A labor union is an organization of workers who work collectively to negotiate the terms of their employment and improve working conditions. The goal of a union is to create a formal mechanism to protect and advocate for workers' needs and interests. Unions vary in size and membership, however, the basic benefits of union membership remain consistent.
The legal right to bargain together
A core element of a labor union is collective bargaining (the legal right to negotiate as a group). Organized workers have a seat at the table with management to negotiate their terms of employment, including salary increases, severance and discipline policies, and paid time off. Even without a union contract in place, the employer has to bargain over changes to terms and conditions in employment and cannot unilaterally impose changes (as in: they can’t just reduce leave time without bargaining).
Better wages, benefits, and protection
In January 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (part of the Department of Labor) released their annual report of US union members and estimated that union workers earn about 19% more than nonunion workers. Union members earn more overall not just in fixed wages but in secured benefits like health insurance, retirement, and paid leave. In addition to higher pay overall than non-union members, industries with high rates of union workers report smaller gender and race disparities in pay.
Union workers also have Weingarten Rights. A Supreme Court case in 1975 memorialized the right of unionized workers to have a union representative at a meeting that could lead to discipline or termination.
Build a worker-centered culture
The process of workers organizing and negotiating with management shifts workplace power dynamics and culture. Union members have spaces to communicate (meetings, Slack, etc) without management present. Rather than (just) complaining to your work BFF about a new policy from management, you can take your issues to a union meeting and hear how your colleagues are impacted and if people want to take action. Being involved in a workplace union is often the most effective way to get to know colleagues from across different departments and positions. Union members are not alone!
For a better tomorrow
Organizing a union benefits current employees, however, when a group of people fight to set minimum standards it also benefits the whole community. The COVID pandemic has, unfortunately, shown how crucial it is that workers have a voice and protections. Start a union today to take full advantage of your workplace rights!