• Choose Language:
  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
main content

Our Programs
Workplace Fairness Weekly

Workplace Fairness Weekly

Topic of the Week  Unions Yesterday and Today: The Basics

  • What are the benefits of being a member of a union?
  • How does a union get started in the workplace?
  • What is a collective bargaining agreement?

 What are the benefits of being a member of a union?

As a member of a union, you receive all the benefits achieved by the union in negotiating employment benefits with your employer. When your union negotiates payment and benefits on behalf of many employees, you are part of a much larger group that generally has much greater bargaining power in dealing with employers. For example, one worker may believe new safety measures should be implemented but may not be able to get his employer to agree. If more workers band together in a bargaining unit to pressure the company to implement the safety measures, there is a much better chance the company will listen. This is commonly referred to as collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining results in many positive benefits. The wages of union members are, on average, 30% higher than those of workers who do not have union representation; 93% of union workers are entitled to health benefits, while only 69% of non-union workers do; and 77% of union workers have a guaranteed, pension, compared to only 17% of non-union workers. In addition, unions often lobby for legislation and political candidates that are more favorable to employees.

How does a union get started in the workplace?

To form a union, a group of workers must either:

  • have the employer voluntarily recognize them as a union; or
  • have a majority of workers in a bargaining unit vote for union representation.

In either case, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) must then certify the newly formed union.

Once the union is certified, the employer is legally required to bargain in good faith with the union. The employer must come to the bargaining table with an open mind and a sincere desire to discuss the issues. Both parties must try to reach a settlement through negotiations, and when agreement is reached, they must sign a written contract, known as a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

What is a collective bargaining agreement?

A collective bargaining agreement (sometimes called a CBA) is an agreement negotiated between a labor union and an employer that sets forth the terms of employment for the employees who are members of that labor union. A CBA may include provisions regarding wages, vacation time, working hours, working conditions, and health insurance benefits.

Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place:

  • Management cannot reduce wages or change working conditions without first negotiating with the employees, through their union representatives. Employees are entitled to vote on changes made to their contract.
  • Your contract is for a set period of time and cannot be changed at will by a notice or announcement.
  • There will be no favoritism or change of policy to suit the whim of management.
  • Your union enforces your contract to make sure the employer abides by the rules.
  • Your union enforces your contract through a grievance procedure, in arbitration
  • For example, unions deal with practices regarding discipline and making sure proper procedures are in place so that employees are treated fairly. Most union members cannot be terminated or disciplined unless the employer has "just cause," as defined by the collective bargaining agreement, unlike most non-union employees in the private sector, who are employed "at-will," which means that employer can fire you or change your conditions of employment at any time and for almost any reason.

Thought of the Week

"It is clear that further support is needed to enable more people to report doping in sport. For this to happen, whistleblowers need practical and emotional support at every step in the whistleblowing journey. Evidence-based whistleblowing policies –- with explicit protections for whistleblowers and clear guidelines on when and how to report – are a key starting point for this and should be implemented and enforced. "

–Kelsey Erickson Research Fellow & Susan Backhouse Director of Research Leeds Beckett University

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

What Uber and the Koch Brothers Have in Common: A Plan to Destroy Public Transit

Uber—the Silicon Valley startup-gone-public—shares at least one goal with the most prominent funders of modern conservatism: the destruction of America’s public transit.

Top Five News Headlines

  1. What Wellness Programs Don’t Do for Workers
  2. Jones Day Sued for Parental Leave Bias Against Men
  3. Anti-Labor Group Urges Federal Government to Stop All Existing Union Payroll Deductions
  4. CEOs rake in 940% more than 40 years ago, while average workers earn 12% more
  5. ‘We Were Treated Like Dirt’: A Visa Program Exploits Student Workers

List of the Week

from Workplace Fairness

Top Discrimination searches this week:

  • Pay Discrimination
  • Sex and Gender Discrimination
  • Family Responsibility Discrimination
  • Religious Discrimination
  • Proving Discrimination



  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

Follow us on:


Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.