Why Are Unions Dying?
Happy Labor Day everyone!
We have sales, football, rest, and time with family.
Hello, my beloved readers. Who is celebrating the labor movement today?
Here is a suggested test. Go onto any big-picture library and enter the word labor. I did it this morning with Unsplash. In all of the pictures, no one was having a good time.
As for the labor unions, the numbers are not particularly exciting. For example, in 1983, 20.1% of America’s workers belonged to labor unions. By 2018, that number has dwindled to 10.5 percent of our workforce.
Why do we have such a steep decline?
Organized labor is obsolete and does more harm than good. The labor movement was born out of the Industrial Revolution when captains of industry exploited workers through poverty-level pay and with little concern about their safety. In the early days of the labor movement, we can see just how barbaric it was when little children were sent into the machinery because they could get into smaller spaces. By the turn of the 20th century, laws were passed that limited children’s work time to 10 hours. In large factories, injuries and deaths were a regular part of the landscape.
The labor movement has played an extraordinary role in protecting workers from harm and unfair labor practices. But, the growth of labor law has led to the reality that our judicial system is doing a far better job of protecting all workers.
Like all institutions, accelerating change, brought on by advancing technology, labor unions simply must reinvent or they will fade away.
As I was writing The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press), we explored the steep decline in union memberships but also found that most unions are doing absolutely nothing to prepare their members for the future. The only unions that are teaching new skills are in the film and entertainment industry. Employee engagement is at its worst in many unionized environments because of pushback in solving problems with bad behavior and poor performance. The whole mindset of pitting one group against another detracts from developing positive cultures.
A few years back, there was a huge grocery worker strike in Southern California. It went on for months. When it was finally resolved, I returned to my regular store.
At the check-out line, I said to the cashier, “You must be so happy to be back at work.”
She smiled and responded, “It’s so good to have everything back to normal.”
I looked past her shoulder and saw dozens of people in the new self-checkout line. Now, we have stores where you can select anything you want and walk out the door.
So, if unions are responsible for protecting their workers, what are they doing to protect their value?
Many unions are spending more time trying to protect obsolete jobs rather than preparing their members for its greatest challenge of all:
Rapid and Transformative Change.
If I managed any form of brick and mortar retail, I would pull every floor worker into a room and say,
“Technology is taking away the work that you have been doing for 200 years. That means the only reason you are here is to make the customer feel valued, welcomed, and appreciated. Technology will never provide accountability to the customer. So, by the time that customer walks out the door, your responsibility is to make sure they are smiling.”
The biggest challenge to the urgent need to reinvent our workers is turf. Management and union executives, like turf-trained parrots, repeat to each other, “It’s not my job. It’s your job.”
There is a huge Ralph’s Grocery Store within 50 yards of our home. Most of the workers are hairy and sweaty. The men are worse. Seriously, many of them are in some type of angry trance. As a result, the store experience is terrible. But, the trance of disengagement shows up in slimy and moldy chicken and vegetables. After one negative experience after another, we get in our cars and drive to other stores! Walk into any Trader Joe’s and you find the average worker longevity is 18 years. Everyone who works there is focused on providing a superior customer experience. There are no unions.
It is time for union members to ask for more in return for their fees. We could begin by asking a few questions.
“What am I getting for my union dues?”
“What is my union doing to prepare me for work in the future?”
What if the future is already here?
In the end, I believe the right answer is to stop waiting and take the necessary action to not just survive but to grow your relevance.
People can change. I know this because I’ve watched over 45,000 people change their lives in just two days.
Technology will take away the mind-numbing, soul-sapping task jobs. But, technology is also giving us the freedom to tailor our work to fit our DNA. Perhaps the most important question of all is,
Will I be pushed by our pain or pulled by my vision?
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