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.