Good What Are The Strengths And Weaknesses Of Non-Union Arrangements For Promoting Employee Representation At Work? Essay Example
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A union is a group of individuals employed in one or several organizations who use their collective voice to influence matters at their workplace. Unions can influence wages, work hours, employment policies, benefits and other work related affairs. Unions had arisen with the advent of the industrial age as an outcome of the adoption of capitalism. With industrialization and capitalization markets evolved and businesses became more and more competitive. In this competitive landscape workers were important yet often exploited participants and so unions emerged. Theoretically unions are intended to provide a common front to employees where they can advance their interests and resist exploitation or unfair employment terms (Kaufman, 2004). The trend of unionization rose between 1930 to 1950s and since then has been on a decline. During 1980 and 1990 there was a steep decline in union membership and the reasons (Fernie and Metcalf, 2005). With this decline non-union representation arrangements became more popular but their membership has been largely stagnant. Non-union arrangements can take diverse forms and structures but are most commonly backed by company administration. With regards to the company administration’s motivation it has been theorized that there can exist two alternate intentions. One could be to avoid unionization and the other could be to provide company employees with a mutually agreed upon platform for their formal representation. These theories also contribute to some strengths and weaknesses of non-union representation arrangements. There are other strengths and weaknesses as well that can be described either from the management’s perspective or the employee’s nevertheless it would seem that strengths of non-union representation arrangements outweigh the weaknesses.
Firstly, it is important to define the topic of non-union representation and related concepts. Non-union employee representation is an arrangement where the employer sponsors a body that is representative of the employees. The precise structure of the non-union arrangement can vary and can also vary in terms of how different it is from a union arrangement. Either the non-union arrangement will be a complete departure from the unionist model or could be a mixture of union and non-union features (Froth and Bryson, 2010). The purpose of the management in forming a non-union entity is to establish cooperative and collaborative relationships with the employees and from the employee’s perspective it is a platform through which they can put forward their opinions and demands to the management and expect to influence managerial decision making. So basically the difference between union and non-union arrangements is that of the patronage. Non-union arrangements are established by the company management’s support and explicit approval and so the participants are bound by more or less the same objectives of maximizing profits and achieving business goals. In union arrangements on the other hand, the governance is mostly in the hands of the employees and there can at times be a conflict of interest between the employers and the employees and can lead to financial and reputational loss for the underlying enterprise. Furthermore researchers and analysts have identified five basic formations of non-union representations (Donaghey et al., 2011). The first one is where the members are only comprised of the employees of the concerned firm. In the second arrangement there are only limited external employee linkages or external employee representation parties. The third is where an employer supported employee representation entity exists. Fourthly there can be more collective representation of employees as compared to individual representation or participation. Finally there are structures that represent all the employees associated with an organization or enterprise. The underlying purpose of these structures and non-union employee representation itself is to provide employees with a ‘voice’ (Dundon et al., 2005). This voice is a well-articulated concept in Human Resource Management and Labor literature. This concept of voice has both positive and negative connotations that have been noted by theorists and researchers. For some it is a collective bargaining front that at times undermines the goals of a corporation and foster discord between management and employees (Armstrong, 2001). Others claim that this voice is a ‘humanizing’ element for the workplace and opens up communication between otherwise hierarchically separated groups (Prosser, 2001). With regards to the practical workplace this voice is taken as alternate arrangements for employee representation and is an important and diverse occurrence for research and management purposes.
There are major weaknesses of non-union arrangements as identified by researchers and those commonly observed. Firstly there is the criticism that these non-union representations originated and were institutionally supported to suppress the legitimate voice of employee unions (Donaghey et al., 2011). According to this view the unions represented the true needs and interests of employees and with the representation of unions, employees had gained a prominent status in policy formulation and decision making on the organizational level. This status was close to or at par with the management and hence the managements had felt threatened. Under this threat they had acted and suppressed employee unions and instead instated non-union and controlled representation arrangements (Ramsay, 1977). These arrangements because of being supported by the management cannot be truly representative of the employees’ interest and are at the mercy of the management’s discretion and patronage. So effectively the management is serving its own purposes by providing employees with an ineffective mechanism while also keeping them under the impression that they are being heard at the highest level. This criticism is the most widely quoted and mentioned one. Many theorists have assumed such suppressive intentions on different management’s parts. So the measures they have taken to establish non-union representations have been seen as pretentious attempts to harmonize with the work force. This line of argument has been supported by multiple case studies done in UK which show that non-union representation was established to quell attempts to form unions (Gall and McKay, 2011). This particular strategy was seen as the second most often employed one in Ireland (D’Art and Turner, 2005) and has also been observed in Australia (Peetz, 2002) and the US (Logan, 2004). This line of argument can be synthesized into two main criticisms. One is that non-union representations are formed to suppress the more effective unions. The other criticism is that the voice of non-trade unions is ineffective as they are only dummy organizations and only serve the purposes of company managements while keeping the employees in an illusion. These criticisms and their real life exemplars are indeed alarming but warrant closer analysis to determine their validity.
