The 10 Best Union Jobs

By Abby McCain
Aug. 30, 2022
Articles In Guide

Labor or trade unions are common throughout the United States and have been instrumental in establishing the country’s workforce culture.

Over the years unions have provided safer work environments and provided better benefits and pay for workers.

If you are thinking about getting a union job, here are 10 examples of common union jobs.

Key Takeaways:

  • The top three union jobs are teacher, firefighter, and police officer.

  • Some benefits of being in a union include:

    • Higher wages and better benefits

    • Safer working conditions

    • Job security

    • More training opportunities

  • You can usually find union jobs in the local government, protective service jobs, and education jobs.

The 10 Best Union Jobs

Detailed List of the 10 Best Union Jobs

  1. Teacher

    Average Annual Salary: $46,000

    Teachers are almost always in high demand, whether you want to work with children, high school students, or even adults. If you have a particular subject you’re interested in, you can become a subject matter expert in that area and teach it to older kids or adults.

    Or, if you are simply interested in education and working with kids, you can become an elementary teacher and instruct your students in every subject.

    Whichever path you choose, you’ll be able to also put your problem-solving, conflict management, interpersonal, and organizational skills to work as a teacher since you’ll be working with students, their parents, and other teachers and administrators.

    Requirements needed: A bachelor’s degree, completion of a state-approved teacher education program, a successful background check, and passage of a general teacher certification or licensure exam.

    Find Teacher jobs near me

  2. Firefighter

    Average Annual Salary: $39,000

    While many firefighters are volunteers, a significant number work in this role as full-time employees. Firefighters respond to fires in homes, businesses, cars, or forests or fields, which means this is an exciting and often dangerous career.

    Firefighters are trained in putting out fires and rescue people or animals from them. Because they are trained in rescues, they often respond to non-fire-related emergencies and natural disasters that could use this extraction expertise.

    They also perform fire safety inspections, educate their communities on fire safety, and even provide emergency medical assistance.

    Requirements needed: To become a firefighter, you’ll need to earn your high school diploma or GED and pass a firefighting examination, including a fitness test, a medical evaluation, and an interview panel. You’ll also usually need your emergency medical technician License, and some departments require a degree in fire science as well.

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  3. Police Officer

    Average Annual Salary: $47,000

    If you want to serve your community and protect the people in it, a career as a police officer might be enjoyable to you. There is some desk work involved in police work, but much of the time, you’ll be out patrolling, responding to calls, and working with the community in a variety of capacities.

    Requirements needed: To be a police officer, you’ll need to graduate from the police academy, where you’ll train in physical fitness and learn the ins and outs of the law, how to negotiate effectively, safety and security techniques, and how to remain calm and compassionate during chaotic and traumatic situations.

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  4. Carpenter

    Average Annual Salary: $41,000

    If you love working with your hands, a job as a carpenter might be a great fit for you. Carpenters can do everything from framing houses to building cabinetry, and they can work in various settings. Many work for construction companies, while others work independently for smaller organizations.

    Requirements needed: To become a carpenter, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED and then need to complete either a trade school carpentry program or an apprenticeship – sometimes both.

    As an apprentice, you’ll work for a few years under the supervision of a master carpenter. Some programs accept candidates with little to no carpentry experience, while others want you to have a professional or technical certification, so be sure to research the options in your area.

    After completing your apprenticeship, you’ll be a journeyman carpenter and work independently as an employee. With more work and training, you can become a master carpenter, which opens up more options for owning your own company or being in a leadership position.

    Find Carpenter jobs near me

  5. Auto Mechanic

    Average Annual Salary: $36,000

    Automotive mechanics (also called service technicians) inspect, fix, and maintain cars. They can do everything from changing the oil to replacing engine and car body parts, and they can work for privately owned garages or car dealerships.

    Requirements needed: To become an automotive mechanic, you’ll need to earn your high school diploma or GED, complete a technical or trade school automotive mechanic program, and finish an apprenticeship. Sometimes you can combine the last two steps, so look into different options in your area.

    After you complete your apprenticeship, you’ll be able to continue your training and education to become a master mechanic if you so choose. This can be an invaluable certification if you ever want a leadership position or start your own automotive repair shop.

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  6. Electrician

    Average Annual Salary: $49,000

    Electricians are skilled tradespeople who wire and repair electrical systems for homes and commercial buildings. However, residential and commercial systems are vastly different due to the scale and building materials used, so most electricians specialize in one or the other.

    If you enjoy using a little bit of math, solving problems, and using your hands, you might find this role fulfilling. Many electricians work on buildings, but others work on machines, motors, and power plants if you’re more interested in that area.

    Requirements needed: Many electricians complete trade or technical school programs during or after high school. This gives them the base knowledge they need to work as apprentices, where they’ll act as employees for a company but will only work under the supervision of a more experienced electrician for a few years.

