending on their line of trade. For example, the coal workers, the workers in the automobile industry, and other workers in different industries all have different labor unions. This is necessitated by the fact that workers in different industries have different needs and problems that can only be catered for by organizations that are solely dedicated to them.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (herein referred to as IBEW) is one such labor union that caters to the rights of the workers in the electrical industry. This union caters to the needs of the workers in this industry not only in the United States of America but also in Canada, Panama, and other countries from the Caribbean Islands (IBEW, 2010). The union draws membership from the electricians or what IBEW (2010) refers to as inside wiremen, linemen, and other electrical workers in the public sector.

The labor movement in the United States of America has undergone various changes over the years. These changes were an adaptation, to a larger part, to changes that have been taking part in other sectors of the society. For example, the industrial revolution created new needs for the workers, and these had to be catered for in larger part by the labor unions. The case was the same during the great depression and other major developments in society.

These changes include a change in membership, where the membership of the unions has either increased or dropped at various times in history, leadership changes, changes in policies advocated for by the organizations among others.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is no exception. The organization has seen its fair share of changes since its inception in the late 19th century. One of the changes that have taken place in this organization is demographic change. This includes changes in the number and range of membership to the union, changes in leadership structure among others.

This paper looks at the issue of demographic changes in American trade unions. The paper looks at the historical changes that have taken place over the years, comparing the current situation with that of several years ago. This paper will focus on the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) as its case study. The author will look at the demographic changes in terms of leadership and membership. The impacts that these changes have had on the organization, including on the welfare of the workers, will also be analyzed. The paper will provide recommendations on future organizations and functionalities of the labor movements. This list is not by any chance exhaustive, and it is just an outline of some of the issues that will be covered in this paper.

The hypothesis of the Study

The following is the hypothesis statement for this study:

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The trade unions in the United States of America have undergone demographic changes over the years, and these changes have had impacts on the welfare of the members.

Research Questions

Research questions are those questions that this researcher aspires to answer with the findings of the study. The questions guide the research and inform the direction that the research assumes. The following are some of the research questions for this study:

  1. What are some of the demographic changes that have taken place in the American trade unions over the years?
  2. What are some of the demographic changes that have taken place in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers?
  3. What are some of the impacts that these changes have had on the welfare of the members of the union?
  4. What brought about these changes in the union?
  5. What is the future for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers?

Objectives of the Study

Objectives of any study are the aims and goals that the researcher aspires to achieve by the findings of the study. The objectives act as signposts for the research. The objectives are also related to the research questions. This is given the fact that by answering the research questions, the researcher effectively achieves the objectives of the study.

The major objective of this study is to analyze the demographic changes of American trade unions, taking the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as the case study. The study also has several specific objectives. It is by addressing the specific objectives that the researcher effectively addresses the major objective of any study. The following are the specific objectives of this study:

  1. Analyze the changes that have taken place in American trade unions over the years
  2. Analyze the demographic changes that have taken place in American trade unions over the years
  3. Analyze the changes that have taken place in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers over the years
  4. Analyze the demographic changes that have taken place in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers over the years
  5. Analyze the impacts that these changes have had on the welfare of the workers
  6. Analyze the root cause of these changes in the union
  7. Analyze the future of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as a trade union in the country and the region

Background Information

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is one of the oldest labor movements in the country. It traces its history back to the year 1891, and according to the founders, it is almost as old as electricity itself (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). This is given the fact that it was started shortly after residential homes, industries, and businesses in the United States of America got connected to the national grid and started receiving electricity (Trant, 2005).

Currently, the overall president of the movement, who overlooks the international operations, is Ed Hill (IBEW, 2010). He has been at the helm of this movement since the year 2001. This movement is affiliated with the AFL-CIO that was analyzed above in this paper (Trant, 2005).

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has its roots in the Electrical and Wiremen and Linemen’s Union No. 5221 (Trant, 2005). This was formed in St. Louis in Missouri in the year 1890. The founders waited for one year, a period within which workers in the industry expressed enough interest to form a national union. To this end, a convention took place in late November 1891 in St. Louis (IBEW, 2008).