Many other theoretical and practical points contest the criticism that non-union representation is a ploy of company managements. Firstly there is the general historical trend where union membership declined significantly over certain periods of time with little apparent external influence (Fernie and Metcalf, 2005). The rate of union membership is considered to have dropped largely of its own accord. The number of people who once believed, about 50-60 years ago that unions had too much power far outnumbered those who thought that they had too little. This statistic has since then reversed and now there are too few people who believe in the powers of unions. This shows a perceptual shift where people gradually became disenchanted with unions and the hype of unions died (Colling and Terry, 2010). This brings to question the effectiveness of the unions. Had the unions been truly effective they would have grown in size and power and not diminished like they have in the past decades. There is also no evidence that when unions had indeed wielded greater number of members and greater influence their voice had been enough to reach the highest quarters and influences the policy and decision making. It has been estimated that the wage differential between the unionized and non-unionized firms amounts does not amount to any significant amount that could justify the existence of a union or could make a case for its effectiveness (Gollan and Lewin, 2012). So generally there is no historical evidence that unions had provided their members with superior benefits or incentives to join and hence the decline in membership and power has been observed all over the world.
The historical declining trends do not alone justify the strength of non-union representations. One can also question the assumed ineffectiveness of non-union representations. It can be questioned that whether non-union representations are indeed dummy entities with their strings being controlled by the management. It is true that non-union entities are in fact established with the sponsorship and support of the management but this does not lead one to the conclusion that the management inherently negative intentions for its employees. Non-union representations could be honest attempts on the management’s part to establish a non-political platform for the employees with sincere intentions of hearing them out and providing them relief where it can (Blyton, Heery and Turnbull, 2011). There is also little evidence regarding the complete ineffectiveness of non-union representative arrangements. And if this is compared with the situation of the unions one can see that the non-union arrangements do have their merits. It they are indeed formed in sincerity by the management they have a greater chance of being more effective and more lasting. They will more likely not diminish in membership and effectiveness because they have institutional patronage that is ore long lasting then individual employees and hence this patronage increases the longevity of non-union representations. Unions that have very strong employee heads and officials can become linked with the career and personal motivations of those employees. Non-union representations are less likely to have employee based trajectories and have the more stable supervision of the management (Kelly, 2002). This situation will be ensured in the event when there is a proper constitution or procedure manual that governs the non-union representation. So any such foundational initiative on the management’s part can be seen as an honest attempt at forming a long lasting means of communication between themselves and the employees (Dundon and Gollan, 2007). Non-union representations are also less likely to suffer from becoming political organizations and becoming a battle ground in their own right where competing groups of employees are fighting amongst themselves for greater representation or power. This is easily predictable because individual employees themselves do not necessarily have the leadership or acumen required to keep a group of individuals together and negotiate with people with greater power and resources. The patronage of the organization and a formal constitution governing the non-union representation could provide the necessary political stability and means like reviews and elections could provide the necessary heads of the representation. This way the non-union representation could function as an efficient and stable entity without jeopardizing its own existence or the profitability and stability of the parent organization.
Another argument that can be made in favor of non-union representations relates to the basic objectives of a business entity. In a capitalistic and competitive environment every business strives to maximize its profits and minimize its costs. One perspective could be that the management would be inclined to exploit its labor to the maximum to have the maximum benefit with the least costs. This would mean that the wages will be as low as possible with as little benefits and relaxation as possible. This would indeed depict an exploitative nature of the management. But in actuality this is a very short-term view and if any organization does abide by this strategy it will lose out in the long run (Jensen, 2010). This short-term approach fails to correctly ascertain the important of the Human Resource to a company. In modern work places the importance of human resource has been thoroughly recognized and many companies strive to keep their salary packages competitive with the market or even above that to retain their employees. There are also training and education programs that companies offer to their employees for their personal and professional growth. In the same vein if the company establishes a non-union medium of communication between its employees and itself it should be seen as a positive and mutually beneficial step. With this mechanism in place the company will get to listen to its workforce better and would know how to keep it efficient and satisfied. In return the efficient workforce will produce better results and will increase the profitability (Koys, 2001). So in this cycle the main objective, profitability of the firm is tied to the wellbeing of its workforce. The firm will have a vested interested interest in improving the conditions of the workforce within certain limits. If on the other hand the company does establish an ineffective representative front for the employees in the form of a non-union representation, the employees will overtime realize the pretention and deception on the management’s part and this will lead to resentment. The negative feelings and resentment will lead to higher defection and poorer performance. This will lead to reduced productivity, loss of talent and increased costs for the form in the form of reemployment and retraining costs. Any company that has a strategy in place and well defined objectives will ensure that it does not face such a situation. This suggests that the pessimistic view of the management is in fact questionable when it is viewed in light of strategic and practical implications.
In a nut-shell it can be said that non-union representation arrangements are more stable alternatives to the union representation. Critics of the non-union representation claim that these entities are formed to suppress the truly representative unions. Additionally non-union representations are dummy entities with no actual purpose other than serving company managements rather than the employees. These critics can be countered by highlighting their over-estimation of the performance and stability of unions. Unions on their own went on a downward and their membership decreased. Furthermore, unions are often troubled by internal politics and struggles that undermine their effectiveness. The critics can also be countered by bringing in the strategic and long-term business objectives. If a company ignores or mistreats its employees it will only benefit in the short run if at all. In the long run it will suffer reduced productivity, employee defection and higher costs (Pun, Chill and Gill, 2001). This argument is also strengthened by the fact that a businesses’ main objective is to maximize profits for its shareholders, which can only be done if it has an efficient workforce and positive long-term strategy. Even though it seems that non-union representation is beneficial, it is important to consider the particular context and local situation before passing a judgment. The importance of the particular context will come to light with more case studies that are done with a more objective mindset to truly evaluate the merits and demerits of both unions and non-unions. A quantification of the benefits and downsides of non-union representations will put us in a better position to compare the two mediums and then form a final judgment.
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