    Once they complete this process, they’ll have the work experience they need to work independently as journeymen electricians and earn their master electrician status if they desire. This allows them to own their own companies or take on more managerial positions.

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  7. Airline Pilot

    Average Annual Salary: $67,000

    Airline pilots fly passenger or cargo planes around the world for airlines. Because this is a highly technical job that involves people putting their lives and wellbeing in your hands, it takes a lot of work to become a pilot.

    Requirements needed: You’ll first need a bachelor’s degree in aviation or another FAA-approved field, and then you’ll need to get your private pilot’s license. Once you do that, you’ll obtain your instrument rating, which will teach you how to interact with air traffic control and fly in various weather conditions.

    After that, you’ll need to get your commercial pilot license and a series of other certifications that include a multi-engine rating and airline transport pilot certification. Once you have all of these and have logged your required number of flight hours, you’re eligible to become an airline pilot.

    Find Airline Pilot jobs near me

  8. Ironworker

    Average Annual Salary: $34,000

    While carpenters frame buildings with wood, ironworkers use metal. They also create support structures for bridges and roads, and they need to be willing to work high up in the air when they’re constructing tall bridges or skyscrapers.

    Ironworkers are skilled tradespeople, which means they have to complete an apprenticeship before working as full-blown employees. They’ll get to work on real-life projects during this time but will be supervised by a more experienced worker and won’t be paid as much – kind of like an intern.

    Requirements needed: To be an ironworker you will need to be a minimum age of 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED equivalent. You should love working with your hands and with heavy-duty equipment. You should also have excellent communication and teamwork skills, as you’ll need them to ensure you’re working safely and efficiently and are accurately following the plans for the structure you’re building.

    Find Ironworker jobs near me

  9. CNC Machinist

    Average Annual Salary: $37,000

    As the job title implies, CNC machinists work with CNC machines. CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, and these machines create metal parts and tools based on numerically coded instructions input by the machinist.

    CNC machinists often oversee the entire production process, from designing the product, choosing the materials, and inspecting the finished item. CNC machinists usually start as CNC operators and then are promoted to CNC machinists as they gain more experience and can manage more of the machining process.

    CNC machinists usually work in machine shops and manufacturing facilities, often in aerospace and automotive manufacturing and engineering industries.

    Requirements needed: To become a CNC operator or machinist, you’ll need to earn a National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) certification at a postsecondary trade or technical school.

    Find CNC Machinist jobs near me

  10. Welder

    Average Annual Salary: $33,000

    Welders know how to fuse a wide variety of metal parts, whether that’s a pipe or an I-beam. They can work on buildings, bridges, power plants, cars, or even ships – anything with a significant amount of metal construction.

    Welding is hard work, but it’s also lucrative and provides the rewarding ability to work with your hands.

    Becoming a welder also takes hard work, especially if you eventually want to own your own company or do specialized jobs like underwater welding, but the good news is that there are a lot of pathways that you can take to reach your professional goals.

    Requirements needed: Technical or community colleges and trade schools often offer welding programs, even some designated welding schools. In addition, some companies offer on-the-job training programs and apprenticeships that you can add to these certificate programs, while others will provide your classroom training as a part of your apprenticeship.

    If you want to become extremely specialized so that you can weld items such as medical devices or airplanes, you can even complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree in welding.

    Find Welder jobs near me

What Is a Union?

A labor or trade union is an organization of workers who collaborate to ensure their pay, conditions, and hours are reasonable and protected. Many of them also work to establish and uphold safety and trade standards.

Unions can be both national and international organizations, with the international ones usually spanning to Canada and the United States. Many of them have local branches, making it easier for their members to find support and training.

Some jobs are covered by unions even if the particular person who holds that job hasn’t officially joined the union. This allows unions to make sure every position in that industry is held to a similar standard, whether the individual becomes a member or not.

In this article, we’ll focus on those who have joined a union themselves. All of the statistics used in this article are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and refer to 2019.

Benefits of Joining a Union

While there are both pros and cons to anything, including belonging to a union, there are a number of benefits to doing so.

  1. Union members often make higher wages and better benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, non-union members’ median weekly wages were 81% of those of union members’.

    While this doesn’t mean that all union members will automatically make more than non-members, there is a greater possibility of better pay within a union since they set standards for payment and will often advocate for workers to receive health care and other benefits.

  2. Unions ensure better and safer working conditions and hours. Because an organized group packs a harder punch than an individual does, unions set standards for companies that employ their members in order to make sure they have a good quality of life at their jobs and the ability to take a break from their work.

  3. Union members often have better job security than non-members. Unions make it more difficult for companies to fire their members, resulting in better job security for those workers.

    This can often make it more difficult for companies to promote workers as well, but many people find the job security worth this sacrifice.

  4. Unions often provide training opportunities. Unions often use their members’ dues to create facilities and opportunities for their members to learn a new skill or improve the ones they already have.