At the time of this convention, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was going by the name of National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (herein referred to as NBEW). It is at this convention that the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was officially launched (Bronfanbrenner, 2008).

The NBEW was granted a charter to be an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor on December 7, 1891, less than one month after it was formed (IBEW, 2008). The union is so organized to the extent that it has its official journal, which was first published about one year after the formation of the union. This is named The Electrical Worker, and it published issues that touch on the welfare of the target audience, the electrical worker. It has been produced since January 15, 1893 (Joelle & Williamson, 2008).

At a convention that was held in Pennsylvania in the year 1899, the members felt that the union has grown sufficiently to assume an international face. It is as a result of this realization that the convention saw the re-launch of the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). The union has been known by this name since then, it has advocated for the welfare of the electrical worker well beyond the continental United States of America.

Many changes have taken place in the union. For example, when it was started, there were challenges in attracting the electrical workers in the country and elsewhere to join the union. This is especially given the fact that like all other unions in the world, the members are required to contribute a given amount of money to help in the running of the union after every one month. Also, some workers were plagued by apathy, and the union had to do a lot of training and awareness creation to attract the attention of the workers.

There were also leadership wrangles in the union, especially during the period of 1910 – 1920 (IBEW, 2008). During this time, two rival groups claimed that they had been duly elected into office, a wrangle that went on for six years (IBEW, 2005). This can be described as one of the lowest moments in the history of this organization of workers.

Apart from leadership wrangles and low numbers as far as membership is concerned, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has experienced many more challenges. This includes disagreements and strife with the employers in this industry. For example, in the year 1919, many employers were determined to choke labor unions and cut back on their influence in the workplace (IBEW, 2005). The employers did this by the launch of the aggressive nationwide open shop campaign (IBEW, 2005).

To survive the onslaught of this campaign, the movement had to reach an agreement with the employers. This led to the formation of the Council of Industrial Relations in the same year (IBEW, 2008). This part of the movement was composed of union representatives and other members drawn from the company’s management ranks in equal numbers (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). This body was also mandated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to resolve any disputes as far as collective bargaining was concerned on behalf of the workers. The body is still in existence, and analysts are of the view that it has helped in reducing the number of industrial actions within the jurisdiction of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in the construction industry (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). This is given the fact that the employers felt comfortable with the movement considering that they were involved actively in the negotiations of the terms and conditions of employment for their employees.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is not only involved in the fight for the rights of the members, but it has also made efforts to empower the electrical worker through training and other avenues of skill transfer. To this end, the organization launched the National Apprenticeship Standards for the Electrical Construction Industry in the year 1941 (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). The organization did this together with other stakeholders in the industry such as the National Electrical Contractors Association and the Federal Committee on Apprenticeship (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). The idea behind the formation of this group was to equip the members with skills touching on new technologies given that the electrical industry is one of the fastest-changing industries in the world.

The membership of this union has continued to fluctuate over the years. For example, in the year 1972, analysts are of the view that the organization had the highest membership in its history. The number of members under this union at that time was almost 1 million (Twomey, 2005). However, for the rest of the 1970 decade, and throughout the 1980s, the number of workers in this union went on a slow but sustained decline. However, after the 1980s, the membership has more or less stabilized to date.

The membership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was dealt a blow by a court ruling that ordered the withdrawal of workers from the American Telephone & Telegraph (herein referred to as AT&T). This was significant given the fact that AT&T was and still is one of the major employers in the United States of America. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was well organized among both employees in the telephony industry and the AT&T manufacturing facilities (Twomey, 2005).

As earlier indicated, the membership of this union has stabilized over the years. As of the year 2010, according to official statistics in the records of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the number of workers who were members of this union stood at 725,000 (IBEW, 2010). This is a significant number, and this makes the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers one of the largest labor unions in the United States of America.

