Major Change in Unionization Rules —Fiorenza

A GENERATION ago, production in the printing and related industries was dominated by unionized work groups defined by craft and trade. Highly skilled typesetters physically laid out text; quality printing was dependent on a blend of competent machine operation and artistry; and post-production finishing was labor-intensive and time consuming. Trade unions flourished along these and other craft lines, and largely defined the work environment across the industry.

In the midst of technological and economic change over the past 25 years or so, union membership within the industry, and in general, has steadily declined. In 1983, for example, 20 percent of all private sector workers belonged to labor unions; in 2006, less than 8 percent were union members. The reasons for the decline are hotly debated and range from plant closures and layoffs, technological change, outsourcing, increased competition, union decertification, to the failure of unions to effectively recruit new members. Whatever the reasons, the impact of the decline is clear. Unions are experiencing a loss of political clout, a loss of relevance and an imminent economic threat to what have become entrenched social institutions.

All of that could change soon.

Since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was initially passed in the 1930s, the fundamental premise of federal labor law has been that employees can choose to belong­—or refrain from belonging to—labor unions based on secret ballot elections. Moreover, these elections are held only after the union and the employer have an opportunity to freely communicate their views concerning unionization to the affected employee group. In other words, employees do not vote until they have had heard both sides of the story.

Today, a dramatic change to this fundamental premise is in the offing, and every print manager and employee owe it to themselves to understand this potential change and the impact it may have on their work lives.

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