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January 1989, Vol. 112, No. 1
Collective bargaining and labor-management relations in 1988
The flexibility and ingenuity of unions and management were again tested in 1988. The parties continued to struggle with two problems that have colored labor-management relations throughout the 1980's-preserving jobs and keeping companies economically viable. These problems, which appear likely to continue, although perhaps abated in some cases, stemmed largely from competition at home and abroad. American-made goods were challenged by products of industrialized and developing countries-products that were sometimes better made or less expensive, or both. Some foreign companies opened plants in the United States, while others entered into joint ventures with American companies, resulting in a blending of production methods and labor-management relations approaches that will apparently become increasingly significant in some industries.
Established firms in industries such as trucking, airlines, and telephone communications that, by their nature, are less vulnerable to foreign competition, faced competition from new firms that entered after the industries were deregulated. Often the established firms were unionized, while the new ones were not and benefited from lower labor costs. Some unions and companies, acknowledging their common destiny, cooperated in trying to overcome the nonunion competition by improving productivity and quality and lowering labor costs, while giving employees job assurances and a monetary stake in the success of the company. In some cases, where their members' financial sacrifices had helped companies compete and regain profitability, unions sought a share of the gains for those members.
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