Scopes and Limitations of the Study

It is not possible to address all spheres of any field in one single study. This is given the fact that many academic fields are very wide in scope. This being the case, the researcher draws boundaries within which they conduct their study. These are the scope and limitations of the study. This study is no different, and the following are scopes and limitations of the study:

  1. The study will be limited to labor unions in the United States of America. Other unions in other countries will not be addressed.
  2. The study will be limited to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The researcher will not make other unions in the country to be the center of the study, but they might use them to contextualize the current study.
  3. The study will limit itself to the demographic changes that have taken place in the union over the years. Other changes that have taken place will not be the focus of the study, but the researcher will address them if they relate to the demographic changes.

Significance of the Study

Many studies are being conducted in any given field at any one given time. This being the case, any new study that is being conducted has to be justified, and this justification usually reflects the significance that the study will have in the field.

The findings of this study will help labor unions in the country and the region in making policies that will help them handle changes that take place in the unions. The findings will also be informative to the workers and leaders in the American labor movement. This is given the fact that the parties will learn their history and appreciate how changes have affected them over the years. As such, they will be well equipped to handle changes in the future.

Chapter Summary

This chapter introduced the reader to the study that the researcher is going to conduct. The major highlights of the study were covered. This included the background information, the research questions, and the objectives of the study, the scope, and limitations of the study together with the significance of the same. The major aim of this chapter was to give the reader an idea of what the study covers and to prepare them for the rest of the study.

The next chapter is going to deal with a review of literature that exists in the field of trade unionism in the United States of America. The major aim of this chapter will be to contextualize the current study within the larger field of trade unionism in the United States of America.

Literature Review

Introduction

The previous chapter introduced the reader to the study, giving highlights of the major parts that the study will cover. In this chapter, the researcher is going to review literature that exists in the field of trade unionism in the United States of America and other developed nations in the world.

Findings of studies conducted in any field are archived in the literature that exists in that particular field. As such, it becomes very important for the researcher to accustom themselves to the literature that does exist in that field. It is through a literature review that the researcher becomes aware of the studies that had been conducted in the field before, and the findings of these studies. This way, they can avoid duplication of studies that have been conducted before.

It is to be noted that the significance of any study in a given field is determined by the quality of new knowledge that the study adds to the field. This being the case, duplication of studies conducted in the past waters down the significance of the current study. A review of literature that exists in the field enables the researcher to avoid duplication of studies.

It is also noted that the literature review helps the researcher to identify knowledge gaps that exist in their field. These are gaps that past studies have not been able to address. Through a literature review, the researcher identifies these gaps and can fill them with the findings of their study.

It is also through a literature review that the researcher can contextualize and locate the current study within the larger field that they are conducting their study within. This is given the fact that they can relate the current study with other studies that have been conducted in the field.

Trade Unions in the United States of America: A Historical Background

The labor union movement in the United States of America has a long history, spanning almost three hundred years. As earlier indicated in the introduction part of this paper, the tradition of trade unionism was borrowed from Europe. It was popularized during the industrial revolution, necessitated by the various changes that were brought about by the establishment of industries and the accompanying urbanization (Trant, 2005).

Many workers during the industrial revolution were unskilled, and they were engaged in tasks that required low skills but which were labor-intensive at the same time. Twomey (2005) notes that the industrial revolution brought with it a lot of new things and new experiences that the workers have never encountered in their life before. For example, the assembly line in the car manufacturing industry was a new experience to the worker who has made his way from the rural area and into the city to look for a job. This being the case, the laborers had little or no skills to perform the tasks.

The lack of skills and experience on the part of the worker to carry out most of the industrial tasks transferred the power of bargaining from the employee and to the employer and in some cases, this transfer was so complete such that the employees were left with no power at all. The employers exploited this development and realizing that the employee had no power to control the direction of the negotiations between employers and employees, went ahead to mistreat them in more than one way (Shannon, 2001). The workers were underpaid, and they worked under dangerous conditions, especially those in the factories.

