If you’ve read our series about what President Trump can and can’t control, you know that we need to be front and center with local wage, paid leave and other issues. By now, you’re probably wondering what the role of unions are in this political landscape.
There’s a lot of self-reflecting on how unions can be relevant to the modern worker. Unions are figuring out how to adapt, and it’s likely that in the future the movement will be less about collective bargaining and grassroots organizing.
Unions Leverage Technology
Union groups will transform into membership interest groups like the National Rifle Association. This allows them to attract a lot more members and money than they can through union dues, and it’s also a way for them to stay relevant. Young people aren’t interested in joining unions, even though they are more open to their existence. It’s just not a model that works for them.
But technology definitely works for Millennials, and unions are deploying clever technology. Apps such as Shift and WORKIT are designed to give workers advice on workplace rights and policies. One app downloaded Walmart’s benefits package to give employees answers instead of having them work through the Walmart system. Some apps also identify unfair labor practices and offer to help employees file claims. These apps are building relationships and trust. They are far more efficient than the traditional model of collecting authorization cards (or even electronic signatures) and holding elections.
We hear a lot about bringing manufacturing jobs back to America. This sounds great, but the fact is that we’re going to automate 20 million people out of jobs in the next 30 years.
First, manufacturing doesn’t look like it used to even 10 years ago. Furthermore, we can’t look at manufacturing in a vacuum, since without a supply chain goods don’t move. Amazon bought the Kiva system in 2012 to reduce the number of warehouse employees they need. Google, Uber and Tesla are all racing to create autonomous vehicles.
The Port of Rotterdam uses robots to unload containers instead of longshoremen. The robots even replace their own batteries, which are recharged through electricity that’s generated locally by wind. If we deployed the same robotic technology in the Port of Los Angeles, it’s estimated that we would reduce jobs by 40 to 50 percent.
Let’s think about drivers at the highest level of job classifications. If we include all drivers – local, UPS, long distance truckers – and aggregate the job, it’s the biggest classification of workers in the U.S. Google, Uber and Tesla are all working on technology that will automate this job out of existence.
The New Union Model
Unions have to figure out how to play in this space. They’re moving away from politics and figuring out how to create apprenticeship, training and development programs to stay relevant. This approach worked for them 75 years ago. The question is whether they will be able to claim this space, or if companies will grab it out from them.
As an industry, we have the chance to replace unions in this arena. We’re already great at training our employees, and we can make a case with local workforce development councils to create apprenticeship programs. Walmart is already partnering with communities in this area, and it’s much more effective for them than fighting unions. In fact, by focusing on workforce development, they’ve completely changed their brand with their employees, their customers and their communities. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same in the restaurant industry.