    For example, welders often need a place to practice in order to maintain or earn their advanced certifications, and unions can provide that for them.

  5. Unions have a louder voice than individuals do. While it’s all too easy for an individual’s complaint or request to go unheard at large companies, those same companies have a much more difficult time ignoring the demands of an organized union.

    Being a part of a union gives those workers a voice to demand that their employers treat them fairly.

Who Typically Belongs to a Union?

As of 2019, there were 14.6 million union members in the U.S., which is 10.3% of all wage and salary workers in the country. Of those union members, there are twice as many who work in full-time positions than there are who hold part-time jobs.

While every state has union members, Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates in 2019, while North and South Carolina had the lowest.

Unions represent people from nearly every demographic, but there are a few categories that make up the majority of members. Membership rates are highest among men, workers ages 45 to 64, and Black employees, followed by white workers, then Asian and Hispanic employees.

Top 10 Industries for Highest Union Membership Rates

If you’d like to work in an industry where it’s easy to get a union job, read on to find a list of industries with the highest percentages of union members:

  1. Local Government. 39.4% of people who work in local government are union members. These positions include a wide variety of government administrators and support staff, so if you’re offered one of these positions, there’s a good chance it will be a union job.

  2. Protective Services. Workers who fall under the category of protective services include police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers. 33.8% of people who work in these areas are union members.

  3. Education, Training, and Library Occupations. Whether you’re a public school teacher or a librarian, 33.1% of people in your industry belong to a union.

  4. State Government. If you’re interested in getting a union job and want to work in government, you’ll find fewer union members in state government jobs than you will in local government. 29.4% of state government employees are union members, which is considerably lower than local government workers but still a respectable number.

  5. Federal Government. At 25.6%, the percentage of federal government employees who are union members isn’t far off from that of state government officials.

  6. Utilities. If you work in electricity, natural gas, trash collection, water treatment, or other utility services, 23.4% of your colleagues will be union members.

  7. Construction and Extraction. When people think of union members, many think of construction workers. This is merited, with 17.4% of employees in this industry belonging to a union.

  8. Transportation and Warehousing. Whether you drive a truck, move and stock supplies, or hold another job in this industry, 16.1% of the workers around you are union members.

  9. Community and Social Services. Counselors, therapists, social workers, clergy, and other employees of religious organizations all fall under this category, with 15.6% belonging to a union.

  10. Installation, Maintenance, and Repair. This industry category encompasses technicians who work to repair and maintain vehicles, planes, homes, factory and medical equipment, and those who install and fix power lines, HVAC systems, and electronics.

    14.2% of workers in this industry are union members, securing their spot in the top ten industries for the highest union member rates.

Other industries that typically have a large number of union jobs include healthcare, media and entertainment (screenwriting, acting, and directing), and manufacturing.

Top 10 Industries for Highest Union Membership Rates

If you want to move somewhere that will give you a higher chance of finding a union job, these are the states with the highest rates of membership in 2019:

  1. Hawaii – 23.5%

  2. New York – 21%

  3. Washington – 18.8%

  4. Rhode Island – 17.4%

  5. Alaska – 17.1%

  6. New Jersey – 15.7%

  7. California – 15.2%

  8. Nevada – 14.6%

  9. Connecticut – 14.5%

  10. Oregon – 14.4%

Ways to Find a Union Job

Finding a job with a union is not unlike finding any other job. You just have to know where to look. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Search for union jobs on job boards. You can often find union jobs on the same websites where you’d look for other positions. Just make sure you include the fact that you want a union job in your search, whether you do that through a filter or in your search query.

    Most employers aren’t going to try to hide the fact that the position they’re listing is a union job, so doing a search like this should bring up more than a few options.

  2. Ask your local or industry unions. Sometimes companies prefer to rely on word of mouth to get them the candidates they need instead of posting open positions on a job board.

    As a result, talking to a union that either works in your community or in your industry may be helpful in finding a position. At the very least, they can usually tell you which companies they’d recommend you talk to or keep your eye on for job openings.

  3. Join an apprenticeship program. For many of the trades, it’s vital that you have an apprenticeship in order to learn the ropes. If you know what industry you want to go into but aren’t sure what you need to do to get there, look for an apprenticeship program.

    This will allow you to train under an expert and get your foot in the door with a company. It also gives you the experience you need to land a job on your own in the future.

  4. Check the Union Jobs Clearinghouse website. A national organization, the Union Jobs Clearinghouse website has many job listings and other resources that may be helpful for finding a position. It also has information about apprenticeships.

Final Thoughts

Unions can be traced back to the 18th century when a group of tailors went on the first strike and when, a few years later, a group of shoemakers began the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers.

Since then, unions have continued to form and work to protect child laborers, implement pricing and wage standards, and establish work hour limits, mainly during the Industrial Revolution.

Although often controversial, unions have made great strides in protecting workers in various industries from unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, and unreasonable hours.

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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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