The merger of three major unions won't boost labor militancy in plastics and other manufacturing sectors unless laws and government attitudes change, according to a labor relations professor. ``Unions are terrorized in this country,'' said John Russo, director of the labor studies program for Williamson College in the University of Youngstown (Ohio).
``It's been open season on them in the past 15-20 years. Nothing can happen until laws change,'' he said.
The United Steelworkers of America, the United Auto Workers and the International Association of Machinists plan to merge their organizations by the year 2000.
Labor officials were not able to break out how many active members are in plastics operations, but the 2 million-strong roster represents workers in a number of plastics-related sectors.
Russo said the merger ``is a marriage of convenience'' for economic reasons. Each union has lost more than half its members in the past 20 years and he compared the merger to strategies corporations undertake when they shrink.
``It's better to join when the membership base is declining,'' he said.
Union presidents complained in a July 27 news release that companies and governments are biased against workers and unions.
``It's wrong and it's dangerous when so many men and women are working more productively than ever and getting less and less to show for their contribution,'' said UAW President Stephen Yokich. ``Strong unions are the best way to reverse that trend.''
About 29 percent of the UAW's 800,000 members are in auto majors' parts plants, said spokesman Reg McGhee. Motor vehicle assembly plants have 23 percent of members and independent parts plants account for 10 percent. Several other sectors, including aerospace, have UAW locals.
The USWA, recently merged with United Rubberworkers, has about 700,000 active members. The URW alone brought as many as 15,000 plastics workers to the merger.
IAM's 460,000 members are concentrated in aerospace, electronics and other manufacturing, according to spokesman Dennis Hitchcock.
Labor relations lawyer Earl Bailey said the combined unions will be larger and more aggressive in organizing drives. He agreed, however, that union effectiveness will be limited unless more liberal governments win power.
Bailey, an attorney with Wessels & Pautsch P.C. of St. Charles, Ill., pointed to the recent merger of the Teamsters Union and AFL/CIO, a joining that ``produced a lot of rhetoric but amounted to little'' in the recent regulatory climate.