Do Unions Help Organizational Productivity?
On Wednesday, we convened for the first Manhattan College session of the month and yet another engaging dialogue on current issues in HR. In this week’s meeting, we took on the topic of unions and their impact on organizational productivity.
We can all agree that unions serve a specific and crucial role in our civilization and that when workers first began full-scale organization in the early 20th century, the institutions they created provided essential worker protections that made many aspects of modern society possible. There’s no doubt that unions, as a concept, are founded on important principles.
But in recent years, arguments have been raised suggesting that unions have outlived their original purpose, and that modern unions may sometimes serve the interests of workers at the expense of the organization as a whole. According to these charges, unions may be responsible for creating obstacles to productivity which can slow growth, stall free enterprise, and ultimately hurt the same members of society they were created to protect.
A union provides a necessary support structure in the event of employee abuse or wrongful termination. And union contracts can protect salary structures and working conditions from the whims of the free market. But what happens when contract negotiations reach a total impasse over minor conflicts? Or when unions use their power to protect incompetent or counterproductive employees? And are there some inherent conflicts built into public worker unions, in which union-negotiated salaries are paid with public funds?
In this week’s class session, we laid these issues on the table and examined the impact of unions on company productivity and the role of HR professionals in the sometimes-fraught relationship between employees and management. We didn’t agree on every detail, but we all recognized an important truth: HR managers need to find ways to work with both unions and company leadership in order to make sure workers receive all legal protections and companies get the most out of their valuable human capital.