Should You Join a Union? Pros and Cons of Unionization

In recent months, unions received a great deal of attention when Amazon workers across the country held votes to unionize. Amazon workers faced a great deal of pushback from the company, but the most recent efforts in Staten Island finally resulted in enough votes to successfully form a union. 

Alabama is also close to forming a union. During the vote, “no” won out 993 to 875, but there are 416 challenged ballots currently being reviewed.

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Forming a union is not a new idea in the United States, dating all the way back to the late 1700s. Even in the 1900s, unions were fairly common, but moving into the 2000s, unions were at an all time low.

This was surprising, given that unions remained popular in other parts of the world, with many European countries having anywhere from 60% to 90%  of their workers involved in a union or an equivalent group.

How do Unions Work?

Unions are organizations of workers in the same industry or trade. One of the largest examples of unions in the United States are teachers’ unions formed under the National Education Association (NEA). 

Most unions are divided into separate chapters based on location, with each chapter belonging to part of a larger organization. Each union is represented by an officer or leader, who is chosen during an election. In order to join the union, employees must generally pay dues, which vary in cost based on the union.

Legally, employers are required to meet with and actively bargain with union leaders in good faith. However, there are no laws stipulating employers must agree to union demands. Negotiations commonly require multiple meetings and may take months to reach a conclusion.

Some of the common issues union leaders fight for include the following:

  • Reasonable vacation and sick days
  • Higher wages
  • Paid overtime
  • Improved working conditions
  • Less severe working hours

If an agreement is reached, the union representative and employer sign a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Once a CBA goes into effect, the employer cannot change it without getting approval from the union leader. Each CBA has an expiration date. Once the CBA expires, the union and employer must negotiate a new deal.

Pros of Joining a Union

In the United States, most workers are classified as at-will employees. This makes it much easier for businesses to fire them. In a union, however, members have additional protection. Employers must demonstrate just cause to the union representative before firing an employee. 

There are also additional appeal processes in place for the terminated employee. Employees belonging to a union have more avenues to register complaints and open disputes with employers without fear of retribution.

Because unions have the ability to freely negotiate with employers, union members typically have higher wages and better benefits than employees without a union. Union chapters also work together, sharing information about their industry so each chapter can compare the benefits they’re receiving from employers.

This may help in future negotiations, since union leaders can point to these other industries as examples of how additional benefits or higher wages improve the company.

Cons of Joining a Union

While there are many benefits of joining a union, there are also some potential issues you should be aware of. While open shops allow employees to work at a company without joining a union, employees must join the union in a closed environment. Some employees may also fear that unions take away individuality, as the employees might feel pressured into agreeing with the union.

Union fees are also a common criticism, especially among employees who are happy with their employer and feel the union hasn’t actually done anything to improve the workplace.