Organizing Power

In "Coors Workers at the Crossroads" (Dec. 1), columnist Harry Bernstein mistakenly equates peace between unions with union organizing strength. In fact, the two may have an inverse relationship.

Bernstein lauds the AFL-CIO for trying to head off an International Assn. of Machinists-Teamsters battle at Coors. He writes that "the prospect of a union loss would be substantially increased if a pro-union majority vote at Coors is split between two feuding unions, leaving neither with the majority needed to win a representation election." As a legal matter, however, if a pro-union majority is split between two unions, those organizations will vie in a runoff, and one of them will prevail. In other words, a split pro-union majority guarantees a union victory.

But more important, peace between unions may not be so good for organizing the unorganized. Labor unions experience a higher rate of success in multiunion certification elections than they do when only one union is seeking certification. For example, between 1972 and 1984, both the Machinists and Teamsters had election victory rates of more than 65% in multi-union certification elections, rates that exceeded the average during that period. This phenomenon may be explained by the fact that unions are willing to exert a greater organizing effort when competing with other unions; they may be more afraid of losing out to another union than to an employer.

Inter-union peace is a good thing, but not if it is achieved at the expense of organizing success. If only a single union seeks certification at Coors for any particular bargaining unit, that union will have to maintain a high-level organizing effort and, in effect, act as if it were competing with another union for certification. Without this kind of all-out strategy, AFL-CIO efforts to make union peace could backfire.


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