Representation is perhaps the most identifiable service unions provide their members. But employees are unique and are not necessarily best served by a one-size-fits-all approach to representation. For example, under most union contracts, employees receive the same compensation as other union members, regardless of how well or poorly those employees perform. Unions should refocus on providing resources to support employees negotiating individual contracts with employers that will reward them for their unique contributions to the workplace. Employees should be allowed to choose to negotiate for themselves or to accept a collectively bargained contract.
The most important thing that labor organizations can do to modernize their representational services is to embrace merit pay and allow their members to be paid according to the value of their work. This differs from the seniority system many unions currently bargain for, which mandates that workers may only receive pay increases for logging more years on the job.
Seniority-based pay systems may be unattractive to younger employees who want to be rewarded for their effort. This type of system also provides a disincentive for ingenuity and hard work. An employee knows that no matter how well he performs, he cannot be rewarded until he reaches the next anniversary of his hiring. That disincentive can also make employers leery of unions because the employer may think that without being able to properly compensate the best and brightest employees, they may leave for another company or simply not work as hard since they know they will not be getting a bonus based on their performance.
However, there are unions that allow individual members to negotiate for their own compensation level with employers. As workplaces become more diverse and specialized, more unions would do well to provide a similar alternative for members.