Unionization and the ‘new economy’ (Web Sight)

Unions in the IT realm • Myths dispelled • New business climate
By Shannon Simson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/28/2005

The only real consensus on the subject of unionization in the 21st century is that it’s in decline. The reasons behind this phenomenon are numerous and widely debated. Does unionization have a future in the new economy?

Unions in the IT realm


This American perspective on unions for IT professionals starts with a brief history of unions for white-collar and professional workers. The author goes on to highlight trends in high-tech unions in the United States and points out some of the pros and cons, including concerns about companies increasing offshoring efforts to avoid more stringent regulations at home.

The article raises five main issues that complicate the organization of a union in IT:

•strikes are dangerous in knowledge-based industries due to offshoring solutions;

•IT professionals often claim to be libertarian in outlook and, as such, may be disinclined to join unions;

•IT professionals believe their work does not fit the nine-to-five structure of traditionally unionized jobs;

•the prevalence of contract workers and temporary employees makes it difficult to organize; and

•government legislation that does not favour labour. Although the legislation issues don’t apply in Canada, the concepts of the article merit consideration.

Myths dispelled


This is an excellent comprehensive paper from the Department of Economics at the University of British Columbia on the changing patterns of unionization in North America between 1984 and 1998. It looks at reasons behind the significant decline in unionization and seeks to dispel myths that have arisen to explain the phenomenon.

Neither glorifying nor vilifying the role of labour unions in the workforce, the piece suggests that based on the numbers, “structural change accounts for none of the decline in union coverage over the 1984-1998 period.” The article attributes the decline to factors such as better HR practices and a general move toward more “anti-union” legislation.

New business climate


This U.S. article explores the possibility of a resurgence in unionization, especially with regard to white-collar and government-sector employees. It states that, like any other business, unions seeing memberships decline will seek to increase their revenue by finding new members. They will attempt to branch into sectors and industries that were previously not unionized, changing their tactics in so doing. The author says, “Unions are recognizing that under some circumstances they need to develop different organizational techniques, such as utilizing the Internet and establishing websites, in an effort to attract the 21st-century employee.”

Shannon Simson is Canadian HR Reporter’s resource editor. Her Web Sight column appears regularly in the CloseUp section. To share an interesting HR website, contact shannon.simson@thomson.com.

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