A couple of weeks ago we began to take a look at some of the trends we see coming in 2017 for labor-management relations and collective bargaining. This time we want to continue to look at these issues and the impact they could have on labor and management.
Union membership will continue to decline, but it may be near its low point. In 2016, overall union membership declined to fewer than 11% of the workforce. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership in Ohio rose to 12.4% (http://radio.wosu.org/post/ohio-union-membership-grew-slightly-2016).
The pressures on unions we have discussed here will continue to negatively impact their growth, membership, and influence. However, if employment increases due to the return of jobs or increases in spending on the infrastructure, some of the jobs will be in organized labor. As workers realize the difficulty not having a strong union poses for them, unions may also see and upswing.
Unemployment will slowly continue to decrease, but many of the jobs lost in and following the recession will never return. The good news is more people are working than last year at this time. Employers added 156,000 jobs, which shows that moderate hiring remains sustainable 7½ years after the recovery from the Great Recession began (http://www.postandcourier.com/business/obama-s-final-jobs-report-big-pay-gain-slower-hiring/article_4c1d63ee-d45a-11e6-9bb8-bf89f9c4d3ba.html).
Since 2010, the U.S. economy has produced more than 14 million jobs, increasing payrolls by $5.7 million over the level before the recession hit in 2007. (http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/18/obamas-record-on-jobs-versus-five-other-presidents.html)
In December, 2016, Ohio added 10,300 jobs (http://ohiolmi.com/ces/LMR.pdf). However, during 2016, manufacturing employment dropped 0.4%.
Unfortunately, the outlook for many of the types of jobs lost during the recession is not as positive. In some cases, endangered industries such as coal are unlikely to ever return to the pre-recession employment levels. The next two trends have the potential to negatively impact employment.
Increases in productivity may inhibit the return of jobs lost in the recession. Declines in manufacturing employment are often attributed to jobs leaving the country to offshore locations. Many assume forcing employers to return these jobs to the United States will restore the jobs and increase employment. In our 2014 article, we noted downsizing forced the remaining workers to increase productivity. Fewer workers were needed to sustain production. Jobs lost as a result are unlikely to return.
Automation will become an increasing issue in the workplace and place new pressures on labor and management and in negotiations. A new threat is emerging to impact employment: Automation. The increased use of technology and robotics can reduce the need for human workers. While some people believe jobs lost to automation will be replaced by those designing and maintaining the new machines, this is highly unlikely, If automation did not result in cost savings, it would not be implemented. Most of the savings come directly from lost positions and declines in wages.
A study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University reported 88% of factory jobs losses are actually attributable to technological change and automation rather than international trade (http://conexus.cberdata.org/files/MfgReality.pdf).
The implementation of new automation is beginning to impact negotiations. Ken Riley, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local No. 1422, said he’ll make automation a key issue when the local negotiates a new contract for the roughly 1,200 members who load and unload cargo at the Port of Charleston, SC. He stated, “New technology means you’re introducing something that will help me do my job more efficiently. Automation means you’re eliminating my job.” (http://www.postandcourier.com/business/automation-negotiation-ila-leader-riley-says-technology-at-port-of/article_b54e5414-d828-11e6-9b34-5f3283622b51.html) On the national scale, ILA president Harold Daggett said automation “will dominate” contract talks.
The minimum wage will increase slowly through state and local initiatives, but increases at the federal level are unlikely. There is little to make us believe the Republican controlled government in Washington is likely to increase the minimum wage, and some of their leaders have called for its elimination entirely. Republican controlled legislatures in Ohio and other areas have made it more difficult for municipalities to enact increases in the minimum wage. The “Fight for $15” will undoubtedly continue, but it is unlikely to see much success.
While more options for communications exist, it has become increasingly more difficult to really communicate. We live in an age when we carry devices that give us access to virtually any information we need. We can send and receive messages and get feedback almost instantly. However, these devices can block real communications.
Have you ever walked into a meeting only to see people with their faces buried in their phones and tablets? If you want to ask someone a question, do you go to them and ask or do you email or text? The ability to take the easy road replaces face-to-face communications and increases the likelihood of miscommunications.
Effective communications remains a barrier between labor and management. The trend for increased use of electronic communications is likely to continue to grow in spite of the problems it can create. Issues related to social media policies and use will continue to be problematic for both labor and management.
The need for employee engagement continues to grow. The difficulty communicating discussed in the last section make employee engagement even more important. Making real systemic change requires people to work together, get the information they need, and discuss possible outcomes. We believe the need to involve employees from all levels as we try to improve workplaces will become even more significant.
These are only some of the potential trends facing labor and management today. If you or your organization would like assistance in planning strategies to deal with them, contact CALMC. We would also like to hear your ideas on these or other trends, so please comment on this article or contact us directly.