What is a Union & How Does a Union Work?(Latest)

A union is a cohesive group of workers who unite to collectively negotiate with an employer regarding pay, benefits, scheduling, and other workplace policies and conditions. This process of negotiation as a unified entity is known as collective bargaining, empowering workers to influence the terms of their employment.


The size and scope of unions can vary significantly.

For example, you might have come across news about the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, representing over 1.2 million individuals across various occupations in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Notably, the Teamsters union represents 340,000 UPS workers and recently secured a deal with UPS after threatening a strike.



Similarly, you may have read headlines featuring the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents 11,500 screenwriters, or the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), representing 160,000 performers. Both these unions are currently on strike, refusing to work until their demands are met by employers.


What is a Union

A union is an organized group of workers who join together to collectively represent their interests and advocate for better working conditions, wages, and benefits in the workplace.


What is a Union?

Let’s delve into how unions operate

Forming a Union

To establish a union, workers must follow official steps to demonstrate their interest in forming one and gain recognition from their employer. There are two common approaches:


Voluntary Recognition

A majority of employees sign union authorization cards, indicating their interest in unionizing. Subsequently, they can request voluntary recognition from the employer, who can comply.


Majority Vote in an Election

If the employer doesn’t voluntarily recognize the union and at least 30% of employees sign union authorization cards, they can petition for an election conducted by a labor agency, such as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If the majority votes in favor of unionization, the labor agency certifies the group as a union, and the employer must negotiate with them in good faith.


Joining a Union

In a unionized workplace, membership is optional. All workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement form a bargaining unit, and they don’t have to be union members to be part of it.

Union members pay dues, participate in union activities, and follow union rules, with the dues funding various union operations, including staff payment, lobbying, and supporting members during strikes.

In certain states with “right-to-work” laws (26 states), workers can’t be compelled to pay union fees as a condition of employment, even if they are covered by the collective bargaining agreement.


Negotiating as a Union:

The primary purpose of a union is to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, which typically covers pay, benefits, time off, working conditions, and worker protections.

Union members actively participate in deciding the contract’s content, electing union representatives, voting on changes during negotiations, and approving new agreements.

Unions may make “common good” demands, proposals that go beyond the bargaining unit’s interests, and impact the broader community.

Union Workers in the U.S.

As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 14.3 million workers are part of a union, with the number increasing by 273,000 from the previous year. Despite this increase, the percentage of U.S. workers who belong to a union is at a record low of 10.1%, down from 20.1% in 1983.

  1. About one-third of federal, state, and local government workers are part of a union, whereas only 6% of private sector workers are unionized.
  2. Occupations with the highest unionization rates include protective services (34.6%), education (33.7%), utilities (19.6%), and construction (16.4%).
  3. Black workers have higher unionization rates compared to white, Hispanic, or Asian workers, with 11.6% of Black workers being union members.
  4. Notably, there are approximately 16 million workers represented by unions, including 1.7 million individuals who work in union-covered jobs but are not affiliated with a union.


What is collective bargaining

Collective bargaining is the process in which a group of workers, represented by a labor union or similar entity, negotiates with their employer or management to reach agreements on various aspects of employment, such as wages, benefits, working conditions, and other workplace policies. The purpose of collective bargaining is to give employees a unified voice and leverage in setting the terms and conditions of their employment, fostering a fair and balanced relationship between workers and employers.



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