Daphne Kis, CEO, World Quant University.
Organized Labor gains support in US Public support for unions is at an end highest rate since 1965and the petitions for union elections grew 57% in the first half of the financial year. Unsurprisingly, many companies, especially those directly affected by recent industrial action, have responded with: push back or even hostility.
Business leaders have largely responded to the new unionization with: reactive, reflex responses reminiscent of old patterns of labor struggle. But these emerging unions are a new kind of beast.
Union skeptical employers should reconsider. They may discover a unique opportunity to redefine the traditional contours of employer-employee negotiations. In particular, workers and businesses should use this moment to collaborate on the issue of education and renegotiate employer-provided training and retraining.
Not your grandfather’s union movement
The New Unionization is not a repeat of previous models. On the contrary, recent organizers have achieved success by breaking with old norms and reimagining what a labor movement might look like.
In the past, organized labor was driven by large, central unions that coordinated union action, dictated member demands and distributed benefits. The new wave of labor organizations, on the other hand, is led by: reform-minded individuals who want opportunities to improve their workplace. These small grassroots unions in particular have been successful in attracting members, even when large traditional unions have failed to do so.
Critics of unions have described labor organizations as a “third party”, which disrupts the relationship between employers and employees. These new unions are something else: an organically emerging coalition of employees who organize themselves locally. As this movement gains momentum, unions may be in a unique position to help employers and employees work together on issues that benefit the industries as a whole.
New arrangements for a changing workforce
Historically, many of the largest, most visible union movements have been linked to industrial-age labor sectors: the Teamsters, United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, and others. Many of the recently formed unions, on the other hand, are specific to one company or brandwith the Amazon Labor Union and Starbucks Workers United being two of the most famous.
In traditional union agreements, which grew out of industrial production and apprenticeships, raises and promotions were based on seniority, using time as a measure of skill or “merit.” However, this approach is insufficient to meet the demands of today’s global information economy, which requires continuous upskilling of employees.
New unions, formed in new sectors and in line with the specific needs of a single employer, have the opportunity to negotiate contractual arrangements that: balance an emphasis on the employee’s power with an emphasis on the employee’s skills. Since true job security can only be generated through continued education and training, it is in the best interest of all parties.
The role of work in lifelong learning
Emerging unions in the US have the chance to join a global movement toward organized demands for continuing education and retraining. For example, the UN International Labor Organization has advocated the role of trade unions in promoting skills training worldwide. In the words of Guy RyderILO Director General: “We need to replenish skills throughout careers, and this calls for rethinking the models and concept of lifelong learning to create the future we want.”
Much evidence suggests that upskilling and reskilling programs are more successful when supported and encouraged from the bottom up by union groups. First of all, union support of skills training programs can contribute to employee buy-in. This is especially true when unions work with employers to shape those programs. Unions are often very well positioned to help identify upskilling needs, support continuing education cultures and even enter into collective learning agreements. Indeed, an extensive TUAC report across skills training programs in multiple countries, union involvement increases the effectiveness and sustainability of skills training systems.
In the US, unions play a special role in lobbying for retraining programs – not only employer-provided training opportunities, but also increased funding for government-supported programs.
The “new workers’ movement” has the opportunity to demand agreements around continuing education and retraining that would benefit all parties and maintain the industry’s relevance and technological readiness.
Business leaders have long been critical or suspicious of unions. But in principle, organized labor movements have the potential to tackle the skills gap from the bottom up by fostering a culture of lifelong learning and shifting the basis of pay from a simplistic model that only considers factors such as seniority and does not reflect current and future reality of work.
To truly transform the work culture, a top-down approach is not enough. Today’s business leaders must abandon old industrial-age union assumptions and create new partnerships that can equip the workforce for the digital age.