Six reasons to unite with your coworkers in a union

1. Collective bargaining and a voice at work
Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation between an employer and a group of employees — often with their union representative — that sets the terms and conditions of work.

Collective bargaining results in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), a legally binding agreement that lays out policies agreed to by management and labor. While each agreement is unique to a given labor-management relationship, most CBAs include provisions that address compensation, scheduling, promotions, discipline and job standards.[1]

Collective bargaining can only occur when workers band together to increase their negotiating power. For instance, a single worker might feel that a certain new safety measure should be implemented in her factory, but she only has limited power to get the company to comply. If the entire workforce is made aware of the need for the new measure and bands together to pressure the company to install it, there is a much greater chance that the company will comply.

2. Grievance procedure
A major feature of almost all collective bargaining agreements is a grievance procedure, which provides a process for resolving disputes between management and labor over interpretation of the contract and in the event of employee discipline or termination. Union members enjoy many benefits and privileges that are not afforded to nonunion employees. One of the most important benefits is access to a grievance procedure.

Whenever an employee has a grievance, the union steward and management sit down as equals to try to remedy the situation. There are usually three or four “steps” (meetings) involving progressively higher-level union and management personnel. If the parties reach cannot reach an agreement at any step, then the issue goes to a higher level up to and including a neutral arbitrator who issues a legally binding ruling.

3. “Just Cause” protections
One of the most important reason workers join unions is to gain protection against unfair and unjust discipline. With exceptions for the building trades, entertainment unions and a few others, most contracts have a sentence like: “Employees shall be disciplined or discharged only for just cause.” Some contracts use the words “proper cause” or “fair cause.” The importance of a sentence like this is that it binds the employer to imposing discipline not just for any reason (cause) but the reason has to be a “just” reason. Many arbitrators have gone so far as to hold all employers to a “just cause” standard, whether the contract uses the words or not.[2][3]

4. Better safety and health
The labor movement has always led the charge to protect working people from workplace injury, illness and death. Working with allies, unions have won strong legal protections against hazards and stronger rights for workers. Through organizing and collective bargaining, unions have gained even stronger protections and rights that have given workers a real voice in safety and health at the workplace.[4]

5. Political action for social and economic justice
Unions are a watchdog for working people. The gains working people make at the bargaining table are strengthened by good laws that protect against exploitation. Corporations use laws to increase their profits by weakening working people’s rights and safety. The legacy of strong unions has led to weekends, overtime pay and the end of child labor. That’s why union members continue to raise their voices to be heard from the worksite to the White House.

During every political election cycle, business PACs donate hundreds of millions of dollars to candidates. While, labor-sponsored PACs only contribute about one-fifth of the sum as business PACs, it is still the largest source of political power for workers against corporate greed.[5]

6. Set standards in your industry or craft
The collective power of workers united in unions has a huge impact on wages, fringe benefits, total compensation, pay inequality, and workplace protections for all workers. Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%. Unions reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low- and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree.

Strong unions set a pay standard that nonunion employers follow. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries. The impact of unions on total nonunion wages is almost as large as the impact on total union wages.

The most sweeping advantage for unionized workers is in fringe benefits. Unionized workers are more likely than their nonunionized counterparts to receive paid leave, are approximately 18% to 28% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are 23% to 54% more likely to be in employer-provided pension plans. Unionized workers receive more generous health benefits than nonunionized workers. They also pay 18% lower health care deductibles and a smaller share of the costs for family coverage. In retirement, unionized workers are 24% more likely to be covered by health insurance paid for by their employer.

Unionized workers receive better pension plans. Not only are they more likely to have a guaranteed benefit in retirement, their employers contribute 28% more toward pensions. Unionized workers receive 26% more vacation time and 14% more total paid leave.

Unions play a pivotal role both in securing legislated labor protections and rights such as safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and in enforcing those rights on the job. Because unionized workers are more informed, they are more likely to benefit from social insurance programs such as unemployment insurance and workers compensation.[6]

[1] Jobs with Justice

[2] Basic Principles of Just Cause by Robert M. Schwartz.

[3] Labor Notes

[4] AFL-CIO: and Know Your Rights to a Safe and Healthy Workplace, National COSH Network:

[5] Center for Responsive Politics,

[6] “How unions help all workers,” a report by Matthew Walters and Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute, August 26, 2003



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Rand Wilson

Rand Wilson

Rand Wilson works as a union organizer and labor educator. He is a political activist in Somerville, MA.