This realization on the part of the employee-led to the development of labor unions. They were used by the employees to engage with their employers, and consistent use of this method led to the realization that it was a more beneficial means of engagement to all involved.

In the United States of America, trade unions may be made up of several classes of employees. These include the individual worker, for example, those working in factories, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, former employees, or, in some instances, individuals who are not employed but are looking for employment in a given field (Joelle & Williamson, 2008).

Twomey (2005) notes that trade unions in the United States of America are political. This is given that they involve themselves in activities that can be described as political, for example, negotiating for power between the worker and the employer.

Over the past three centuries, trade unions in the United States of America have changed in nature and orientation. These changes have been, to some extent, been informed and influenced by the unions’ political objectives (Trant, 2005). The activities of these unions have also changed severally in time and space. This means that the activities and objectives of contemporary trade unions may vary from those of earlier years. It is also noted that the activities of the trade unions do differ depending on the industry that the union addresses (Shannon, 2001).

Unionism in the United States of America: An Analysis of American 19th Century Unionism

When the trade union movement started in the United States of America in the early 19th century, it is noted that it was not popular among many workers. The main objective of those who started the movements at this time in history was to call on strikes in the various industries. However, according to Bronfanbrenner (2008), the apathy among the workers led to the failure of the movements in the early years.

The Mechanics’ Union Trade Association was one of the first labor unions to be formed in this country (Trant, 2005). This organization was able to bring employees from various industries under its influence, a thing that has never been experienced in the United States of America before. This was in the year 1827, and the movement was able to make the workers realize that all employees, regardless of their industry, were faced with the same problems (Shannon, 2001).

The mechanic’s movement was able to hold several strikes successfully in the country. The success brought it to the attention of other workers in other industries, and they similarly followed suit (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). The workers realized that they could get what they wanted from their employer by organizing and bargaining as a class.

Unionism in the Early United States of America: The Knights of Labor

The Knights of Labor (herein referred to as KOL) has its roots in the year 1869 (Trant, 2005). It was formed this year in Philadelphia by seven men who had the vision to organize, educate, and harness the force of the industrial workers. The major aim of this movement was to promote what they referred to as the “greatest good to the greatest number of humanity” (Trant, 2005: p67).

This organization had several goals. They included productivity among the workers, civil responsibility among the members, and education among others.

At the time this organization was formed, its activities were considered to be illegal under the constitution of the United States of America. This being the case, the activities of the organization were conducted under secrecy for several years, and it is only in the year 1881 that they became open (Twomey, 2005).

The membership of this organization was slow to grow during the first years of its incorporation. This was especially so given the secrecy under which it was operating. This drastically changed following the economic depression that took place during the 1870 decade (Trant, 2005). Many workers rushed to join the union to safeguard their interests in the hard times.

Like other labor unions in the history of this country, the Knights of Labor were plagued by various challenges and controversies. One of them had to do with the accusation that the society was a source of social divisions in the country. This is given that membership to the organization was selective, and those who were left out were alienated from those who were accepted as members.

Unionism in Early America: Congress of Industrial Organizations

The formation of the Congress for Industrial Organizations (herein referred to as CIO) was necessitated by the troubles that engulfed the American Federation of Labor (AFL) during this time. The troubles started after Samuel Gompers, who is credited as having brought the AFL together, passed away in 1924 (Trant, 2005).

Before the death of Gompers, it was only the experienced workers that benefitted from the services of the union. After his death, many members felt that the inexperienced worker needed to be brought on board. This is how the Committee for the Industrial Organization (which later came to be known as the Congress for Industrial Organization) was formed. Several successful strikes that were conducted by this organization led to its popularity among the workers.

A case in point as far as the success of the Congress for the Industrial Organization is concerned is the United Rubber Workers strike that took place in 1936. The workers were contending the Goodyear’s increased production with lower wages for the employees (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). According to Bronfanbrenner (2008), about 48 strikes took place in the year 1936. During these strikes, the employees remained at their jobs for at least 24 hours (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). This scholar is of the view that in more than twenty such strikes that brought together more than 34500 workers, it was noted that the striking workers remained inside the premises for more than one day (Bronfanbrenner, 2008).

