Cyber Unions

Report from the Futurist

Futurist

Arthur B. Shostak, 61, sociology professor, industrial sociologist, director of Drexel University's Center for Employment Futures, in Philadelphia, and author of "CyberUnion: Empowering Labor Through Computer Technology" (M.E. Sharpe, May 1999).

Scenario

"Most unions are entering the Digital Age cautiously. Although more than half of all unions today have Web sites, the same old structures still lurk behind all of this electronic wallpaper. When unions embrace digital technologies, some new forms of those organizations will emerge — organizations that live and breathe speed, innovation, and openness. Cyber unions will look a lot like the digital companies that are sitting across the negotiating table from them."

So What?

"Unions will deal with problems faster and more effectively. Digital tools — laptops, databases, intranet and Internet connections — will help union reps to settle disputes on the spot, eliminating lengthy grievance processes. Cyber unions will also be more democratic and inclusive. Attendance at traditional meetings of local unions averages around 5% of total membership. Cyber unions will put communication in the hands of rank-and-file members. Out go carefully worded newsletters and magazines; in come bulletin boards and chat rooms."

Futurology Decoder Key

"Cyber unions create an opportunity for new relationships between labor and management. Revitalized unions will have greater leverage and relevance — but using that strength against business would be silly. Instead, business and labor will finally become problem-solving allies. For example, companies might want to work with unions that have expertise in tough workplace issues, such as facilitating lateral transfers or creating internal labor markets. In this new world, the blunt tools of militancy will be increasingly ineffective."

Contact Arthur B. Shostak by email (shostaka@drexel.edu).

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