Union decline is continuing throughout the county based in political, economic, and cultural changes. As alternative models to traditional unionized environments a management based system appears to be favored by employees. According to a paper from Goddard and Fredge (2013) from Cornell University, a management based system has positive employee impression in much the same way as traditional unionization. Yet when bureaucracy makes its way into these systems their effectiveness is diminished.
As unions decline some have argued that a management vacuum has been created that has been filled in part by legal changes as well as some employer modifications. However, there is a possibility that new models of democratic management may come forward that balance the needs of workers and their employer. Through the use and development of formal employee participation structures it may be possible to implement union alternatives.
Work-councils or management-established systems give a voice to employee concerns. The problem legally is that at times they can be challenged through the Wagner-Act as intruding on union rights. The author argues that where they have been established they appear to have a level of success. The key for employers is to ensure they do not act as “labor organizations” but more as advice councils that influence the decisions organizations make.
When complaints arise they generally are handled under the NLRB. It is up to the unions to argue that they are impinging on their rights to organize. NLRB officials are not always interested in dealing with the ambiguity of such challenges and when sanctions are applied they are generally ineffective as a deterrent. Therefore, it is expected such systems will continue to grow as a union alternative.
The researchers used a national survey of 1,000 adult working age participants. They found that unions offered democratization of workplaces by raising worker status, they generally supported a more bureaucratic structure, and where unions were present there was more distrustful of management. The work-councils appear to be replacing unions, are evaluated by employees as or more positively than unions, and have some influence on wages and benefits. The authors indicated that in places like Canada work-councils appeared to be acceptable substitutes.
The report doesn’t indicate this but unions, work-councils and associations serve similar functions for employees and are embedded into their identity as an employee. Developed rules, norms, and values influence workers perceptions and in turn their behavior. Employers may consider the tertiary benefits of work councils through the democratization possibilities of ensuring employees rights are secured through systematic justice, the possibility of drawing employee participation into solving workplace problems through participation, and social sense of identity that often results once norms and values have been habituated. Such systems may be considered an enhancement to organizational development as well as a possible alternative to more formal unionization.
Godard, J. and Frege, C. (2013). Labor unions, alternative forms of representation, and the exercise of authority relations in U.S. workplaces. ILRReview, 66 (1).