This strategy that was employed by the members of the congress for the industrial organization was referred to as a “sit-down” (Joelle & Williamson, 2008). The workers remained at their place of work, and the employer was unable to bring in new workers to replace them, and this was one of the reasons why this form of the strike was very successful. In the past, it was noted that workers showed their dissatisfaction with their job by abandoning their work stations. The employers brought in new workers and the efficacy of the strike will be reduced drastically by this.

This history of unionism in the United States of America shows some of the changes that have taken place in the movements over the years. For example, it is noted that the way workers showed their dissatisfaction over the years has changed. A time came when they went on strike but remained on their seats, increasing the impact of their protest. Another form of change that has been evidenced in this analysis is that of leadership. Leadership wrangles are not a new phenomenon in the trade movements. The split of the Congress for Industrial Organization from the larger American Federation of Labor indicates that dissatisfaction with union leadership always leads to changes.

Objectives of Trade Unions in the United States of America

The mandate of labor unions in this country has remained more or less the same over the years. The few changes that have taken place were necessitated by new developments in the industry. Some of the overall objectives of these organizations are as analyzed below:

Availing of Benefits to Workers

According to Twomey (2005), one of the major objectives of trade unions in this country has always been to provide an array of benefits to the members. This is for example insuring the workers against unemployment, a role that is especially significant during periods of economic turmoil. Other benefits availed to the worker include insurance against disease, aging, and funeral expenses (Trant, 2005).

However, various changes have taken place as far as this role of the labor unions is concerned. For example, the provision of some of the benefits such as insurance against unemployment has been taken over by the central government (Trant, 2005). But the unions have retained some key roles such as providing training to the members, legal counsel, and representation among others (Trant, 2005).

Collective Bargaining

This is perhaps one of the major roles of trade unions in the United States of America. This is especially so given the fact that the unions are legally recognized by the employers and the state as representatives of the workers. Collective bargaining involves negotiation over remuneration and conditions under which the members work (Twomey, 2005).

Coordination and Execution of Industrial Action

Industrial action involves strikes and taking the employer to court when the union feels that the rights of the members have been violated. Other forms of industrial actions are strikes and resistance to certain rules and regulations, as well as policies that the employer may try to introduce in the work place. Industrial actions are organized by the leadership of the trade unions then communicated to and executed by the workers (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). They are usually taken as last resorts, taken after all other means of negotiation with the employer have hit a snag.

Political Activity

As earlier mentioned, trade unions are also political. To this end, one of their roles is to lobby for the passage of legislation that is beneficial to their members (Shannon, 2001). The unions may participate in active campaigns to this end, and may even sponsor political leaders that have their interests at heart to be elected to office. A case in point is the support that the Labor Party in the United Kingdom has received from workers through the labor unions over the years (Trant, 2005).

The International Brotherhood for Electrical Workers: A Brief Overview

According to the IBEW (2005), records of labor history in the United States of America shows no indication of efforts made within the electrical industry to organize the workers into unions. This is especially so during the experimental phase of electricity in the country.

The first telegraph wires in this country connected Washington and Baltimore in the year 1844 (IBEW, 2005). The transmission of the first message over these wires can be conceptualized as the first major achievement of electricity commercially (IBEW, 2005).

However, it was not until the year 1882 that the first electric light and power industry was established. This was the Pearl Street Generating Station, which was established in the city of New York in the United States of America (IBEW, 2010). The establishment of this industry led to the emergence of workers who were earning their living solely from the electrical industry.

Over the years, the electricity demand increased with the rise of industrialization and accompanying urbanization. The demand was accompanied by an equal increase in the number of employees in this industry. The employees, given the demand for their services, started working in deplorable conditions and getting exploited by the employers. This was the impetus for unionism in this industry (Bronfanbrenner, 2008).

