|THE STATE OF THE AMERICAN WORKPLACE|
September 3, 1997
in this forum:
What role will orgnaized labor play in the new workplace? How has technology changed the way we work? What is driving the increase in contingent workers? How prevalent are the golden parachutes given to CEOs? How do we improve the workplace atmosphere? Why do service jobs still pay so little?
August 22, 1997:
The NewsHour reports on Teamsters' President Ron Carey's election troubles.
August 20, 1997:
Paul Solman explores the fallout from the UPS strike on labor/management relations.
February 20, 1997:
John Sweeney, the newly elected president of the AFL-CIO, discusses the state of the labor movement.
February 20, 1997
Paul Solman leads a discussion on whether an unfettered economy is best.
October 21, 1996
Paul Solman explores the bud vase economy and the wage gap.
September 2, 1996:
The Online NewsHour and the NewsHour's regular panel of historians explore the history of labor day in separate reports.
May 14, 1996
The NewsHour reports on the debate in the Senate over the Teamwork Act.
March 25, 1996
The NewsHour historians examine the history of economic insecurity and economist Harris Sussman on coping with the modern workplace.
A question from James Delli Santi of Los Angeles, CA:
As a Director in our start-up Internet company, I have personally witnessed Senior Management publicly state, that "I don't hire anyone until there are 3 jobs for their position," and in response to concern about very low morale, "morale is all of our responsibility, not just senior management." It really seems that every manager is so overworked, that no one has the time to do anything right, to study the details, to communicate effectively and to spend time really managing their employees. Employees are treated like machines, perform or lose your job. Little or no attention is placed on developing employees' skills, or their careers, or making sure the right employee is in the right job. Organizational needs are rarely addressed.
It literally seems like we are always behind and always need to speed up. In light of business-information overload, and the cellular, pager-induced work anytime, anywhere work ethic brought about by incredible competitive pressures, how can we ever expect work place conditions to improve? Will this lead to the uniting of workers against management again?
Edward Potter responds:
Overall human resources practices have improved substantially in American workplaces, especially in the last 25 years. While undoubtedly there continue to be workplaces such as described by the question, they are increasingly the exception rather than the rule. Work places with regressive workplaces will always be susceptible to organizing by unions.
Unlike traditional production workers who specialized in one (often repetitive) task, today's workers must be able to perform many different tasks, solve problems, and work together in teams. This change in responsibilities has been driven primarily by new technology and a more highly skilled workforce. At the same time, employers are increasingly abandoning Tayloristic top-down management systems to ones that seek out employee input in day-to-day decisionmaking. Due to this changed environment, labor-management relations have increasingly become less adversarial. Overall, over 90 percent of U.S. workplaces have some type of employee involvement system ranging from suggestion boxes to commmittees to teams to gainsharing. Additionally, firms using these teams often report higher productivity and increased worker satisfaction.
Finally, as workplaces evolve, managers are increasingly recognizing the need to treat employees as assets to be developed rather than costs. In fact, some firms have tried in recent years to incorporate the value of employees' knowledge and skills as part of the traditional balance sheet calculation of a firm's worth.
Dr. Walter Licht responds:
Labor has been disciplined in the last twenty years--disciplined politically, by the gutting of protections that exist under federal laws, but more important, by plant closings and downsizing. There is thus not great willingness to challenge management with the threat of job loss looming. Most workers are grinning are bearing the increased pressures at work that have accompanied cost cutting. For "workers to unite against management AGAIN," it will take revitalized labor leadership and a possible shift towards a more populist politics in the country.