What Is A Labor Union?
For a large portion of the American workforce, at-will employment by private companies is the only type of employment they’ll ever have. For an increasingly smaller number, however, they belong to a labor union. Unionized jobs were far more popular in decades gone by, but there are still dozens of industries (including both state and federal government jobs) that employ unionized labor.
How Labor Unions Work
A labor union is a formal organization of workers dedicated to improving wages, hours, and working conditions in their workplace through collective bargaining to secure a union contract.
A labor union negotiates directly with an employer on the workers’ behalf, and is funded by its members’ union dues. Dues are calculated either by using a fixed rate or as a percentage of the member’s salary.
It’s not uncommon for larger unions to have tens of thousands of members. Many unions also engage in political lobbying and organize their members for participation in local and national elections. Union endorsements are frequently sought by local and national politicians for campaign and policy initiatives.
Examples Of Labor Unions
Unions can be created for both private and public sector employees. Some of the more recognizable unions at the national level include:
- United Auto Workers
- NFL Players Association
- Screen Actors Guild
- American Federation of Government Employees
- American Federation of Teachers
Historically, unions were far more popular from the time of the industrial revolution up through about the 1970s. While unions in more traditional industries have declined, new unions for industries like fast food and digital media have begun to spring up.
Unions And Employment Law
Broadly speaking, many of the laws and norms that apply to at-will employees in the private sector are different for union workers.
In many cases, union officials will act as intermediaries between employees and employers when there are disputes. Union workers who experience issues relating to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation from management will likely need to consult with union officials (and often union attorneys) rather than hiring outside counsel to resolve legal matters.
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