Unfavorable Working Conditions and Industrial Strikes

Introduction

Unfavorable work conditions give rise to labor movements to push employers for improved pay. One of the strategies unions use to ensure their demands are met is by striking. The primary goal of labor strikes is to gain better pay or conditions through a production go-slow or stoppage (CIT). This paper responds to questions on the issue of labor unrest, historical railroad strikes, types of industrial actions, reasons for striking, etc.

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Labor Unrest and Strikes in the Workplace

The organization of workers into labor unions strengthens their bargaining power to demand better terms from their employer. A strike entails an organized industrial action designed to withhold or obstruct production in a bid to obtain better pay or work conditions (The Gale Group Inc., 2003). It is considered a final course of action after the collecting bargaining efforts have stalled and employee demands remain unresolved. Some of the economic actions employed in labor strife include go-slows to decrease production efficiency or output, work stoppages, and employee lockouts. Industrial unrest arises when workers feel that the management is unfair; therefore, it is a means to express dissatisfaction with some decisions or make demands (Burgmann, 2016). Occasional strikes in the workplace are often due to poor working conditions, long work hours, low wages, inadequate equipment, union recognition, and discriminatory practices (Burgmann, 2016).

Historical Strikes in Railroads and Mines

Historically, labor relations in the US were marked by incidents of violent industrial actions by railroad workers and miners to have their union recognized. One popular strike was the Great Railroad Strike that exposed flaws in earlier labor movements (Piper, 2013). A biting economic slowdown and dwindling profits forced Railroad companies to impose a ten-percent cut in wages (Piper, 2013). As a result, railroad workers engaged in an unorganized and violent three-week strike in 1877 that led to millions of dollars in economic costs. Another incident involved Pullman Company (a manufacturer of railroad wagon-lit) employees who went on strike because the management ignored their plight (The Gale Group Inc., 2003). The company fired staff and cut wages after workers refused to stay in firm-owned houses. Pullman employees, through their union, went on a nationwide strike demanding cheaper housing and improved wages. The 1902 coal strike involved miners called by the United Mine Workers of America to demand better pay, shorter work hours, and union recognition (Boissoneault, 2017). The federal government arbitrated this dispute, which ended in the same year.

Types of Labor Strikes

Industrial action can take different forms depending on the reason for striking. Gale Group Inc. (2003) identifies six types of strikes: organizing, economic, grievance, general, wildcat, and sympathy labor unrests. An organizing strike occurs when employees suspend production or engage in go-slows to gain union recognition for improved bargaining power (The Gale Group Inc., 2003). In contrast, economic industrial action is one called to demand better compensation, shorter workdays, or additional bonuses. Grievance strikes arise due to union-employer disagreements over honoring the contract terms or implementing the enterprise agreements. General labor strife involves an organized industrial action that cuts across economic sectors or firms. Wildcat strikes are unrests not sanctioned by the labor union, and therefore, are illegal. Employees, without any claim, can also choose to engage in industrial strife as a show of solidarity with other workers (The Gale Group Inc., 2003). This type of collective action is called a sympathy strike.

Effects of Labor Strikes on Profits

Industrial actions present a serious threat to growth in profit margins. Strike activity has adverse economic effects on productivity, prices, and supply chains (Marsh, 2012). These strikes have the power to reduce the productivity of organizations and eventually reduce the profits earned by the owners. Some of the effects, which occasion, when the profit margins of owners reduce, include increased unemployment and premature exit from the market. Due to strikes from workers, the profit margins drop significantly. Notably, a go-slow or work stoppage by port or airline workers can disrupt cargo or passenger transportation, resulting in huge losses.

A strike activity may involve riots that involve willful destruction of property by disgruntled workers. When the property is damaged and employees refuse to work because of a strike, the willingness of the employers or the owners to hire more employees decreases leading to a high scale of unemployment. Moreover, the few owners who decide to hire members of staff will have them serve under contractual terms implying that they will experience underemployment, which is a subset of unemployment. in some case organizations that suffer from frequent strikes will experience losses leading to their untimely exit from the market.

Reasons for Different Strikes

The factors contributing to labor strikes vary between unions. The reasons may be economic, social, political, technological, legal, or psychological. Higher inflation causes a rise in consumer prices, which erodes real earnings (Madland, 2016). As a result, workers begin demanding better pay, bonus, and overtime and can go on strike to gain them. Social reasons for labor strife may include low staff morale and the failure of societal systems to instill work values. Political causes may include union affiliations with politicians or movements. The adoption of efficient technology by firms may cause resistance or strikes due to the fear of being laid off. Psychological reasons for going on strike may include motivational issues and the misalignment of personal goals and organizational objectives (Madland, 2016). Sometimes, similar situations, such as a uniform wage cut, may also precipitate an industrial action.

