I. Introduction: The
Workplace and Society
- Societal Demands on the Workplace
The workplace has become the central institution in American society. A higher proportion of the population than ever before is in the workplace, as women have taken jobs to support their families as principal breadwinners or as part of dual-earner households. Workplaces reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the population more than any other institution. The workplace distributes earned income to most of the population. In contrast with many other advanced countries, where the state provides benefits for citizens paid from general taxation, the U.S. relies on private decision-making in the workplace to furnish a disparate range of benefits, most notably health insurance and vacations with pay. The U.S. also places on the workplace the obligation to provide an increasing list of individual rights enforceable in the courts. Americans spend more time at the workplace than the citizens of any other advanced country, save for Japan. Far more Americans work than vote.
Economic Performance. The workplace is a centerpiece of the nation's economic performance, concern with productivity, quality, and competitiveness. Our main national asset is a skilled and hard-working workforce. In an ever more global economy, the quality of the workplace affects not only the individual enterprise and its employees, but also national economic growth and productivity performance.
Training. The workplace is also the locus of vital training of the workforce and even of considerable formal educational programs, illustrated by instruction in math, language and basic skills, apprenticeship, military programs, interns and residents in the medical profession, and executive training. Continuous learning on the job and in teamwork with multiple job tasks characterizes our most productive work environments. This training is often best provided on the job, learning from peers as needed or in new delivery modes that enable a self-paced learning such as interactive media. Training in health and safety, quality, and problem-solving are critical for the workplace to fulfill its social role. In the world of the future, the significance of training and education in the workplace may be expected to be even greater than at present.and Development for U.S. Competitiveness, The Business Roundtable, August 1993; Labor's Key Role in Training, AFL- CIO Report of Training, September 1994.
New Forms of Work Organization. As these societal demands on the workplace increase, a number of changes in the nature and location of work, and in relations among workers and supervisors, make the attainment of these objectives more complex and difficult. Indeed, the traditional distinctions between worker and supervisor are often without meaning in many current workplaces. New forms of organizing work, new workplaces (including work at home), new work relations (including with customers), new work hours, and new legal forms have emerged and become more common in which there is ambiguity and often no clear responsibility for training, health and safety, benefits, legal obligations, and the other societal demands on the workplace.Reflecting the surrounding community, moreover, the workplace now reports an increased incidence of homicide, violence, and verbal abuse destructive of morale, quality, and productivity. Drug and alcohol abuse also create problems at work. One in six violent crimes -- almost a million a year -- occur at the workplace. In 1992 more than 500,000 employees were victims of violent crime at their workplace. These new and more diverse relations raise questions about the definitions of employee and employer, supervisor and professional used in labor relations and employment law.
Workplace Regulations. Starting in the early 1900s, with concern over accidents, a vastly expanded array of standards has been required of workplaces by the political process. The old common law covering worker-management relations has been replaced in many areas by state and federal regulations that give workers an increasing body of legal entitlements and rights enforceable against the employer in the courts that largely places obligations on the employer. Legislation in Democratic and Republican administrations alike as well as court decisions regulate the terms of employment in the workplace, and many states have specified their own rules and definitions.facilitated the first comprehensive survey of the vast complex of legal statutes and regulations and the reactions of employers and union representatives to the regulations and to the regulatory and enforcement processes. General Accounting Office, Workplace Regulation, Information on Selected Employer and Union Experiences, Vols. I and II. June 1994. See, Fact Finding Report, pp. 129-133.
Some federal interventions have been designed, as in the case of statutes dealing with discrimination and harassment, to change the mores or customs prevailing in many workplaces apart from providing redress to affected individuals. One of the earliest pieces of New Deal era legislation was the Wagner Act (modified by 1947 and 1959 statutes) that sought to assure workers the right to choose freely whether or not to join a union and to encourage the practice of collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment. The procedures were designed to ascertain whether or not workers wanted democratically chosen representation at the workplace. It is to be observed that the labor movement often provided the impetus and political support for many of the workplace entitlements enacted by regulatory legislation for all workers. In recent years civil rights groups, women's groups, and religious groups have also played a role in expanding the protection provided for workers. At their volition or through collective bargaining, companies have also introduced numerous policies designed to improve worker well-being as well as to raise workplace efficiency. For instance, most large firms now have employee assistance programs to help employees with alcohol, drug, mental health or other problems.
