What Is a Labor Union? The Benefits of Union Jobs

What Is a Labor Union? The Benefits of Union Jobs

Working in a union job isn’t always on a job hunter’s to-do list. But perhaps it should be. Some people grow up in areas where unions are prevalent and it’s a natural goal. For others, their only experience with unions might be those represented in movies or television.

If you’re starting your job search or considering a career change, take the time to explore the benefits you can find in a union job.

Jobs with unions usually pay more than nonunion jobs and provide all sorts of benefits, such as health insurance, paid vacation time, sick days, mandatory daily breaks, and structured overtime standards. Found in almost any industry, unions are especially prevalent in industries such as education, teaching, and manufacturing.

Formal labor unions date back to the 19th century. However, union goals remain the same today—creating job security and better working conditions for members. Have we piqued your interest yet?

What Is a Labor Union?

According to Union Plus, “A labor union or trade union is an organized group of workers who unite to make decisions about conditions affecting their work.”

Essentially, as a union worker, you are no longer a single employee bargaining with a powerful company. Instead, the entire labor force and the company representatives agree on rules and guidelines that greatly benefit the employees as a whole. Meanwhile, the employees agree to a minimum standard, so the company is protected with an easily anticipated amount of work performed.

How Do You Land a Union Job?

There are two types of jobs for a labor union. First, the union requires an operational staff, such as the finance and communications department. Secondly, and more commonly, union members become employees of one of the companies or organizations covered under the collective bargaining agreement.

What Are the Benefits of Joining a Union?

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), there are many societal benefits to supporting unions. For example, statistics show that unions promote equity for women and chip away at racial pay disparities. Admittedly, the main focus on joining a union is generally the job security and better benefits those roles provide. But it’s nice to know that you’re benefitting society as a whole while gaining those perks.

Personal Benefits of Union Jobs

Higher Wages: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), union workers’ median income is higher than nonunion employees by 17%.

Better Benefits: While it’s not a hard-and-fast standard, most often, union employees generally enjoy better benefits. Whether this is the guaranteed vacation days allotted or the medical and dental benefits, many people seek a union job for the perks that help their entire family.

Job Security: Nonunion employees are generally “at-will” workers, which means they can be dismissed for virtually any cause as long as it is not a case of illegal discrimination. Union workers, however, are protected by their collective bargaining agreement, and the employers must have accurate and documented reasons for discipline and termination. Unique to union workers is an arbitration process when they have a grievance. Union workers have a union representative who solely supports them in ensuring that the bargaining agreement is upheld.

Embracing Seniority: Length of employment in a union job carries a lot more weight than it generally does in a nonunion position. A collective bargaining agreement ensures long-standing employees are the least affected by staff reductions. Tenured team members usually get first dibs at the favored schedules and an excellent selection for vacation days.

A Healthy Pension: Many unions offer pensions for members who meet specific standards (working for a certain number of years, not retiring before reaching a particular age, etc.). While the general trend has shifted to retirement investments, a pension with a guaranteed income dependent on years of employment can be very enticing.

Other benefits will be specific to the company and the agreement that each worker is governed by. So, where can you find a union job?

Common Industries With Union Jobs

With over 60 unions representing 14 million workers, there are a variety of industries to choose from. However, union roles are much more prevalent in specific sectors and states. Hawaii and New York, for example, have the highest percentage of union workers. In contrast, the Carolinas have the two lowest, according to EPI.

We’ve gathered a few of the more common fields where you’ll find unions are prevalent.

  • Public Sector: Some of the most recognizable unions cover public offices, such as police officers, firefighters, and social workers.
  • Transportation: The chances are that you might recall hearing about the local bus drivers’ union or the pilots’ union. Truck drivers are often part of a union, as are railroad conductors.
  • Health Workers: Less common in private practice, hospital workers will generally be a part of a collective bargaining agreement, ensuring fair and equitable work environments.
  • Manufacturing and Construction: Many larger construction companies, especially large-scale commercial projects, work with union employees.

Where to Find a Union Job

First and foremost, the easiest way to get a job with a union is by applying directly to the companies covered by a union contract. Depending on the specific role, apprenticeships are great opportunities to grow into a union career. This holds especially true for skilled workers, such as plumbers or electricians.

Start with the AFL-CIO website, where you can find a comprehensive list of apprenticeships currently offered.

The Center for Union Facts lists credited unions and shows historical stats around strikes and financials. They also have lists of current companies that hold contracts with each union.

Also, consider updating your LinkedIn profile and reaching out to your groups and other networks. Word-of-mouth is powerful in any job hunt, but even more so for competitive union roles.

Creating a Plan to Land a Union Job

Union jobs offer many benefits that may not be available to nonunionized employees. The best way to find union jobs is by focusing on the specific union’s resources. Most major labor organizations have job boards and databases where you can look for upcoming openings and apply directly online.

You can also set yourself up for success with an organized job hunt plan and a resume update. Consider meeting with a career coach to practice your interviewing skills or get your resume reviewed. Before you know it, you’ll be the prime candidate the next time your dream union job comes open.

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