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Government Role in Implementing Protective Actions

Local and federal authorities can institute multiple actions and resolutions to increase the minimum wage, bridge income disparities, and enhance workplace conditions. One of the policies that Madland and Rowel (2017) propose to state and local governments to protect labor rights is creating fresh industry-wide standards through collaborations involving workers, employers, and the government. This joint commission can then establish a committee to create binding minimum wages for various sectors. The government can raise standards by investing in specific jobs through tax rebates or subsidies to compliant firms (Madland & Rowel, 2017). Also, a demand for labor peace agreements between workers and companies can avert industrial conflicts. The government also has a role in enforcing labor standards and laws to protect the rights of vulnerable employees. This action may involve giving financial support to organizations or unions that advocate for better pay and benefits for low-income workers.

Proposals to Minimize Labor Strikes

Some of the methods or measures that can be implemented to minimize disputes include trade union reforms, stabilization of prices and incomes, removal of barriers to unionization, and business licensing. Intense rivalries, a multiplicity of unions, and political interests have weakened labor movements in the US (Williams, 2014). Statutory reforms to create a single bargaining agent for a minimum of over 1,000 workers can help resolve industrial disputes. Further, measures to reduce income disparities can prevent economic strikes. An example of such policies is a Bonus Act that sets the limit of productivity-linked incentives payable to an employee. ‘Organizing’ strikes can be reduced by supporting the formation of unions across industries. For instance, employers should allow workers to contribute to labor organizations to increase union membership. Issuing licenses or permits to firms that meet workplace standards can also help decrease industrial disputes. An example is the issuance of licenses to firms that offer the required worker conditions in Austin, Texas (Madland & Rowell, 2017). The aim is to prevent poor worker treatment that precipitates strikes.

Concerns that Cause Unrest

Workers desire better pay and standard working conditions. However, issues of wage cuts, mistreatment, and workplace hazards drive employees into industrial action to demand improved terms (Williams, 2014). Some of their concerns may include unfair compensation, i.e., lower pay, bonus, or overtime, the fear of being replaced by newly adopted technology, and the failure to recognize unions (Williams, 2014). Workers may also raise concerns over issues of career progression and the availability of requisite equipment for performing their job. The fear of mass layoffs due to downsizing plans can also trigger industrial unrest. Labor disputes negatively affect employee performance because of their absence from workstations, go-slows related to protracted legal disputes, and possible lockouts.

Alternative Solutions

Employers and workers should explore all conventional channels to resolve industrial disputes. However, if they fail to work, they should adopt alternative solutions or mechanisms. One such approach is employee training on the trade union philosophy to enable them to appreciate labor problems and industry challenges. Enhanced worker involvement in management will create positive attitudes and goodwill to resolve industrial problems through negotiations instead of strikes. Employers should also endeavor to support worker adaptation to technological change through training. Promoting skill development helps equip workers with the expertise to be effective in their job and receive adequate compensation. As such, extrinsic motivation through training and better wages can prevent strikes. Fruitful industrial relations depend on effective employer-employee relationships that are based on mutual understanding. Therefore, better communication systems can help the management address grievances early before they escalate into full-blown industrial actions.

Conclusion

Strikes are among the powerful tools used to improve the living standards of employees in the United States. While the strikes appear beneficial to the employed individuals, they also have a range of challenges, which comprise reduced profits, and some level of unemployment. Over the years, unions have championed for better pay, a favorable working environment, and fair treatment as ways of ensuring that the employees enjoy their time in a particular company. It is worthwhile to note that while the initiatives advanced by unions are beneficial to the employees, much is to be done so that the owners of the organizations do not suffer from some kind of marginalization.

References

Boissoneault, L. (2017). The coal mining massacre America forgot. Web.

Burgmann, V. (2016). Globalization and Labour in the Twenty-First Century. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

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Madland, D. (2016). The future of worker voice and power. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Madland, D., & Rowell, A. (2017). How state and local governments can strengthen worker power and raise wages. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Marsh. (2012). Supply chain resiliency: US port strikes – what’s at stake and how to manage your risk. Web.

Piper, J. (2013). The great railroad strike of 1877: A catalyst for the American labor movement. The History Teacher, 47(1), 93-110. Web.

The Gale Group Inc. (2003). Strikes. Web.

Williams, S. (2014). Introducing employment relations: A critical approach (3rd ed.). Oxford, MS: Oxford University Press.

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