Union merger announced
In March 2006, Austria’s largest trade union, the Union of Salaried Employees (GPA) and the smaller Printing, Journalism and Paper Union (DJP) announced plans to merge their organisations. As in other cases of planned union mergers, these measures are a response to significant membership losses and the perceived necessity of streamlining organisational structures in order to consolidate union finances.
According to a joint press release on 14 March 2006, the Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) and the Printing, Journalism and Paper Union (Gewerkschaft Druck, Journalismus, Papier, DJP) plan to merge their organisations during 2006. The acronym of the new trade union will be GPA-DJP. GPA, which currently has about 276,000 members, and the much smaller DJP, with approximately 17,000 members, will jointly cover a total of about 293,000 members. This merger will further strengthen GPA’s position as the largest and probably most powerful affiliate of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB).
Both unions will to start with bringing together part of their organisational and member service structures. In this context, the DJP head office plans to move to the main premises of GPA over the coming months. The final decisions on the merger project are scheduled for autumn 2006, when the highest governing bodies of both trade unions – the general assembly (Bundesforum) of GPA and the congress (Gewerkschaftstag) of DJP – will hold their respective meetings.
Trade union structure in private sector
The ÖGB is subdivided into 13 member unions, which cover all sectors of the economy. In principle, the boundaries of the unions’ respective domains are complementary. However, the system also allows more than one trade union in each economic sector and establishment. In the private sector, manual and professional workers are organised in separate unions. There are seven manual worker unions and a single professional union, the GPA, which covers all branches of the private sector. In addition, two trade unions represent both manual and white-collar workers – the Arts, Media, Sports and Liberal Professions Union (Gewerkschaft Kunst, Medien, Sport, Freie Berufe, KMSfB) and the DJP.
The planned merger of GPA with DJP will thus lead to an organisational structure that reflects the former union’s practice of setting up joint bargaining teams with manual worker unions for negotiations in certain sectors, such as the printing and paper sector.
Reasons for the planned merger
The aim behind the merger between the two unions is to strengthen their position towards employers and public authorities. In particular, the new union plans to centralise and coordinate the unions’ bargaining policies across different branches and sectors (AT0406201N). Moreover, as Wolfgang Katzian, Chair of GPA, and Franz Bittner, Chair of DJP, indicated, the ÖGB as a whole and its affiliates are forced to reduce costs, since the number of members and the total volume of membership dues have been declining significantly for several years. A variety of cutback measures have been suggested, such as reductions in special pension benefits for ÖGB employees or the possible sell-off of holiday resorts owned by the ÖGB. Both Mr Katzian and Mr Bittner proposed union mergers as the most effective means to streamline the administration and benefit from synergy effects.
Other merger projects
In September 2004, a large-scale union merger project was abandoned. This project, initially launched in 2001, would have involved GPA, the Metalworking and Textiles Union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Textil, GMT), and three smaller unions. It was dropped mainly because of different corporate cultures and inter-union conflicts over the distribution of power and positions (AT0410201N). Subsequently, the larger unions GPA and GMT have attempted to achieve separate, smaller merger solutions.
In June 2005, GMT and the Agricultural, Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers’ Union (Gewerkschaft Agrar, Nahrung, Genuss, ANG) announced merger plans of their organisational structures by 2006. At the same time, representatives of the Union of Railway Employees (Gewerkschaft der Eisenbahner, GdE), the Commerce and Transport Union (Gewerkschaft Handel, Transport, Verkehr, HTV), and the Hotels, Catering and Personal Services Union (Gewerkschaft Hotel, Gastgewerbe, Persönlicher Dienst, HGPD) met to decide on a merger of their organisations within a few years.
Particularly for smaller unions, which have experienced a significant decline in membership in recent years, mergers have been regarded as the best means of consolidating their balances and strengthening their political power. However, commentators question whether the planned union mergers will – in terms of both finances and bargaining power – actually compensate for membership losses.
Georg Adam, Institute of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna