EFCA: Take 2
In my Editor’s Notes column in the March issue of packagePRINTING, I stated some reasons why I was against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), pending legislation that could significantly alter the landscape for unionization for years to come, and hence, employer/employee relationships. This is definitely a hot button in the printing industry—as it should be. Within the last few weeks, the Printing Industries of America and the TLMI have issued strong position statements against EFCA.
I have had the opportunity to work in both union and non-union manufacturing operations, and I believe the non-union environment was the better of the two for both employees and the company. My experience might not be an entirely fair comparison, as the non-union plant, from its inception in the early 1970s, employed a progressive participatory management system.
The management of this plant was built on a foundation of trust, open communications, and the appropriate involvement of all employees in decisions that impacted them. A lot was expected of all employees and they worked hard. On the other hand, the company understood that expectations were high and it was committed to a compensation and benefits package that was among the best in the region. Maybe more importantly, employees were treated with respect.
The union plant had its beginning in the late 1800s and as such, its culture reflected the birth of traditional unions in this country, which stemmed from high-handed management practices. I always had a prevailing sense in this plant that the employees’ only commitment was to the union, with very little sense of commitment to the success of the company for which they worked.
It seems to me that union/company relationships are typically adversarial in nature—if they don’t start out this way, they seem to evolve to that state. It appears to be built into the structure. In a broad sense, this is a serious problem for the long-term well being of both businesses and unions. With the loss of more than two million jobs in the U.S. so far this year and the unemployment rate rising to 8.5 percent, what we need is for management and employees to be pulling together so everyone can share in the benefits of a successful business (including fair wages and benefits for all employees).