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January 1995, Vol. 118, No. 1
Michael H. Cimini and Charles Muhl
T he celebration of the 100th anniversary of Labor Day in 1994 was muted even in the strongholds of organized labor. Employment cutbacks continued in several industries with comparatively high unionization rates, attracting workers to the labor movement remained difficult, and national legislation dealing with key issues for organized labor, such as striker replacements and universal health care did not win passage. It was also a year in which unions faced formidable challenges at the bargaining table. Despite an expanding economy, many companies still were adjusting to the fallout from foreign competition, defense cutbacks, technological change, deregulation, or a long-term decline in demand for specific products or services. Companies often tried to improve their competitive position through restructuring programs, pressing for contract terms tailored to their individual needs-including health care cost containment arrangements, lump-sum payments in lieu of wage increases, two-tier compensation systems (under which new employees are paid less than current employees or receive fewer benefits, or both), and the elimination or relaxation of work rules.
In some cases, unions resisted these efforts and labor-management relations were more confrontational in 1994 than in the previous few years. The increased frustration felt at the bargaining table was reflected in the number of labor disputes occurring during the year. During the first 10 months of 1994, there were 44 major work stoppages (those involving 1,000 workers or more), idling 283,000 workers and accounting for 4.7 million days of idleness. Comparable figures for the same period in 1993 were 32 stoppages, 147,000 workers, and 3.3 million days of idleness.
On the other hand, there were many bargaining situations in which open strife was avoided or where labor and management cooperated to resolve mutual problems, preserve jobs, restrain labor costs, improve product quality, and increase productivity.
This excerpt is from an article published in the January 1995 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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