ERIC Identifier: ED259213
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Naylor, Michele
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Organized Labor Education and Training Programs. Overview. ERIC
Digest No. 43.
Despite long and widespread existence in the United States (labor unions
currently represent approximately 22 percent of the United States work force),
unions are still the subject of misunderstanding. MacKenzie (1984) has discussed
the conflicting perceptions of those who view labor unions as an essential means
of protecting the interests of workers in the workplace and of those who feel
that labor unions are in direct "competition with the business and industrial
community for the loyalty of American Workers and in the selection and election
of political candidates."
However, the function of the labor union is not limited to assisting its
members in collective bargaining efforts, but includes contract administration
and arbitration, strikes, political action, legislative activity, union
administration, research activities, organization of the unorganized, education,
and community activity (MacKenzie 1984).
THE NEED FOR LABOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Most of the functions of labor unions fall into two areas--union
administration and representation of member interests. It follows, therefore,
that unions have an interest in providing the following types of training
programs (MacKenzie 1984):
--Apprenticeship training to prepare skilled workers for the workplace
--Labor education and labor studies to enable union officers and members to
perform their institutional and professional functions
--Vocational education to help workers develop new skills or upgrade existing
--Self-improvement education to enhance members' abilities in such areas as
citizenship, basic skills, or cultural awareness
Among the major types of training sponsored by unions, apprenticeship
training is intended as a system to develop skilled workers through a
combination of supervised on-the-job training and classroom instruction.
Apprenticeship training has been in existence since the Elizabethan Age and has
been regulated by the United States government since 1937.
Terms of apprenticeship, class hour requirements, and age limitations vary
with individual programs. The average apprenticeship period lasts from three to
four years and is supplemented by 144 hours of classroom training. Control of an
apprenticeship program can be a joint effort of the employer and labor union or
can be either the primary or sole responsibility of either party.
Traditionally, apprenticeship programs were used to train workers for
employment in the skilled trades or in crafts occupations. However, recent
technological advancement has led to the expansion of apprenticeship training
into many occupational areas--particularly medical and computer
technology--which were previously considered semi-skilled and for which
on-the-job training, as opposed to formal apprenticeship training, had been
LABOR EDUCATION AND LABOR STUDIES
Labor education and labor studies programs are designed to help union
officers and members perform their union-related functions. Although
traditionally considered a part of adult education, labor education differs from
adult education in its attempts to integrate workers into education through
labor unions. Topics commonly addressed in labor programs include the following:
workers' institutions; the function of the labor union; workers' responsiblities
as citizens of state, nation, and world; issues and problems of the workplace;
and laws governing unions and the workplace.
In addition to nondegree labor education programs, credit and degree programs
in labor studies have existed in this country since 1967. Originally offered at
the master's level, labor studies programs are designed primarily to train
professionals for trade unions, for all levels of government, and for private
Labor studies programming focuses on the labor union from the perspective of
the social sciences and deals with the scope of bargaining; the relationships
between labor, economic, social, and political systems; labor history and the
law; the psychology of leadership; and current and future problems facing labor
and labor unions.
Because labor education attempts to reach union members through their unions,
many universities have begun working with unions within their respective states
to establish labor advisory boards to assist and advise labor unions and their
THE ROLE OF POSTSECONDARY AND HIGHER EDUCATION IN TRADE UNION EDUCATION AND
According to MacKenzie (1984), 70 percent of the labor education offered in
the United States is provided by universities and colleges, and 25 percent is
provided by labor unions. Labor education programs can either be cosponsored by
the postsecondary education and union sectors or sponsored by one or the other
Colleges and Universities
The development of university labor education programs has evolved through
three distinct phases. In the first phase, which lasted until the post-World War
ll era, labor education was delivered as a form of adult and continuing
education; programs were staffed by professional labor educators using adult
The second phase of university labor education was marked by the creation of
industrial relations programs at major universities. Formal recognition of the
existence of a body of interdisciplinary knowledge surrounding labor unions and
their functions led to the third phase--the beginning of credit labor studies
The establishment of community colleges in the l960s opened new educational
opportunities for workers and especially for union members. Faced with faculty
and resource restrictions and the realization that, in many areas, the demand
for labor education was already being met by established university-based labor
education programs, many community colleges turned their attention to the
development of labor studies associate degree programs.
For the most part, these degree programs emphasized introductory courses in
labor relations, labor law, union and contract administration, union
communications, and the history of unions and their role in the community.
Frequently, such programs reflected primary trade union interests and were
adapted to the local union and labor force mix.
Early program difficulties such as the quality of available instruction and
the lack of basic and supplementary instructional materials were eventually
remedied as a result of union support of college budget increases and community
colleges' growing ability to work with unions. Community college-sponsored labor
education programs are undergoing continuing expansion.
BARRIERS TO PARTICIPATION IN LABOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Despite the development of postsecondary programs, barriers to workers'
participation in labor education and training still exist.
Although training trust and tuition aid plans are available to workers who
want to participate in postsecondary programs, only a relatively small
percentage of workers takes advantage of these financial aid plans.
Smith (1982) cites the following factors in an attempt to account for
workers' low participation rates: lack of confidence in their ability to succeed
in an educational setting, lack of information about available benefits, lack of
information about educational opportunities, lack of encouragement, and lack of
flexible work schedules.
STRATEGIES FOR INCREASING WORKERS' PARTICIPATION IN TUITION AID PLANS FOR
Based on a survey of workers, unions, and management conducted by the
National Institute for Work and Learning (NIWL) and on a number of case studies
of successful union-sponsered efforts to increase workers' participation in
labor education, MacKenzie (1984) suggests the following strategies for
increasing workers' participation in labor education.
--Increasing efforts to disseminate information about educational
opportunities and available financial aid
--Providing career and personal counseling to workers contemplating
participation in labor education programs
--Improving linkages between the work site and educational providers
--Expanding the notion of job-related courses and programs
--Increasing the availability of tuition prepayment plans
--Devising more flexible work schedules
--Providing incentives for workers to participate in tuition aid programs
--Devoting special attention to the needs of women and minorities
FOR MORE INFORMATION
MacKenzie, J. R. ORGANIZED LABOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING PROGRAMS. Information
Series No. 286. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and
Vocational Education, The National Center for Research in Vocational Education,
The Ohio State University, 1984. ED 248 387.
Smith, G. TYPES OF WORKERS' EDUCATIONAL BENEFITS. Topic Paper No. 5.
Washington, D.C.: Labor Education Advisory Services, l982. ED 263 402.