Early signs of unionism began to appear in the early 1870s. However, the unions were small, weak, and unorganized. As such, they never lasted for long. But the Knights of Labor, the organization that was analyzed earlier in this paper, helped the workers to form local assemblies that were affiliated with the organization. But the strength that was injected by this organization in the year 1880 lasted till 1883. This was the time that the union called for a strike that failed. This dented the spirit and enthusiasm of the workers, and the union collapsed shortly thereafter.

However, the urge of the workers to unite was strong, and Shannon (2001) attributes this to the relative ease with which the workers were able to bargain while organized during the Knights of Labor years. They made another attempt to organize in the year 1884. This was done secretly with the help of the United Order of Linemen (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). This was one of the earliest successes of the industrial actions by electrical workers in the country.

These developments created the way for the formation of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. As earlier stated in this paper, the idea to form the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was mooted in the year 1890. This was when wiremen and linemen from all over the United States of America congregated in Missouri to advocate for their rights.

The Early Changes in Trade Unionism in the United States of America: The Case of the IBEW

Several changes took place in the early days of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in the United States of America. For example, the brotherhood changed in form of a congregation of its members. Whereas the members used to carry out strikes secretly, for example, the one in the year 1884 which was aided by the United Order of Linemen, they are now able to conduct industrial action openly today. This is given the fact that they are now legally recognized in the country.

This openness and recognition have had an impact on the welfare of the workers. Today, they can articulate their issues effectively given the fact that they do not have to hide from the authorities.

At the earliest days of the movement, it is noted that the workers used to meet informally at the end of their workdays to talk about their working conditions. The meetings had no minutes or other connotations of formality. This has changed greatly today. The members are now able to meet officially and record minutes and such other connotations of formality (Joelle & Williamson, 2008). The men were not notified to attend the meetings through such alerts as memos. This happens nowadays, whereby notice of a fairly long time is given before any meeting is held.

This and other forms of formalization have helped in making the union more organized and as such, more efficient. The members can articulate their issues more coherently, and records of meetings and deliberations that have taken place can now be filed for posterity.

The work of the linemen and wiremen in the early years was quite hard and hazardous. They worked long hours under dangerous conditions in any kind of weather. This was compounded by the fact that despite this hard and dangerous work, the pay was meager. They were paid about 15 to 20 cents per hour, and the luckier ones were paid about two dollars and fifty cents per day (Joelle & Williamson, 2008).

This has changed today due to the advocacy of the International Brotherhood for Electrical Workers. The pay is now better, and the workers equally benefit from apprenticeship training (Shannon, 2001). The workers in the earlier days of the organization did not benefit from any form of training, and this made them less competent in their bargaining powers as well as in their productivity. There is training for the workers today, and safety standards for their work are now upheld by the employer.

The hazardous conditions under which the electrical linemen and wiremen operated are evidenced by the mortality rate among them in the earlier years. It is noted that in some instances, the mortality rate was as high as fifty percent (IBEW, 2005). Compared to the mortality rate in other industries at that time, the electrical industry rate was twice that of other industries (IBEW, 2005).

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has changed all this. Today, the workers are trained on how to safely operate in their industry. The organization has also advocated successfully for the improvement of the working conditions for the workers. This has led to a reduction in the rate of mortality in this industry.

Chapter Summary

This chapter analyzed and reviewed literature that exists in the field of trade unionism in the United States of America. The review aimed to contextualize this study within the wider field of trade unionism. Among the areas covered in this chapter was a historical review of labor movements in the United States of America. The objectives of the trade unions in this country were also analyzed, together with an overview of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The researcher looked at the historical background of this movement, together with the changes that have taken place over the years.

Analysis

Introduction

The previous chapter was a review of the literature that exists in the field of trade unionism in the United States of America. Several issues regarding this topic were addressed.

In this chapter, the researcher analyzes in detail the issue of changes, and especially demographic changes, that have taken place in trade unions in the United States of America. The researcher will especially be interested in the situation as it was in the earlier years as compared to what is happening today. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will be the main focus of this chapter.

