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Economy, shrinking unions empower employers during labor disputes

In the aftermath of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, many employers have the upper hand in labor disputes with their employees and any unions they may be affiliated with. At the same time, it appears that both the number of unions and the membership of unions are on the decline. What does this all mean? When it comes time for collective bargaining, or if another sort of contract or labor dispute arises, employers are more than willing to lock out their employees and simply wait.

There are no exact figures regarding the strength of unions, nor are the numbers to support the supposed increase in the number of lockouts around the nation. But, many economic and labor experts agree that lockouts are far more common now than they were just a decade ago.

One example from Minnesota shows the extent to which employers are willing to go to make a point during a labor dispute. A cooperative group called American Crystal Sugar locked out 1,300 employees on Aug. 1, 2011. They used temporary workers to fill the shoes of the locked out men and women working for them. At the beginning of Oct. 2012, the lockout was still in effect.

Many of these lockouts are simply tactical to bully the union into submission. The longer the lockout lasts, the more likely the employees are to give up and seek employment elsewhere. That weakens the union and, thus, gives the employer a better position when negotiations are underway.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Employers get control by turning to lockouts," Jim Spencer, Oct. 28, 2012

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