In the ever-changing world of business, it is vital for labor unions to adapt to developments in the capitalist system. For example, nowadays companies increasingly augment standard wage packages with stock options. A stock option is defined as the right to buy stock in a company at a certain price for a certain period of time. If the value of the stock goes up, and a worker is permitted to sell the option, then he or she benefits financially; if it goes down, of course, the worker loses money. The U.S. Labor Department says that 14 percent of U.S. workers in companies with 100 or more employee were offered stock options in 200L3.
One major complication is that most workers lack knowledge, about stock options. Consequently, they can't gauge the worth of such options when they are offered them. Interestingly, research by MIT Professors Nittai Bergman and Dirk Jenter indicates that management often awards options when employees are over optimistic about the future of the cornpone’s stock. In other words overvalued options are cunningly substituted for better pay.
Unions shouldn't automatically reject such offers, but they do need to make sure they are in workers' interests. While there is an question that sharing ownership in a company can improve workers morale, the perk comes with a very large string attached: not only will employees' jobs depend on the firm's fate, but so too will their assets. Management need not share this risk. As evidenced by the scandals at Enron and WorldCom, executives with insider knowledge can sell their shares while the value is still high, leaving workers to take huge losses when the ship goes down.
Labor unions often claim to have gained hard-fought contracts offering good private pensions for their members. These same unions, however, lack the financial insight to evaluate whether the company has actually provided adequate capital to meet its commitments after employees retire. Many countries now have some form of benefit-protection plan for private pension, such as the United Kingdom's Pension Protection Fund. However, dealing stock markets and low interest rates still mean that many private pensions are very vulnerable. Leaving the financial aspects of pension planning entirely to governments or to companies is a fatal error. Today, representing workers' interests is not simply a case of trying to wrench a bigger share of the company's revenue from management.
Labor unions arc concentrating all their efforts on job security when they should instead be learning to look at the big picture. Ironically, making it difficult for companies to lay off employees during tough times may actually endanger job security in the long run by weakening a company's competitiveness. Unions need to wake up to the realities of complex financial capitalism and protect their workers without affecting the long-term profitability of their companies.