A labor union is a nonprofit coalition of workers in the same trade or industry. They are similar to associations, but unions are formed to protect workers’ rights and ensure that favorable conditions are maintained in the workplace. This happens through collective bargaining between the union representative and the employer. Union representatives often negotiate factors such as wages, benefits, schedules, safety, and job security on behalf of the workers.
Unions are membership-based organizations. Usually, unions charge a small monthly membership fee that gets automatically deducted from their members’ paychecks. Members have a direct say and can vote on the issues that make it to the collective bargaining stage. Thus, workers who are represented by unions aren’t necessarily members of the union.
Who’s involved with labor unions?
There are three important parties involved in labor unions. They are:
- The workers. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 14 million union members in the United States as of 2021. That’s 12% of the full- and part-time workforce. ⅔ of union members are women and people of color, which means they are highly represented by unions relative to their population.
- The employers. These players are in managerial positions within companies represented by unions.
- The union representatives. Union representatives are often workers who bargain with employers to establish better working conditions. These representatives are elected from the
These players work together to establish the atmosphere at work and address the concerns of the workers.
What industries have labor union representation?
Numerous industries have union representation. Industries with a significant union presence include:
- Public administration
- Public protective services (police officers and firefighters)
- Television and film production
- Live entertainment
While these industries have more union representation on average, there are many other industries that are represented by unions.
How are unions structured?
There are numerous sizes and scales of unions. Most national unions are part of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The AFL-CIO also represents smaller unions at the state and local levels. That being said, many smaller unions aren’t part of the AFL-CIO.
The AFL-CIO acts as an advocate for unions in the legislative process so unions are allowed to exist and achieve their goals across the country. Also, members of the AFL-CIO meet every four years, introducing them to other union delegates. This allows AFL-CIO members to learn from like-minded union members and adjust their collective bargaining approach.
Whether they’re part of the AFL-CIO or are independent, nearly every national union has local members on a state- or city-wide scale. These representatives resolve grievances and issues within unionized work environments.
Is union membership mandatory?
It depends on the state. 28 states are right-to-work states, meaning that union membership isn’t mandatory. The other 22 states do require union membership if the workplace is represented by one.
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