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Recent Trends in Labor and Employment

Decline in Union Membership

For the past forty years there has been a steady decline in both union membership and influence. There are several reasons for such a decline.

The first having to do with employers keeping their businesses union-free. Some were active in their opposition and even hired consultants to devise legal strategies to combat unions. Other employers put workers on the management team by appointing them to the board of directors or establishing profit-sharing plans to reward employees.

The second reason for union decline is that new additions to the labor force have traditionally had little loyalty to organized labor. Because more and more women and teenagers are working and their incomes tend to be a family's second income, they have a proclivity towards accepting lower wages, thus defeating the purpose of organized labor.

The third and possibly the most important reason for the decline in unions is that they are victims of their own success. Unions raised their wages substantially above the wages paid to nonunion workers. Therefore, many union-made products have become so expensive that salves were lost to less expensive foreign competitors. And nonunion producers. This resulted in companies having to cut back on production, which caused some workers to lose their jobs, and hence, unions some of their members.

The fourth reason for the decline or organized labor has been the transition to a post industrial economy. Industrial and manufacturing jobs, long the bastion of union membership, have declined in recent years. American workers are now more highly educated then ever before and have tended to move towards white collar jobs not traditionally associated with union membership.

Various Forms of Discrimination and Reactions by Government

1. Sex Discrimination

There is a considerable gap between the income of women and men. One reason for this gender inequality is that men and women are not evenly distributed among the various occupations. For instance, men tend to incline towards higher paying jobs, and women have been crowded into a few lower-paid occupations. An example would be how more men than women enter construction and engineering professions, while women tend to prefer household service and office worker occupations. Because engineering wages tend to be higher than those of a household worker are, men- on average- will earn more than women. Another reason for income inequality is that childbearing, which affects their seniority, interrupts many women's careers. Yet all these reasons for income disparity do not justify the difference between pay for the same occupation. Discrimination is often a major cause of income differences. Women feel that their difficulties in getting raises and promotions are described in the term glass ceiling, an invisible barrier that hinders their advancement up the white male-dominated corporate ladder.

2. Age Discrimination

A condition under which an individual, who is covered under this provision, is treated unfavorably by his or her employer due to their age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 prohibits the employers from discriminating on the basis of age. The prohibited practices are almost identical to those stipulated in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, meaning that it applies to most employers engaged in interstate commerce with more than 15 employers, and prohibits discrimination in hiring or referring applicants. Under the ADEA, individuals between the ages of 40 and 70 are protected except in the case of Federal employees who have no upper age boundary. Basically, under age discrimination legislation, an individual is covered when an employer discriminates in hiring, firing, wage benefits, hours worked, and availability of overtime based on age.

3. Discrimination of the Handicapped

In the last ten years discrimination of the disabled has become an increasingly important issue. Employers tend to not give seriosly consideration to minority workers regardless of qulaifications. A disabled person is defined as one who has a physical or mental impairment that greatly limits one or more of their life activities. As far as handicapped discrimination, there are two types. First there is the discrimination when an employee or applicant is treated differently on the basis of their condition. The second type of discrimination is when an organization fails to make accommodations for disabled employees. The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted to eradicate discrimination against those with handicaps throughout society. It embellishes on those provisions in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ADA thus requires that employers make reasonable accomadtions in hiring disabled workers. They can refuse to not hire a disabled worker based upon the diability only if the accomadtion would present great cost or interruption of the business practice or if the disability makes it impossible to do the job effectivly.

4. Race Discrimination

Racial discrimination is present when employers treat an employee differently than others who are similarly established because they are members of a specific race. It can occur when one is discriminated against because of unalterable characteristics of their race. The courts have also found that racial discrimination occurs when employees are treated differently than other employees because of their interracial relations (such as dating or marriage), racially oriented expression of attitudes and beliefs, or membership in racially oriented groups or organizations. The courts have stated that racial discrimination does not only pertain to those of a minority race. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the key piece of legislation that counteracts racial discrimination. It applies to most employers engaged in interstate commerce with more than 15 employers. It makes it illegal for employers to discriminate in hiring, discharging, compensation, or terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

Web Sites:

National Institute of Environmental Health Services- Office of Equal Employement Opportunity

Legal Information Institute

The Minimum Wage

Because prices tend to increase over time, due to inflation, the purchasing power of the minimum wage is constantly being eroded. In order to see how the minimum wage looks without the effects of inflation, economist measure in terms of real dollars, which are adjusted in a way that removes the distortion inflation causes. To measure in real dollars, a base year is selected. Next, goods and services for all years are valued in terms of the base year prices. By holding prices constant, inflation is removed sot that other changes are observed more clearly from one period to another. When the effects of inflation are added in, prices go up, and the minimum wage remains constant. This means that the purchasing power of the minimum wage will continue to progressively decline. Periodically the minimum wage is raised but there is always a political battle waged between the Republicans representing big business and the Democrats representing the working class. In time the minimum wage becomes unacceptably low to voters who then pressure their elected officials. Some legislators have discussed linking the minimum wage to inflation, so that the wage will rise when prices increase.

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