Objectives of the IBEW

Like other trade unions in this country and other countries in the world, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also has objectives. These are the aims of the organization, the goals that it aspires to fulfill on behalf of the workers. According to IBEW (2005), the following are the objectives of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers:

  1. Organization of the entire electrical workforce in the United States of America and Canada (IBEW, 2005). This is together with all those other workers in public utility facilities and those working in the electrical manufacturing industry. The aim is to organize all of them into local trade unions.
  2. To advocate for and promote acceptable and reasonable working conditions and methods
  3. To promote friendship among all the players in the electrical industry. This includes friendship between the employers and the employees
  4. To settle any dispute arising between the members and the employers amicably
  5. To create a sense of brotherhood among all the members so that they can help each other in times of sickness and other forms of problems
  6. To secure employment for the members. This is especially so by ensuring that there is no discrimination in recruitment and the employees are not dismissed unreasonably
  7. To reduce the hours that the workers spend on their work stations daily. This means that the union tries to ensure that the workers are not overworked or otherwise exploited by their employees
  8. To secure adequate and reasonable pay for the members, again ensuring that they are not exploited by the employers
  9. To advocate for higher living standards for the members. This is through securing adequate pay and improving the working conditions
  10. To advocate for the security of the members. This is both job security and other forms of security including health security
  11. To improve the moral, intellectual, and wellbeing of the workers, their immediate families, and those who depend on them (Bronfanbrenner, 2008). This is to be conducted through legal and proper channels, and the aim is to improve the overall standard of the American citizen

Changes in the IBEW

Geographical Changes

As stated in the scope and limitations section, this paper will limit itself to the analysis of demographic changes in IBEW. However, it is also noted that other changes that may be closely related to demographic changes will be addressed. This is why geographical changes will be addressed.

According to IBEW (2005), the headquarters of the IBEW during the formative and earlier years assumed what can only be referred to as a revolving basis. This is given the fact that the operations and offices of the movement were situated in the city from which the serving president came from.

However, this was to change when Frank J. McNulty was elected as the president of the movement (Shannon, 2001). It is to be noted that this official was the first full time and salaried official of the movement. He moved the operations of the union permanently to Springfield, Illinois (Shannon, 2001).

However, these fixed headquarters were not to be permanent at all. In the early 1920s, the city of Washington was becoming popular as the seat of power in the country. Many movements were moving their offices in this city to be near the country’s political power center. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was not to be left behind, and in March 1920, the operations of the office were permanently moved to this city (Joelle & Williamson, 2008). This is the current headquarters of the brotherhood’s international offices.

This geographical change has had an impact on the welfare of the members. This is given the fact that the proximity to the country’s political power center has ensured that the organization can lobby the politicians more easily, leading to favorable bills benefitting the members.

Change in Lobbying and Other Financial Contributions

Given the political nature of the activities of this union, there is extensive lobbying and petitioning of political leaders in the country. The amount of money that has been used to lobby changes from one year to the other, reflecting the activities that the organization is involved in that particular year. The following chart shows the lobbying trend from the year 1998 to 2010:

Lobbying Totals.
Chart 1: Lobbying Totals. Source: IBEW (2010).

The changes in the lobbying totals do affect the welfare of the members. If the amount of money used in the lobbying is high, this means that there will not be enough money for other activities such as apprenticeship training. However, the members might benefit in such a case if the lobbying is successful and leads to beneficial bills.

The chart below indicates the lobbying activities of the year 2010:

Chart 2: Lobbying Stats, 2010. Source: IBEW (2010).

