The Benefits of Joining a Union

From retail to tech and everywhere in between, U.S. workers are taking a stand. Tired of low wages, inadequate benefits and poor working conditions, many are joining the labor movement and seeking unionization.

Labor unions have represented the interests of American workers for generations, but, with a renewed focus on workplace equity and equality, many employees are now realizing just how advantageous union support can be.

This blog explains how union membership works and why it’s advantageous for both employees and their communities.

What does it mean to join a union?

It’s often said that there’s strength in numbers, which speaks right to the heart of what union membership is about.

The Department of Labor defines a labor union as a group of “two or more employees who join together to advance common interests such as wages, benefits, schedules and other employment terms and conditions.” In simple terms, a labor union is an organized group of workers who collectively advocate on behalf of the workforce.

For example, unions may negotiate with employers to provide higher pay or more paid time off. By giving voice to the voiceless, union representatives empower their members to seek better opportunities and benefits within the workplace.

Many Americans are eligible to become union members — in fact, more than 16 million already have. Membership affords people the right to vote on union business, including electing officials, participating in negotiations and ratifying the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

As a written legal contract between the employer and the union, the CBA is the end result of an extensive process known as “collective bargaining.” In short, union reps negotiate with management on topics like wages, hours, grievances, work practices and disciplinary procedures. The rules around these subjects are all laid out in the CBA, which basically establishes the law of the land (i.e., the workplace).

How do unions benefit workers?

According to Gallup, union support is the highest it’s been since 1965 — and for good reason. Unions are an undeniable advantage to the workforce and consistently improve the lives of the members they serve.

How? Let’s take a look:

  • Better wages: Union workers enjoy 18% higher pay than their non-union counterparts. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that non-union workers make just 85% of what unionized employees earn ($1,029/week vs. $1,216/week). The inverse is also true. When unionization declines, it typically costs the average full-time worker $3,250 in earnings per year.
  • Equal pay: Unions are an effective mechanism for closing both racial and gender pay gaps. The collective bargaining process is transparent by design so pay scales and wages apply equally to all workers in the same job. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Black workers represented by a union are paid 13% more than their non-unionized Black peers, and Hispanic workers represented by a union are paid 18.8% more than their non-unionized Hispanic counterparts.
  • Income protection: On average, the 17 states with the highest union densities have median annual incomes $6,000 greater than the national average. Moreover, they have higher-than-average unemployment insurance recipiency rates.
  • Employer-sponsored benefits: Union workers are far more likely than non-union employees to be covered by employer-provided health insurance. They’re also likelier to have paid sick days, vacation days and holidays, not to mention more say over work hours and scheduling.
  • Health and safety: Members also enjoy improved workplace health and safety conditions because they are empowered to report unsafe practices without fear of retribution.

Union advantages also transcend the workplace. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 55% U.S. adults say labor unions have a positive effect on the country’s quality of life. Whether it’s safer working conditions or equitable job opportunities, unionization’s spillover effects often result in happier, healthier and more engaged community members.

Ultimately, unions will continue playing a key role in the labor movement. As more American workers seek better opportunities at the workplace, the advantages of collective bargaining are sure to inspire a surge in union power.