Labor panel foresees higher union pay in '81

Union wages and benefits will jump at double-digit levels in 1981, according to a Conference Board labor panel. The group of eight labor experts (from unions, corporations, and academia) does not look for any improvement at all in overall labor productivity in 1981.

The increases in the first year of major contracts are expected to advance by an average of 10.2 percent next year, resulting in an 11 percent increase in labor costs per unit of manufactured output. US employment is likely to continue shifting to nonunion sectors, since nonunion pay has increased more slowly than union wages for five straight years.

The growing competitive problems faced by US firms, coupled with a general loss of political leverage by unions, might trigger a turning point in union tactics and philosophy in 1981. Some panelists warned that union failure to adjust their strategies to changing competitive conditions could escalate unemployment and severly weaken unions both as an economic and political force in the 1980s.

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