Related BLS programs | Related articles A review of collective bargaining in 1987
January, 1988, Vol. 111, No. 3
Related BLS programs | Related articles
A review of collective bargaining in 1987George Ruben
During 1987, American management and labor continued their efforts to adapt to international and domestic conditions which have been affecting labor-management relations since the beginning of the decade. On the international front, foreign manufacturers are producing quality products, often at lower prices than U.S. manufacturers, buttressing their already strong sales here and abroad. Domestic conditions include continued competition in the deregulated transportation industries, shifts in customer preferences, and changes in production and distribution methods. A major result of these conditions that bodes well for the future is an improvement in labor-management cooperation, as the parties recognize that mutual problems require mutual solutions. The solutions emanating from cooperative efforts center on ways to retrain labor costs, improve product quality, increase productivity, and preserve jobs.
Efforts to restrain labor costs are reflected in the size of settlements in private industry. During the first 10 months of 1987, for example, settlements involving 1,000 workers or more provided wage adjustments averaging 2.1 percent annually over their life, continuing the relatively low adjustments that have been characteristic since 1982.
Efforts to increase productivity and improve product quality are diverse. They include programs linking employee compensation to corporate output or financial results; revising work schedules to increase plant utilization; and new approaches to work, such as team assembly of products and "pay-for-knowledge" plans for encouraging employees to learn new skills.
Certainly, job preservation is the paramount issue to employees in many industries, and unions have won a number of protections, including plans limiting layoffs or terminations during sales slowdowns, and, in a few instances, out-right bans on plant closing, restrictions on subcontracting, and limitations on overtime work.
Another indication of the state of labor-management relations is the decline in major work stoppages (strikes and lockouts involving 1,000 workers or more) during the 1980's. Only 46 stoppages began during the first 11 months of 1987. If that rate continues, the total for the year would be the lowest in the history of the statistical series for major units, which goes back to 1947. The current record, 54 stoppages, occurred in 1985. The reduced reliance on stoppages as a bargaining tool is illustrated by the fact there were an average of 99 stoppages a year during the 1980-86 period, compared with 200 to 300 in almost every year between 1947 and 1979.
This excerpt is from an article published in the January 1988 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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