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What is an Open Shop?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Marzky Ragsac Jr., Kheel Center
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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Open shops are places of employment where the employees are not required to join or be involved in a labor union in order to be hired or continue working. Sometimes referred to as a merit shop, an open shop is ideally open to workers who are associated with a union, as well as those who are not connected with any type of union. Over the years, the concept of the open shop has been an ongoing source of controversy, sometimes due to situations in which employers would attempt to use the model to favor non-unionized personnel over those who were members of labor unions.

In countries where the idea of an open shop is common, laws and regulations typically are structured so that the owners of an open shop cannot be forced to hire only unionized employees. Instead, employers are free to seek employees who are qualified to fill the positions that are open, basing the hiring on the merit of the potential employee. The idea is to render union membership irrelevant to the hiring process, allowing the human resources management team to consider all employees based on factors such as skills, work history, salary needs, and other considerations that are key to the hiring process.

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Proponents of the open shop see this approach as creating an environment in which membership in a union is not enough to ensure employment. This line of thinking usually employs an example of a unionized worker who is marginally qualified, but does not possess the skill levels and background of a non-unionized worker who has applied for the same position. Since it is in the best interests of the employer to hire the individual who is perceived as a greater asset to the company, a business that is an open shop would obviously go with the more qualified individual. Should the business be a union shop, the more qualified applicant would not be considered, unless he or she was willing to join the union.

Those who support the role of labor unions in the workforce tend to oppose the idea of the open shop. In their support of unions, recounting examples of workers being subjected to long hours, low pay, and work conditions that were inferior is common. Since open shops do not answer to unions in terms of pay, benefits, and working conditions, employees that are being taken advantage of have no backing or recourse in dealing with the abuse, except to resign and seek employment elsewhere.

One of the factors that has made the open shop a more viable option, even for unionized workers, is the fact that many nations have enacted laws that offer employees a degree of protection that was not available in decades past. Depending on the nature of those laws, employers may require to pay a minimum wage per hour, provide increased wages when an employee works over his or her standard schedule, and maintain a work environment that complies with regulations regarding safety. While laws of this type have improved the situation for labor in general, not everyone agrees that the progress is sufficient, and some point to unions as the only solution.

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