South-Western College Publishing - Economics  
Union Strikes it Rich
Subject Unions
Topic Labor Market
Key Words Union, Organizing, Manufacturing, Service, Wage, Turnover, Costs
News Story

The vote by an overwhelming majority of the 74,000 Los Angeles County home care workers to join the Service Employees International Union is the biggest since 1937 when 112,000 General Motors workers voted to join the United Auto Workers. It has been heralded as the dawn of a new era for unions in the U.S.

The organizing success illustrates the switch in focus of unions from high-paid manufacturing jobs to low-paid service jobs, and from males to women and minorities. Unions now see their role as being to protect those in low-wage and high-turnover positions. In Los Angeles County, many home care providers earned only $5.75 an hour to feed and bathe elderly and disabled persons.

Employers are concerned at the cost implications, especially in health care where there are pressures to control costs. Unions expect future battles to be tough.

(Updated April 1, 1999)

1. Implicit in the news story is the decline of unions in recent decades. Why have unions represented a decreasing share of the work force?
2. The news story indicates that unions are focusing less on some groups and more on others. Why might the demand for unionism be greater among
  a) service workers than manufacturing workers?
  b) women and minorities than white males?
3. Why do employers typically oppose unions?
Source Jeff Wilson, "Labor resurgence linked to huge victory", The Commercial Appeal, February 27, 1999.

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