The Need for Cooperation. An increasing number of employers and unions have found that the best way to compete in the marketplace and secure both profits for the firm and good jobs for workers is through cooperative worker- management relations. As Americans obtain more education, and with the changing nature of some work, employers increasingly find it appropriate to rearrange responsibilities and tasks to employees, who work sometimes as teams and other times as individuals. For their part, more highly educated employees express greater desire to participate in workplace decisions and have the knowledge and competence to undertake more tasks at the workplace. It is clearer now than in the past that creating value at the workplace is the joint responsibility of management and labor.
The Commission also recognizes that there is great diversity in the seven million workplaces in the country -- variations by industry, community, number of employees, demographic mix of workers, and union status, with a correspondingly wide disparity in relations among workers and management that ranges from hostility to open collaborative partnerships.
The ability of workplaces to carry out their critical social and economic functions is, however, diminished by the continuing conflict that exists in some workplaces between employees who seek independent representation and to engage in collective bargaining and some employers who seek to prevent this outcome. The polarization between employees and management in union representation campaigns, and the unfair labor practices committed in some of these campaigns, poison the attitudes in many other workplaces and detract from the attainment of cooperative arrangements and the rational assessment of workplace problems and mutually beneficial solutions.
The achievement of prescribed standards of protection and regulation -- in health and safety at workplaces, freedom from discrimination or sexual harassment, payment of minimum wages -- all too often is equally confrontational and litigious in many workplaces. Our courts and regulatory agencies are burdened with employment disputes that would better be resolved at the workplace. Many workers who lack the resources to go to court and many firms who fear the expense of lawsuits do not get the just resolution of workplace problems that they deserve. Hence, the attention to improved methods of dispute resolution.
It is time to turn down the decibel count, the adversarial and hostility quotient that all too often mars discussion of worker-management relations. We must -come and reason together- to devise the best ways to assure that workers have their legislatively proscribed and socially agreed upon rights and employment norms, without burdening the economy with excessive litigation and extended administrative proceedings. We must develop institutions and practices that will allow employees and firms to cooperate at the workplace in ways that will contribute optimally to economic growth and competitive performance and to the fulfillment of social norms.
The Commission recognizes, of course, that the interests of workers and management are not identical: they will differ in some areas. In a market economy buyers and sellers have different perspectives on the terms of sale. But there are numerous ways to resolve disputes cooperatively, or, if need be, through limited conflict such as strikes or lockouts rather than open warfare. And there are many leaders in business and in the labor movement to provide advice and role models for dealing with disagreements by finding efficacious solutions to problems.
In Chapter I of its Fact Finding Report, the Commission documented places in which the American economy has not successfully met the challenge of recent economic developments -- the rise in income inequality and fall in earnings for many less skilled workers that threatens to turn a predominantly middle-class society into a two-tier society; sluggish growth in productivity outside of manufacturing; the inability of the job market to offer many employees work that pays more than crime -- as well as areas where we have outperformed other advanced nations. To improve our national economic performance in the areas in which we have problems and to maintain into the 21st century our success in the areas in which we have done well requires that we modernize our labor-management relations, bringing the best practices to more and more firms and workers.
The workplaces that we have inherited are far too adversarial in tone and substance for the good of the American economy. Changes must be made in the way firms, employees, and unions interact, and in workplace laws and regulations, to enable them to carry out successfully the vital tasks society places on them.
This Report specifies some of those changes in the form of suggestions and recommendations. They are a starting point on a necessary road to adjusting the workplace to the realities of a changing social and economic environment and to the vision of a better future. The future of the American economy and society is vitally dependent on the American workplace. It is important that we begin the task of making the workplace a better and more productive place for firms and employees alike.
