A union gives workers the ability to take their workplaces into their own hands. While unions are sometimes misunderstood, they ultimately have a simple purpose — to help workers come together to advocate on their own behalf.
How Do Unions Work?
In simple terms, unions act as a representative intermediary between an employer and employees. Unions typically work to ensure that employees are fairly compensated and that they receive favorable working conditions and other benefits. Unions can also fight for the protection of employees in the case of wrongful discipline or termination. There are unions for employees in many different industries, from nurses to teachers to factory workers to construction works and more. Because unions can form in a variety of different industries and locations, they may look different from place to place and company to company.
Labor Union Negotiations
Labor unions negotiate for favorable working conditions for employees through a process known as collective bargaining. Collective bargaining allows employees to negotiate for higher wages, benefits, health and safety policies, and more.
In workplaces without unions, individuals are responsible for negotiating these concerns with their employer on their own. By working together and acting as a collective voice through a labor union, employees have more power and influence over their employer than any one employee would when acting alone.
What Do Unions Advocate For?
Unions advocate for better working conditions for employees. Some of the things that labor unions typically advocate for include:
- A voice at the table – One of the main reasons many people join unions is to secure a voice at the table and better advocate for themselves in their workplace. Unions can help workers to make their voices heard and can help put the power back into their hands.
- Higher compensation – Unions often negotiate for fair compensation for their members, which can result in higher wages for members.
- Employee benefits – Employee benefits impacted by union negotiations include health insurance, life insurance, leave, workers’ compensation, and more. Union members often receive significantly more fringe benefits than non-members thanks to collective bargaining.
- Hours and schedules – Unions can negotiate more favorable hours and schedules, including limiting the length of the workday and advocating for fixed, predictable scheduling.
- Leave policies – Unions may advocate for leave policies including sick leave, paid leave, and other policies.
- Health and safety policies – If a workplace is unsafe or unhealthy, unions can advocate for policies that protect workers’ health and wellness.
- Work-life balance – Unions can also advocate for policies that preserve a healthy work-life balance and don’t require employees to work significant overtime or work during off-hours.
How Do Unions Affect the Labor Environment?
Unions can have the power to restrict the labor supply in a workplace or industry, empowering members to have greater influence over work conditions and compensation as a result. This can help unions secure better wages and benefits for their members, and can also increase compensation and benefits for workers across the board in a given industry.
Labor Unions and Small Businesses
While unions often form in order for employees of large businesses or corporations to make their voices heard, employees of small businesses can also form unions. Especially when it comes to small businesses where business relationships and personal relationships blur, unions can help to protect employee benefits while maintaining a respectful, professional relationship.
Unions may also have an effect on freelancers and entrepreneurs. For example, if you’re a general contractor looking to hire additional employees to work underneath you, you may hire employees from a local labor union. As a general contractor, you should also be sure to obtain the appropriate license for your state and secure general liability coverage as well as a certificate of insurance before you begin work.
How Do Labor Unions Affect Workers?
Labor unions can help workers to advocate for themselves and effectively negotiate with their employers for fair treatment and compensation. Unions can have widespread positive impacts on employee working conditions. For example, unions can help to increase wages, provide workplace protections like workers’ compensation, combat pay inequalities, and introduce fringe benefits like paid leave, health insurance, and retirement and pension plans.
While labor unions can have an immediate positive effect in a unionized workplace, they can also benefit the industry as a whole by raising wages and benefits across the board, including non-union workers. For example, a non-union worker in an industry that has experienced significant unionization is likely to be better-compensated because unions help to improve working conditions for both union and non-union members.
In most cases, unions require dues from members in order to operate. These dues and fees usually only amount to a small percentage of an employee’s compensation, but they are something that should be taken into consideration. Since a union is, by its nature, a group endeavor, unions may not always entirely represent the views and wishes of an individual member. Despite this, however, the benefits of unions often significantly outweigh any downsides.
How to Form a Union
If you’re interested in forming a union in your workplace, there are a few steps you should follow. These include:
- Getting together with like-minded coworkers to discuss unionization;
- Asking for advice from a union organizer;
- Building support for a union among your coworkers;
- Conduct an election in order to determine workplace support for a union.
While your employer might try to dissuade you from forming a union, it’s important to remember that most employees have the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. Depending on where you live, your workplace might be subject to right-to-work laws, which limit the ability of unions to effectively negotiate with employers. Ultimately, however, unions can help to put employers and employees on an equal playing field in order to negotiate agreements that benefit everyone.
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