This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

January 27, 1999

The Future of Labor Unions

For years, labor unions have focused on issues like pensions and job security. The workforce is changing. The interests and desires of today's workers are significantly different than those that fueled the organized labor movement. Tomorrow's workers will move even further away from the motivations that were the very foundation of unions.

So, what does this say about the future of organized labor?

We predict the movement will wane. Unions will have a difficult time adjusting to the new conditions, so their influence and membership will shrink. Unfortunately, some unions will push employers to the wall with their last gasp, desperately struggling to assert themselves. Result: some employers will be forced to negotiate with unions that refuse to shift from adversarial to collaborative relationships. Both parties will lose as companies are forced out of business because they can't compete.

Workers will lose, to--temporarily. They'll find other employment quickly, though probably at a reduced income level. These workers may be bitter. Accustomed to an artificially high standard of living, they won't be happy earning less money. Many of them won't understand . . . and may hear negative self-serving messages from disempowered union leadership. WARNING: Expect some workplace violence as workers, feeling cheated, seek some sort of revenge. Anticipate some family difficulties, too. Most workers will do all right; people who have been union members have a resilience that will see them through once they're on their own.

Some unions will simply shrink. Others may implode under their own weight. But, there are some interesting alternative possibilities.

Unions can provide a guild-like training and placement service for members. They'll have to aggressively add value for their members to hold them when unions no longer negotiate for better jobs or working conditions. Union leadership and staff will have to learn customer [member] service-not something they've been known for in the past.

Unions may also become third party administrators of benefit plans. As we move to an era of portable benefits, there could be a bountiful opportunity for unions in the future.

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