18 Pros and Cons of Working for a Union

The United States has a long history of labor unions across various industries and trades.

Although membership has declined in recent years, unions are still a considerable part of workers’ rights.

According to an August 2022 Gallup poll, 71 percent of Americans support unions, which is a 6 percent increase from pre-pandemic, and the highest support percentage since 1965.

Labor unions work to advance member’s interests through numerous benefits, but there are also plenty of downsides that potential members should be aware of before joining.

Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of working for a union!

Pros of Working for a Union

The most common advantages for joining a union include:

Ease of Political Organizing

Unions can advance and amplify political causes that are supported by the working class.

While this doesn’t mean unionized workers support the union’s political agenda, the group mindset helps keep candidates focused on the challenges a typical American worker faces, whether or not they are unionized.

Union organizations epitomize the term, power in numbers, which often helps critical issues get addressed.

Easier to Handle Disputes and Complaints

Unions are set up so that complaints and disputes with other workers and management are more easily managed.

Members are entitled to utilize grievance processes to raise complaints about specific situations or individuals.

Some unions even often subsidize legal fees related to disputes, wrongful termination, or discrimination, which can be a major benefit for those who may otherwise not be able to afford an attorney.

Economic Trend Setters

Before unions were established, worker protections didn’t exist within the economy.

Although the entire U.S. workforce is not unionized, union politics and regulations impact trends benefiting workers across all industries and roles.

For instance, state and federal minimum wages are dictated based on union politics.

Also, overtime rules at certain companies and many OSHA guidelines were incorporated by unions to ensure employee safety.

Improved Upward Mobility

One of the results of higher wages is greater upward social mobility, which leads to a better quality of life.

For those with families and financial obligations, having higher negotiated wages due to the union results in easing that financial burden.

This means families can take more frequent and relaxing vacations to return refreshed and relaxed.

In addition to having a significant positive impact on physical and mental health, this makes the employee more productive.

Professional Development Opportunities

Some unions offer union members professional development opportunities to further improve their careers.

For those who are in fields that require continuing education, this is an excellent chance to learn more about industry trends, refine existing skills, and complete educational requirements to maintain licensure.

Many union-sponsored courses are taught by other unionized industry professionals, which makes the learning process easier since all instructors understand the challenges of the workplace and field nuances.

Promote Higher Wages

By utilizing collective bargaining, unions secure improved benefits and higher employee wages.

Although the focus is on union members, worker benefits spill over to non-unionized employees.

Furthermore, many companies raise wages for non-unionized workers to compete and gain the best talent for skilled positions, which is indirectly driven by unions and collective bargaining agreements.

Stronger Voice

Many non-unionized employees won’t speak up about specific working conditions or situations for fear of losing their jobs.

This mentality is common across all industries, trades, fields, and positions within the global economy.

However, union workers are better protected by unions, so they feel freer to speak up about workplace problems without a strong fear of retaliation.

While this can lead to constant complaining about every detail, those who wish to voice their opinion about key issues are more empowered.

Worker Protections

The most obvious benefit of working for a union is that the organization offers worker protections, which is the original reason unions exist.

Non-union employees are at-will in most states, so employers can fire them for almost no reason.

Union members have additional protections such as being terminated due to just cause.

Employment termination is incredibly difficult as it must pass through a grievance or arbitration procedure to be approved.

Cons of Working for a Union

The most important disadvantages of joining a union include:

Create Adversarial Relationships

Since unions “united” employees to address negotiations and issues with management, they often lead to hostilities between management and the workers.

For those who typically experience a divide between management and their employees, then this may not be a problem.

However, if you desire to work in a position where the management and labor lines are blurred with friendly relations, then unionizing may not be a good option.

Difficulty Finding a New Job

Although unionized workers receive higher compensation, it could be difficult for union workers to find a new position after leaving their current company due to the increased costs other companies must pay for said employee.

