Collective Bargaining 1: Historical Models of Collective Bargaining in the U.S. - Page 6

Avoidance of competitive unionism

Avoidance of competitive unionism

Union bargaining strength is also weakened by wage competition between more than one union in a given industry or with a particular employer. Corporate exploitation of competitive unionism in the electrical appliance industry immediately after World War II is a classic example of this problem. A fairly common management bargaining strategy based on competitive unionization has been called "Boulwareism" after the Vice President for Industrial Relations of the General Electric Corporation who was the architect and master of the strategy.

Following World War II, one union (the United Electrical Workers) had organized the electrical appliance industry to about the same extent as the UAW in the auto industry and the USWA in the steel industry. The UE was one of several unions that left or were expelled from the CIO for alleged communist influence. This opened the industry to wide-spread competitive organizing by several AFL, CIO and independent unions. The result was that thirteen different national unions negotiated sixty separate contracts with the industry leader, General Electric.

Lemuel Boulware of GE was extremely successful for several years in exploiting this competitive unionization. Boulware's tactics were relatively simple. GE did an assessment of union strength in each organized facility. The company presented a uniform set of proposals to all locals and resisted making any changes in its bargaining package. After tying up negotiations throughout the corporation, Boulware would target what appeared to be the weakest local union and offer that local a slightly better contract than was presented elsewhere. After the weak union settled, the company was able to force other local to accept the same package since no single union could launch a successful strike as long as others were working.