- Goals for the 21st Century American Workplace
Given the changing role of the workplace in society, and the views expressed to the Commission by managers, employees, union leaders, and other experts, we believe it is essential to state a vision and a set of goals for the workplace of the future. We present ten integrated objectives that, taken together, position the American workforce and the economy for the 21st Century.
- Expand coverage of employee participation and labor- management partnerships to more workers, more workplaces, and to more issues and decisions.
Employee participation and labor-management partnerships are essential to improved productivity, enhanced quality and economic performance, and an increased voice and higher living standards for American workers. It is in the national interest to see participation and partnerships sustained and expanded to cover a larger proportion of the American workforce and workplaces, and to address the full range of issues critical to improving workplace performance and advancing workers economic positions and quality of working lives. It is also in the national interest to experiment with alternative forms of participation and cooperative labor-management relations to meet workers varied needs and circumstances.
Provide workers with a readily accessible opportunity to choose, or not to choose, union representation and to engage in collective bargaining.
Reduced hostility is essential in the full process -- from initial expression of interest to the signing of a first agreement -- if workers are to have a free and accessible choice about whether or not to be represented by a union, so that those who want collective bargaining can exercise that right and so that managers do not feel they are under attack whenever employees decide union representation is in their best interest.
- Improve resolution of disputes about workplace rights.
All American workers need to achieve the promised objectives of freedom from discrimination, unfair treatment, and fulfillment of their statutory rights.
All those who feel they have been unjustly treated should have access to rapid resolution processes that are inexpensive, fair, and that serve as effective deterrents to unfair behavior or employment practices.
- Decentralize and internalize responsibility for workplace
Command and control- government regulations at the workplace should be reduced in favor of greater internal responsibility systems and private resolution of disputes by firms and workers themselves, with the assistance of neutrals when necessary. Regulatory resources could then be focused on the more serious miscreants and on encouragement of work-level dispute resolution.
- Improve workplace safety and health.
America's workplaces must be made safer, reducing workers - injury and occupational disease and workers - compensation costs. Each workplace must be encouraged to develop an appropriate system to improve safety and health. Regulatory bodies should help in the process and provide workers and firms with advanced scientific knowledge on safety and health. The most dangerous worksites should be targeted for particular attention.
- Enhance the growth of productivity in the economy as a whole.
It is critical for the well-being of the American people that productivity grow at a sufficiently fast pace to improve the living standards of all citizens. Labor- management relations policies and practices should contribute to this goal.
- Increase training and learning at the workplace and in related
Additional training and opportunities for learning on-the- job are needed to enhance the performance of enterprises, improve the rate of productivity growth, and permit higher wages and benefits. Workers in the service sector need particular attention since this sector has experienced a slow rate of productivity growth, and it employs the largest number of low-skilled young workers with inadequate education and access to training opportunities.
- Reduce inequality that has increased in the American labor market
over the past ten to fifteen years by raising the earnings and benefits
of workers in the lower part of the wage distribution
A number of recommendations of the Commission should make a contribution toward the goal of reducing growing earnings disparities -- in particular the emphasis on training, employee participation to enhance worker development, productivity and quality, and, if workers choose, the opportunity for representation and collective bargaining.
- Upgrade the economic position of contingent workers.
A variety of arrangements are required to assist low-wage workers in temporary or contingent employment relationships to receive the protections of labor relations and employment laws. The country needs to arrest the growing disparity between the labor conditions of full-time workers in stable career-oriented jobs and those of contingent workers desire but are not able to obtain these types of jobs, earnings and benefits.
- Increase dialogue at the national level and local level.
Arrangements need to be developed for regular dialogue among the leaders of business, labor, civil rights and women's organizations, and the government. In a dynamic market economy, workplace problems and solutions continually change, and it is important for national, sectoral and local leaders to monitor these changes to learn systematically from experience, and quickly to develop strategies and policies that meet new challenges at the workplace.
We now turn our attention to the changes in public policy and private practice that are needed if we are to achieve the goals for the workplace of the 21st century.