There are also various rules and safeguards a new company must follow with a union worker regarding hiring negotiations and litigation that they may not want to become involved in compared to a non-union worker.

Discourage Individuality

Regardless of if a worker agrees with the union’s decisions, they are bound to the rules and requirements.

In many instances, the only option for a unionized employee who doesn’t agree with the decisions is to resign.

Also, since unions organize in groups, the structure encourages group thinking situations, which discourages individual thought and creativity when approaching various situations.

The mindset is all about the group and not the solo worker.

Discount Worker Education

A major focus of unions surrounds worker seniority, so the longer they have been with the company, the more benefits an employee receives.

However, those with a similar combination of experience and education are often overlooked due to the seniority of a member who has been part of the union longer.

Therefore, a well-educated employee who could be ideal for a specific job may not gain the position because they have not been with the company for long enough.

Greater Challenge in Terminating Workers

Since unions protect the rights of employees, it’s difficult to demote or terminate underperforming employees.

These employees may even be promoted based on seniority alone.

This can be incredibly frustrating for well-performing employees who are motivated, innovative, and do the job well.

Within the union hierarchy, the best person for the job is not always selected since the structure does not focus on merit and performance as much as non-union positions.

Improper Fund Usage

Many unions spend union dues on six-figure salaries for management and other leaders while working in a beautiful and luxurious headquarters.

While this is not always the case, it often occurs which can be problematic for workers who are paying for employee rights, protection, litigation, and better benefits.

Also, since not all unions are created equal, some are more effective than others, so it can be difficult to spend your hard-earned money to see it going into union management’s pockets.

Member Participation Without Compensation

Unions often hold different events and activities to engage non-member workers or promote the union.

Existing members are often asked to participate in these activities to help answer questions or support the activity without being compensated for their time.

Although not all unions have events, be prepared to spend time working with your local chapter outside of work and without additional pay.

More Difficult to Promote Workers

With a focus on promoting based on years of service and not merit, more senior employees will receive better pay, rights, schedules, etc.

This results in a lack of advancement for high-performing or new employees.

For example, you could be the best employee to be promoted, but since workers focus on seniority, the next worker in line will be promoted.

Strikes Occur

When management, legal teams, workers, and union leads cannot find a common ground regarding pay, benefits, or conditions, union members may go on strike.

Different unions have various processes for strikes, so you may not be paid or may only be partially paid during this time, which can be detrimental to your finances.

There are clauses in bargaining agreements to financially support those on strike, but it may not be enough to cover your finances.

Luckily, most strikes do not continue for lengthy periods.

Required Dues and Fees

Unionized workplaces have two categories: open and closed.

Open businesses do not require employee fees or dues.

Closed companies require employees to pay dues and become union members before applying.

Some allow candidates to apply as non-unionized but then become members once hired.

Those who work as non-members must still pay fees that contribute to the union anyway.

The typical union dues deducted from the worker’s paycheck range from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent.

14 Pros and Cons of Working for a Union – Summary Table

Pros of Working for a UnionCons of Working for a Union
Ease of Political OrganizingCreate Adversarial Relationships
Easier to Handle Disputes and ComplaintsDifficulty Finding a New Job
Economic Trend SettersDiscourage Individuality
Improved Upward MobilityDiscount Worker Education
Professional Development OpportunitiesGreater Challenge in Terminating Workers
Promote Higher WagesImproper Fund Usage
Stronger VoiceMember Participation Without Compensation
Worker ProtectionsMore Difficult to Promote Workers
Strikes Occur
Required Dues and Fees

Should I Work for a Union?

Working for a union offers countless benefits but also has fairly serious pitfalls.

If you want to work in an environment where all employees are judged the same with little interest in advancement and do not mind paying dues, then a union is a good option to protect your worker’s rights and allow for better benefits and dispute structure.

However, for those who have management positions as one of their career goals, then either being patient for years or even decades due to seniority or not joining a union may be your best bet.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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