Labor unions are employee-organized associations that protect employees’ rights and further their interests within an organization. Labor unions typically require membership in which employees pay union dues to receive union representation.
In 2008, about 12% of America’s workforce was unionized and 50% of working individuals were interested in working for a union (Macaray, 2008). However, depending on the prominent industry of an area, union represented workers may be much more common. For example, in “The Motor City”, metro Detroit, the United Auto Workers (UAW) represents hundreds of thousands of employees of from Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.
Aside from the automotive industry, other heavily unionized professions exist in both the private and public sector. These professions include teachers, police officers/firefighters, railroad workers and construction workers.
Labor Union History & Membership
Unions began to form after the industrial revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. Original labor unions were not successful because they lacked communication and leadership. In 1947, Taft-Hartley Act was passed into law, which to this day is the code of conduct for unions. It gave workers the right to organize and join labor unions, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to strike (Jackson, H. J., & Mathis, L. R., 2009). Today, the government strictly regulates unions and certifies every newly formed union.
Union membership in the United State has been decreasing at a steady rate over the past five years. When individuals are hired at organizations with union representation they have the option to pay union dues. Union dues are typically collected monthly and are used towards the salaries of union leaders, legal representation, political campaigns, strike funds, and other purposes. With union membership comes the opportunity to vote on candidates who campaign to represent the employee body as a whole.
Working for a labor union comes with many benefits for employees that are, in most cases, not always experienced by nonunion workers. Benefits of working for a union-backed company include the following:
· Employees who work for a union cannot be fired “just because”. Termination within unions requires serious misconduct. Before a unionized employee can be fired they must go through a grievance procedure. Needless to say, there is a higher level of job security for union employees.
· Union workers typically receive better wages than nonunion workers. The median weekly income of full-time wage and salary workers who were union members in 2010 was $917, for nonunion workers it was two hundred dollars less at $717 (Union Membership, 2012).
· Union workers typically have more access to benefits. About 93% of unionized workers were entitled to medical benefits compared to 69% of their nonunion peers (Union Membership, 2012).
· Unionized workers have more power to negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions. By approaching issues as a group there is a better chance for a positive outcome than approaching issues individually.
There are disadvantages of union representation also. For someone who would prefer to act individually rather than have someone negotiate on his or her behalf may not see the benefit of being union-backed. Other disadvantages include:
· Union representation does cost money. Union dues can be up to several hundred dollars per year and there is sometimes a one-time initiation fee as well (Todate, M., 2010). Not only is the cost a disadvantage but also the fact that the individual member has no control over how the union dues are spent.
· For employees hoping to move up quickly within an organization they may be prevented from doing so due to importance of seniority. Employee perks are in most cases offered based on seniority rather than merit. Some union agreements enable displaced workers to “bump” another worker with less seniority and take his or her job (Macaray, 2008).
Generally, when it comes to ethical and moral issues within a workplace, those employees that are union-backed have a greater piece of mind than those that aren’t union-backed. There is strength in numbers and when it comes to fighting for fair employee relations it can be a great benefit to be union backed. It is important for the union leaders to represent and act in the best interests of the entire employee body. Cooperation between an organization’s management and union can result in a very prosperous company.
Todate, M. (2010). Economic Effect of Labor Unions. Japanese Economy, 37(1), 111-129. doi:10.2753/JES1097-203X370104
Macaray, David. (2008). "Labor unions and Taft-Hartley." Synthesis/Regeneration. General OneFile. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
Household data series union membership tables. (2012, June 21). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved April 17, 2013, from http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpslutabs.htm
Jackson, H. J., & Mathis, L. R. (2009). Human Resource Management, 13th Edition. South Western: Cengage Learning.