What is a Union?

What is a union?

A union is an organization formed by workers who band together to have a voice in their workplace. Through their union, workers have the ability to negotiate from a position of strength with employers over wages, benefits, hours and working conditions. Unions help to ensure that employers act fairly.

By forming unions, employees can work collectively to improve working conditions and job safety, to resolve their grievances and to increase professionalism all around.Unions may also use their power to improve labor conditions, protect the middle class, shrink wealth gaps to balance the economy, assure equal access to public services and pursue other goals through legislative action.

Unions are democratic organizations and its leaders are elected by the membership. Most American workers have the right to form and join unions under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which encourages union formation. Still, millions of workers, such as farm laborers, domestic workers and managers are not covered by the NLRA . Organized labor is fighting to win the same union protections for these workers. 

Do union workers get higher wages?

Yes. Workers who are union members earn 26.2 percent more than non-union workers. The difference is even greater for women and people of color. Women and African Americans represented by unions earn between 29.7 and 33.1 percent more than their non-union counterparts. And Latino workers with the union advantage make 47.1 percent more than those not represented by a union.

Do union workers get better benefits?

Yes. Union workers are more likely than their non-union counterparts to have access to health care and pension benefits. Ninety-five percent of union members have health insurance and a pension plan available — versus approximately 68 percent (health insurance) and 63 percent (pension) of those not in a union.

Why do I need a union now?

Some politicians and pundits like to blame public service workers for America’s problems. They say we earn too much, our benefits our too rich, and we have too much political power. They slash our budgets and take our pensions. They give our jobs away to private contractors who pay lower wages.

But public service workers are the backbone of the American middle class. Together, we fight for prosperity and opportunity for all working families.

They want to privatize our jobs, strip us of our rights, and dismantle the services we provide to make our communities stronger and safer. No one who works for the public, no one who cares about supporting a family, no one who cares about building a strong middle class should let that happen.

We have to act now to stop the attacks on our rights and our ability to earn a decent living. That’s why helping more workers join unions and bargain for a better life is so important.

As a union, we work together to build political support for the vital services we provide. We make our families, our communities, and our country stronger.

What is collective bargaining and how does it work?

Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation between employees and their employer over wages, working conditions, benefits, and other aspects of workers' compensation and rights.

A committee of our co-workers — chosen by us — sits down and hammers out an agreement known as a "union contract" on every issue of concern to our bargaining unit. The union bargaining committee represents the united strength of all union members. The majority of members must then vote to approve or "ratify" a tentative agreement reached at the bargaining table before it can become adopted as a contract.

After the rights of public employees to collectively bargain for a middle-class life came under attack in 2010, working people in all kinds of jobs as well as students, community supporters, faith leaders and others united to defend this basic right.

The United States has long lagged behind other industrialized nations in collective bargaining coverage for public- and private-sector workers. Yet the right to collectively bargain is essential so that working men and women have the strength to improve their living standards, provide for their families and build a strong middle class.

Does having a union mean there will be strikes?

No. A strike is just one tactic available to workers to pressure their employer, and is a tactic of last resort. The decision to strike is made locally by you and your fellow workers.

It is rare when AFSCME members have found it necessary to strike to achieve dignity on the job. Members always make the decision whether or not they should strike. In most cases, a strong, well-organized local will not have to strike.

How does faith relate to worker justice?

Every major faith tradition embraced by working families includes in its teachings the call for fair treatment of working people. From Jeremiah's "Woe to him...who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing, and does not give him his wages," to Timothy's admonition that the rich "are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous," to the Prophet Muhammad's "When you hire, compensate the workers and treat them fairly," our holy writings are rich in guidance for behavior toward workers.

The commitment to workplace justice is a natural and historic common ground for the religious community and the union movement. 

Why do I need a union?

You work in public service because you care about your community. We can do more for our neighbors, our families, and each other if we speak with one voice. When we organize as a union, we gain the strength to make real change. Together, we speak with one voice that no one can ignore — not our bosses, not the people we serve, and not our elected officials at any level.