A labor union is essentially an organization comprised of the workers or employees of a particular institution. The purpose of a labor union is to form a protective, intermediary barrier between the employees and the employers in order to safeguard their collective interests, as well as improve their overall working conditions.
A labor union is the representative of the employees in front of the employers in negotiations pertaining to their existing and future working conditions.
Labor unions, though present in both public and private sectors, are more common in the former rather than the latter, working to secure definitive improvements in wages, healthy working environments, and other issues for all the concerned.
How Do They Work
A labor union, also known as a trade union, represents workers in any particular career path or an entire industry. For example, there are separate trade unions for IT technicians and steel workers in the United States.
As of today, there are currently over sixty international and national labor unions across North America, which collectively represent a few million employees.
A trade union is formed and functions pretty much like a democracy. Employees from either the same business, region, or industry gather to form a group. They hold elections and vote for a party of competent representatives.
These representatives then form a bargaining unit, a group within the union, which interacts, communicates, and deals with the employers. With their demands and requirements, the bargaining unit conducts negotiations in good faith to reach a mutual agreement. Once the agreement is reached, the terms are noted, written down, and signed by both the union leaders and the employers, legally binding both into a contract.
The collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which lasts a set amount of time, cannot be altered, changed, or reverted without the mutual approval of both the parties. The union charges the union members a particular amount – a member’s fee – every month to cover their various expenses.
From a theoretical point of view, labor unions are the best intermediary between workers and their employers. However, reaching a balanced dynamic is never that easy. As such, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages of being part of a labor union.
The Advantages of Labor Unions
Some of the pros of being part of a labor union include:
- Higher wages
- Improved benefits
- Adequate compensation for their working hours
- Better working environment
- Fair health coverage for the employees and their families
- Increased safety protocols
- Greater job security (because the union determines disciplinary actions if need be)
- Better workplace collaboration and cooperation
- Maintained balance of power between employers and employees – the union can and does go to strike in a show of solidarity for their rights
The Disadvantages of Labor Unions
While there are definitive benefits, it cannot be discounted that there are a few disadvantages too. They include:
- The labor union joining and initiation fees. The membership dues can go as high as several hundred dollars per year. If used incorrectly, these dues have the potential to create internalized conflicts, especially when the members don’t agree with the money allocation.
- The possibility of cartel monopoly. It is believed that some major labor unions can be manipulated and are run by industry cartels that affect the job security of the employees.
- There is a significant loss of individuality and autonomy as part of a labor union. Some members may disagree with the union’s policies, but they still have to abide by them.
- The shift of power with seniority amongst the labor union itself. Newer employees are considered dispensable, especially when downsizing as compared to a veteran union member.
Though there are significant cons to participating in a labor union, it’s found that the pros far outweigh them. The benefits are too good for people to dismiss them altogether. As such, it’s safe to say that labor unions are here to stay.
However, for safety managers concerned about the drawbacks of a labor union, it’s highly recommended that they enroll their employees in workforce safety programs for improved compliance. There are convenient, accredited online courses for safety compliance available for both employees and employers. Find out more about workforce safety and compliance programs here.