The word ‘union’ has been all over the news lately.

President Biden just pledged to be the most pro-union president in history.

Starbucks is actively fighting their employees from creating one. 

The newly established Amazon Labor Union (ALU) has had a very slow take-off. In fact, they just had a pretty big blow about a month ago when workers at an Amazon package sort center voted AGAINST joining ALU. 

To say a lot is happening in the labor force would be an understatement.

Deciding whether a union is good or bad is largely a personal choice. That decision also heavily depends on which side of the contract you are on. 

Let’s take an in-depth look at what unions are and why we have them. Then you can decide for yourself if a union is a product of evil, or meant to help those who have no voice.

A Brief History of Unions

Labor unions have been part of the United States since before we gained independence. They started forming in Europe during the Industrial Revolution.

The most famous trade labor union that still stands today is the American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded by Samuel Gompers in 1886.  During World War II, AFL and another union, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), both had huge expansions, resulting in a merger in 1955. 

Membership numbers and power peaked in the 1970s. Since then, private sector unions have been on the decline, while public sectors continue to grow. (Interestingly enough, Amazon is considered public sector, while Starbucks is private. This might explain the disparity between union formation between them.)

Today, most unions fall under the two umbrella organizations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation. 

The main goal of unions, from the start, has been to advocate policies and legislation on behalf of workers in the United States.

What Good Comes from Unions?

Here are a few of the many good things that come from being unionized:

  1. Union employees have been shown to have higher wages than a lot of non-union employees.
  2. The majority of union members have employer related health coverage, whereas about half of non-union members have job-related health benefits.
  3. Union workers are much more likely to have guaranteed pension benefits.
  4. Unions help protect from unjust dismissals through collective bargaining agreements.
  5. Unions have the collective power to go on strike. 
  6. Unionization improves workplace communication between the workers and the executives. 

What Bad Comes from Unions?

Here are a few of the negatives that can come from unions:

  1. Can contribute to unemployment by creating disequilibrium unemployment in competitive labor markets.
  2. Non-members aren’t considered. Unions only consider the needs of their members.
  3. If members go on strike, there is a loss of time in productivity, which can create an entire economic imbalance of supply vs. demand.
  4. Discourage individuality. If you are a member and don’t agree with what your union is doing, sometimes the only option is to resign. 
  5. Irrelevant in a gig economy. 
  6. Sometimes make it harder for people to receive promotions. Unions reward the longevity and seniority of their members. This translates to a lack of advancements for new employees and high performers. 

Why Should I Care About Unions?

Labor unions are an integral part of the US labor force. 

They help set the standard for education and skill levels required to keep people safe in certain positions. They fight for good working conditions. They’ve proven, again and again, to improve the quality of life for workers. 

Unions also paved the way for workers to have some say in wages, hours, and many other issues that arise in the relationship between employee and employer. 

Unions have contractual agreements that provide far more protections than state and government laws. 

Did you know in the state of Texas there are no federal or state laws requiring employers to provide rest breaks? If the employer CHOOSES to allow breaks, they are then mandated by the federal government to pay for those breaks up to 20 minutes in length. A union can fight to have paid breaks as part of their contract.

Why Should I NOT Care About Unions?

Some people want no part in unions as they are highly politicized.

Others find it silly to have to pay dues.

Still, others feel they have no real say in a union as they are represented by a few leaders who are supposed to have their best interests in mind. 

If you happen to be a gig worker, unions can’t do much of anything for you yet. (There are people trying to unionize independent contractors but haven’t had much luck yet.)

Union representatives are fighting all over the country right now. Canadian labor unions are winning some of the biggest wage increases in over a decade. Microsoft is getting ready to buy Blizzard Activision and has pledged neutrality in unionization for workers. More than 150 Starbucks stores across the US have petitioned to unionize. Yet only one Amazon warehouse has unionized. 

Not everyone thinks unions are great and it’s a hot topic on the table right now. 

What are your thoughts? Do you want to join a union or stay out of it all? Maybe your company is fighting to keep a union from forming and you are ready to find a new job that gives you the choice. Maybe you don’t want to pay union fees and don’t want the pressure to join.

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