Total spent on lobbying in : $867,581
Several lobbyists hired in : 4
Several revolving door personnel: 0
Several bills mentioned: 16

Demographic Changes

Change in Leadership

One of the major demographic changes that have taken place in this union over the years has to do with the individuals elected to be leaders. The following list shows the presidents that have been elected over the years to lead the organization on the international front:

International Presidents: 1891-date

  1. Henry Miller (1891-1893)
  2. Queren Jansen (1893-1894)
  3. H. W. Sherman (1894-1897)
  4. J. H. Maloney (1897-1899)
  5. Thomas Wheeler (1899-1901)
  6. W. A. Jackson (1901-1903)
  7. Frank Joseph McNulty (1903-1919). This was the first full-time, paid president of the IBEW.
  8. James Patrick Noonan (acting president, 1917, president 1919-1929). He died in office
  9. Henry H. Broach (1929-1933)
  10. Daniel W. Tracy (1933-1940)
  11. Edward J. Brown (1940-1947)
  12. Daniel (Dan) W. Tracy (1947-1954)
  13. J. Scott Milne (1954-1955)
  14. Gordon M. Freeman (1955-1968)
  15. Charles H. Pillard (1968-1986)
  16. John Joseph Barry (1986-2001)
  17. Edwin D. Hill (2001-present)

Source: IBEW (2010).

It is important to note that these are just that the International Presidents of the movement. There are other elected leaders on the national and regional levels. The change in leadership over the years is significant to the workers. This is given the fact that each of these leaders has their policies and legacies that they aspire to leave behind when they retire. These legacies and policies affect the welfare of the employees. For example, the decision by James Patrick Noonan to move the headquarters of the international operations to Washington affected the way the leadership lobbied for the welfare of the employees.

Change in Membership

Over the years, the membership of the union has drastically changed. For example, the membership stood at almost 1 million in the early 1970s (IBEW, 2005). However, this has changed to the current 750,000. This change has affected the bargaining power of the organization. It is to be noted that an organization with a strong membership is more effective in collective bargaining, most of the time, than an organization with few members.

The profession of the workers joining the union has also changed over the years. During the formative years of the organization, membership was mainly drawn from wiremen and linesmen in the electrical industry. Today, the membership is drawn from various lines of the profession. This includes the following:

  1. Outside and utility employees
  2. Inside electrical employees
  3. Employees in the communications sector
  4. Electrical workers working in the rail industry
  5. Electrical manufacturing employees
  6. Government employees working on electrical wiring

This diversification in membership has increased the strength and influence of the organization. The ability to lobby aggressively has improved the welfare of the employees.

Chapter Summary

This chapter analyzed the issue of change in the IBEW over the years. The researcher concentrated on geographical changes, financial changes, and demographic changes such as a change in leadership and membership. The cause of these changes and the impacts on the employees were analyzed.

Conclusion

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has faced various challenges since inception. This has to do with lack of funds, resistance by workers in the industry, and concerted efforts by the employers in the industry to frustrate the efforts of the employees to engage in collective bargaining.

These challenges are some of the reasons that the organization had to change over the years to remain relevant. Some of the changes that have been observed include the change in the physical address of the organization, where headquarter offices moved from Springfield, Illinois, to the city of Washington. Other changes are leadership changes and the change in the membership of the organization. All of these changes have impacted the welfare of the employee, either positively or negatively.

The future of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers looks bright. The movement is strong with a membership of 750,000. It is organized through 947 local unions that are spread across the United States of America, Canada, and other areas within which the organization operates. This makes this organization to be one of the most powerful labor unions in the world.

References

Bronfanbrenner, K. (2008). Organizing to win: New research on union strategies. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press.

IBEW. (2010). Cheating workers out of rights and benefits. Web.

IBEW. (2008). Steel salvaged from the World Trade Center builds USS New York. The Electrical Worker, 2(4), 3-8.

IBEW. (2005). International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: History and structure. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 10(4), 5-48.

Joelle, S., & Williamson, J. B. (2008). Factors affecting union decline and their implications for labor reform. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 49, 479-500.

Shannon, A. B. (2001). A heritage of excellence: Setting standards for the electro industry. Electroindustry, October 2001, 1-8.

Trant, W. (2005). Trade unions, their origin, and objects, influence, and efficacy. Harvard: The American Federation of Labor.

Twomey, D. P. (2005). Labor & employment law: Text and cases. New York: Cengage Publishers.

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