Hiring Union Workers? Start Here.

Unionization has long been a story worth telling. Labor unions create a variety of benefits for workers, from limitations on working hours to requirements for fair pay — but these arrangements also come with unique considerations for employers. Fortunately, they come with a long list of advantages, too.

If you’re hiring union workers for the first time, you may have a question or 10. Follow along as we cover the basics of union hiring and what it means for you.

What is a union worker?

You likely understand the basics of what a union worker is, how they differ from nonunion workers, and what they bring to the table. Before making any hiring decisions, however, it’s critical to know exactly what — and whom — you’re working with.

First, keep in mind that a union is just a group of two or more employees who work together to establish, negotiate and finalize particular requests. From working hours and sick leave to wages and benefits, unions help employees magnify their voices and communicate more productively with their employers. Workers don’t even have to be union members to get these benefits. Although they may need to pay a “fair share fee” depending on local laws, they aren’t legally required to join the union to receive representation.

Of course, unions aren’t just gatherings at the water cooler. These democratic groups are built around particular laws and regulations, including:

  • Right to fair representation. Unions have a duty to represent all employees, regardless of membership status, “fairly, in good faith and without discrimination.” This representation generally doesn’t apply to internal union affairs or rights a worker can enforce on their own.
  • Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). The LMRDA establishes a Bill of Rights for union members, reporting requirements, officer election standards, safeguards for union funds, and more. Its main purpose is to protect democratic activity and grant key rights to workers.
  • National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This set of regulations protects workers’ rights to collective bargaining, establishes what a union can and can’t do, limits an employer’s ability to retaliate against certain actions, and more.

What to consider when hiring union workers

When hiring union workers, be sure you understand where they’re coming from, how you can better support them, and what unique benefits they bring to your workplace. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The numbers

Union workers have plenty of options when deciding where to apply. You can stand out by displaying a deep knowledge of the unionization environment and how it impacts individuals. This practice emphasizes your role as an empathetic hirer, which creates value for employees, teams, workflows, bottom lines and more.

Brush up on these data points that help tell the story:

  • The number of union workers increased by 273,000 (1.9%) between 2021 and 2022.
  • Public-sector workers have a union membership rate nearly five times higher than that of private-sector workers: 33.1% vs. 6%.
  • Men have higher unionization rates than women, at 10.5% vs. 9.6%.
  • Black workers are more likely to be union members than white, Asian or Hispanic employees.

The laws

Employers have certain responsibilities when working with unions. Review all applicable laws and requirements — and remember this “guidebook” helps you structure conversations that are more likely to benefit everyone. Workers will recognize and appreciate that you know how to collaborate effectively, especially because it makes things easier for both them and you.

To simplify conversations and give you a better understanding of how your workers’ union operates, you should also know your state’s “right to work” laws. If you’re in a “right to work” state, unions can’t require non-members to pay fair share fees but must still provide fair representation for all. That means your workers might appreciate more collaboration from you to help support everyone.

The perspectives

Workers often see significant value in unionization. It’s not just about getting the treatment they deserve; it’s also about creating a more communicative relationship with employers like you. That means you have an opportunity to win long-term loyalty by being openly pro-union.

Although some employers still respond with retaliation and other illegal practices, workers who want better rights, pay and benefits will seek out upstanding workplaces like yours. In fact, union collaboration could even make you a more competitive employer — especially in a hot hiring market where job seekers have more freedom to choose where they work.

The benefits

Unions come with many potential advantages for employers, including:

  • Better communication with employees
  • Guided, regulated negotiations and bargaining
  • Improved worker morale
  • Fewer workplace safety issues
  • Employee referrals through union hiring halls (in some industries)

Hiring union workers requires a bit of preparation, especially if you want to stand out from competitors. It’s worth the effort, however, to have loyal teams and clear communication that builds mutual benefits.