Within the past century, labor unions have become both larger and smaller. They are smaller in the sense that there are fewer unions in existence today than there were only a few years ago. Yet, due to the consolidation of labor unions, they are also larger in the sense that the unions still in existence are more massive than they have ever been.
The Causes of the Consolidation of Labor Unions
What has given rise to the consolidation of labor unions? There are many factors, some of which are structural, and others of which are largely incidental. The combination of political upheavals on the one hand and globalization on the other has meant large-scale deindustrialization in the United States, as well as the offshoring of many remaining unionized industries. The consolidation of labor unions is directly related to these issues, as it gives disparate and geographically isolated unions more bargaining power.
Another variable in the consolidation of labor unions has been the internal politics of organized labor itself. The AFL-CIO, which remains the largest American labor union to this day, is the product of a merger between two rival organizations. Despite their long-term differences on both ideology and organizational strategy, the consolidation of the AFL and the CIO was largely instigated to protect each union’s leadership from its respective political enemies.
The Effects of the Consolidation of Labor Unions
The consolidation of labor unions has been met with widespread acclaim by both elected officers and rank-and-file members. Though they are smaller in sheer quantity, contemporary unions are larger today than they have ever been. Each of the top American labor unions has an average membership of 2.7 million more than it did in 1974. The growth that labor union consolidation has caused gives unions more power, whether in the political realm or in collective bargaining agreements.
The Future of Labor Union Consolidation
The consolidation of labor unions has given union organization more political clout, has held union leadership more accountable, and has made union financing more manageable. Nonetheless, it has also been the impetus of a number of difficulties with regard to organization and management.
One specific area of concern is cases wherein the consolidation of labor unions is a byproduct of mergers between each union’s firm. A case in point of the difficulties that can arise in such situations is the merger between American Airlines and Trans World Airlines. American acquired TWA after the latter filed for bankruptcy in 2001, yet the consolidation of American and TWA unions sparked a heated debate over seniority lists, which prolonged the negotiations for years afterword.
Another pertinent concern is that the consolidation of labor unions may distract union leadership from the grievances of rank-and-file members. This concern is partly due to the increased political power that consolidation confers, but it is also due to the geographical extension that inevitably occurs. Whether or not unions can attend to their members’ demands without overextending themselves or getting too preoccupied with politics remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the benefits of union consolidation are unquestionable, and there can be no doubt that today’s unions are more organized and more efficient.