How do you protect your rights as a worker? Who is there to help defend you against unfair and unjust work conditions? Both of these questions have an answer, and it’s a solution that many are familiar with. The answer is a labor union. From construction to teaching, there are labor unions out there for just about any field of work.
What is a Union?
A labor union, also sometimes referred to as a union, trade union, or workers union is a group of people who band together in areas such as a trade or industry to help improve areas in their field of work.
Such areas could be a work environment, pay, or benefits. Representatives are appointed within the group to negotiate a solution to a problem with the employer.
For example, the representative of a union group negotiates the desired benefits package that the employees agreed upon.
This process is known as collective bargaining and has been used by unions as an effective way to communicate their needs to their employer.
How Do Labor Unions Protect Workers’ Rights?
A labor union protects the rights of all members of the union. There is safety in numbers, and a labor union is a prime example.
When a large number of people band together for a common cause that they believe in, they are more likely to achieve their goals.
Once an issue is identified, such as employers exploiting employees by having them work extra without being paid, a union will jump into action.
First, they create a detailed description of the issue.
Once they complete that, they collectively vote on a solution that best fits the workers’ or employees’ needs. Finally, the union representative(s) will attempt to negotiate the solution with the employer.
These negotiations can take weeks or even months. Unfortunately, there are times when employers refuse to agree on a solution.
Such situations have sparked heated controversy in some fields and have ultimately led to what are called strikes.
A strike, or a complete stop of work, can also last anywhere from a few days to a few months and are typically only used as a last resort.
The History of Labor Unions
Since their conception, labor unions have been making history.
Take, for instance, the current state of American railroads. It seems an impending strike is ever on the horizon, as a solution that fits both sides can be impossible.
This is an example of how unions are making history today, but unions have existed for hundreds of years.
The first recorded workers’ strike in the United States was in 1768 by journeymen tailors protesting unfair wages.
Not long after, in 1794, shoemakers in Philadelphia formed what was called the Federal Society of Journeymen and Cordwainers.
With the industrial revolution in high gear, the landscape was fertile ground for unions to begin sprouting up.
During these early eras, other unions were formed to protect those who were traditionally excluded from such things.
For example, women, African Americans, and unskilled immigrants began creating their own unions to help protects themselves from unfair treatment and abuse. From then until now, unions have made their mark on American history.
Labor Unions: Pros and Cons
As with everything in this world, there are pros and cons associated with labor unions.
Let’s start with the pros:
- Unions protect workers’ rights.
- Through collective bargaining, unions can secure higher wages and better benefits for workers.
- Unions can create better work environments and trends that benefit workers across various areas, such as minimum wage, benefits, and paid time off.
Now, let’s look at some cons:
- If you want to be a part of a union, you will be expected to pay certain dues and fees.
- Seniority is often the focus of unions, making it difficult for new, high-performing employees to advance. While at the same time, it also makes the termination of poor-performing employees difficult.
- Unions can become expensive, especially when litigation and negotiation costs are added up if anything were to go through a grievance process.
- Labor unions are an integral part of the American workforce.
- Despite having some less-than-ideal sides to them, unions have many positive effects on society.
- History indicates that unions have contributed significantly to the protection of workers’ rights across a plethora of fields.
Connected Economic Concepts
Positive and Normative Economics
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