What is the Union?
unions have a long and colorful history in the United States. To some people,
they conjure up thoughts of organized crime and gangsters like Jimmy Hoffa. To
others, labor unions represent solidarity among the working classes, bringing
people together across many professions to lobby for better rights, wages, and
benefits. As of 2017, 14.8 million people were union members, and although
union membership peaked in 1945 when 35 percent of the nonagricultural
workforce were union members, unions are still a powerful influence in the
United States (and even more powerful in many other countries). They are also
an important and fundamental part of the history of United States commerce and
the country’s growth into an economic powerhouse.
Labor Union Basics
A labor union is an organization of workers dedicated to
protecting their interests and improving wages, hours and working conditions.
Many different types of workers belong to unions: mechanics, teachers, factory
workers, actors, police officers, airline pilots, janitors, doctors, writers
and so forth. To form a bargaining unit -- a group who will be represented by a
union in dealing with their employer -- a group of workers must be voluntarily
recognized by their employer, or a majority of workers in a bargaining unit
must vote for representation.
In general, it is legal for employers to try to persuade
employees not to unionize. However, it is illegal for a company to attempt to
prevent employees from unionizing by promises of violence, threats
or other coercive action. It is also illegal for unions to use lies or threats
of violence to intimidate employees into joining a union.
An employer is required by law to bargain in good faith with
a union, although an employer is not required to agree to any particular terms. Once an agreement is reached through
negotiations, a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is signed. A CBA is a negotiated
agreement between a labor union and an employer that sets terms of employment
for members of that union and provisions for wages, hours, conditions,
vacation, sick days, benefits, etc. After a CBA is signed, an employer can’t change anything detailed in the agreement without the
union representative’s approval. The CBA lasts for a set period
of time, and the union monitors the employer to make sure the employer
abides by the contract. If a union believes an employer has breached the CBA,
the union can file a grievance, which may be ultimately resolved through a
process known as arbitration.
Union members pay dues to cover the union’s costs. Most
unions have paid, full-time staff that helps to manage its operations. While
the staff is paid by union dues, members often volunteer with the union. Some
unions also create strikes funds that support workers in the event of a strike.
Dues vary but many are around $50 a month.
A union works somewhat like a democracy. Unions hold
elections to determine officers who will make decisions and represent the
members. There are many laws governing union elections.
A locally based group of workers who have a charter from a
national or international union is known as a union local. The union local
might be made up of workers from the same company or region. They may also be
workers from the same business sector, employed by different companies