What Are Union Benefits?

By Abby McCain
Aug. 17, 2022
Articles In Guide

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Labor unions play an important role in our economy. They are an aspect that promotes economic democracy and ensures the protection of their members.

If you’re considering joining a union, taking a union job, or simply wanting to know what the pros and cons of doing so are, keep reading to find out more about what they bring to the table.

Key Takeaways:

  • A labor union, also known as a trade union, is an organization of employees that use collective bargaining with employers to ensure certain protections and conditions.

  • Benefits of labor unions include greater bargaining power, job security, safer work environments, and better wages.

  • Disadvantages of labor unions include the cost of union dues, high emphasis on seniority, and inflexibility.

  • Unions can be found in all industries including the public sector, transportation, construction, entertainment, and food retail.

What Are Union Benefits?

What Is a Union?

A labor or trade union is an organization whose goal is to ensure that its members work reasonable hours, have a safe work environment, and receive the appropriate compensation and benefits.

Workers within a single industry usually join together to create a union, and these organizations are on both the national and local levels. Some even include workers in Canada as well as the United States.

Union members pay dues to their organization and receive representation from the union as a whole. Some unions, however, cover entire companies, whether each employee is a member or not, to ensure that companies treat all of their workers as the unions require them to.

Unions began in the U.S. back in 1794, but they really started gaining ground during the 19th century at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. With the rise in factories, the dangerous working conditions that came with them, and child labor, workers needed protection, and unions provided that for them.

As of 2019, there were 14.6 million union members and 17.7 million union workers (individuals whose jobs are covered by unions even though they aren’t members themselves) in the U.S.

Common Union Benefits

The exact benefits you’ll receive as a union member will vary based on your location and industry, but there are some overarching benefits to joining a union:

  1. Unions give workers a voice and bargaining power. There is strength in numbers, and a union provides that strength. If one employee demands better hours from his or her employer, the chances of seeing any change are low.

    If all the employees at the company join with employees at similar companies to demand that same change, though, executives and managers are much more likely to listen since they don’t want to lose their workforce.

    Becoming a member of a union gives you the voice to demand a better work-life.

  2. Unions provide better job security. Unions set standards for how companies can go about firing a union employee, making it more difficult to do so.

    If you are a union worker, you can rest easy knowing that your employers can only fire you for just cause. That usually means that you’ve broken your employee contract in some way.

    Even still, companies often have to take their union workers through a grievance procedure to try to reconcile and see if you can make restitution before they can officially terminate you. This means the number of union workers who get fired is incredibly low.

  3. In a union, seniority rules. If you’re a union member and have been working at a company for a long time, you can rest even easier knowing that your job will be safe even from downsizing.

    To keep companies from being partial, unions mandate that seniority is number one, so if a company needs to start laying people off, the most recently hired employees go first.

    If you have been at an organization for a while, seniority might also help you get a promotion or other internal position you applied for. This is because, again, seniority is the deciding factor in a union, and if you and a more recent employee applied for the same role, there’s a good chance it’ll go to the person who has been there longer.

  4. Union workers experience safer workplaces. One of unions’ main goals is to ensure a safe workplace for its workers.

    As a result, they’ll hold companies accountable to make sure that your equipment and facilities meet all safety standards, that you have the right protective equipment, and that you don’t have to put yourself in harm’s way to do your job.

    Beyond standardizing safety practices, your union gives you a voice, so if you notice something unsafe, you can speak up about it and not worry about being fired as a whistleblower.

  5. Unions require better hours for their workers. Another one of unions’ main concerns is making sure that companies have their employees working reasonable hours. Since many industries with high numbers of union jobs are labor-intensive and require workers at all hours of the day, this is especially valuable.

    Unions don’t allow companies to require their members to work overtime hours, and they make sure employers create work schedules that allow employees to spend time with their families.

    This involves both having employees on a consistent schedule and providing the flexibility to take time off to take care of their kids or attend school functions.

  6. Union workers often have better benefits and wages. Unions work to raise their workers’ wages, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, resulted in non-union workers making only 81% of what union members made in 2019.

    Union workers who aren’t technically members also benefit from this, as the higher wages also apply to non-unionized companies in industries with high union rates. After all, if a non-unionized company pays its employees less than its unionized competitor does, it’s going to start losing its staff if it doesn’t keep up.

    In addition to higher wages, unions also negotiate more paid leave and holidays, health benefits, and pension plans for their workers.

  7. Unions often provide training and apprenticeships. Getting the training and experience you need to grow in your career or to learn a new skill is vital, and unions often help their members do that.

    Many local unions offer facilities and classes where members can work to meet certification requirements, keep up their licenses, and learn new specialties. Some also connect them to apprenticeships, which are vital for those new to the industry to start out strong in their careers.

    If you’re considering joining a union, ask your community location what training and other services they provide.

Disadvantages of Unions

As with anything, some downsides often come with joining a union or getting a union job. Here are a few of the most common:

  1. Loss of individual voice. Yes, unions can give you a voice, but if they don’t agree with you or you don’t agree with them, then you still may go unheard.

    If you disagree with your union and the rules they’re putting into place, there isn’t much you can do about it, and you still have to abide by them.

  2. Union dues and fees can be costly. If you join a union, you may have to pay several hundred dollars each year in dues, not to mention the membership fees that some charge when you first join as well.

    Because of this, you should consider if the benefits of joining outweigh the cost, especially if your dues negate any increase in wages you’ll receive from joining a union.

    Some union members also become frustrated about paying these dues when the officials whose paychecks they’re funding don’t represent them the way they’d like them to. This can happen with any organization you join, but it’s important to remember and take note of when you’re considering joining a union.

  3. The emphasis on seniority can be a detriment to your career. If you’re just starting your career or joining a new company as a union worker, your merit as an employee won’t carry as much weight as your number of years of experience will.

    No matter how hard you work or how skilled you are, you’ll still likely be the first one laid off if your company downsizes and you’re the most recent hire. You might also lose a promotion that you’re the best candidate for to someone who simply has more experience.

    While this isn’t always the case, environments like this are all too familiar in heavily unionized industries, and, as a result, they give you little motivation to work harder and improve your skills. It can also become frustrating and cause you to burn out more quickly.

  4. Inflexibility for firms. Since labor unions provide protections for their workers, this also creates a barrier for management when they want to make changes. If a firm wants to stay agile and make changes quickly, a union will slow down this process. Management is forced to check with unions first before making changes. This can be particularly difficult to respond to changes in the economy or labor markert.

Which industries have unions?

Although the picture of a union worker that usually comes to mind is a steel worker or miner, unions are found in a variety of industries. These include:

  • Transportation

  • Entertainment

  • Public sector

  • Food services

  • Construction

  • Health care

  • Telecommunications

Final Thoughts

To wrap up, here is the summarized list of the pros and cons of working for a labor union:

Pros include:

  1. Bargaining power

  2. Job security

  3. Seniority benefits

  4. Safer workplaces

  5. Better hours

  6. Higher compensation

  7. Opportunities for training and apprenticeships

Cons include:

  1. Loss of your individual voice

  2. Costly union dues

  3. Seniority over qualifications

  4. Inflexibility

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Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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