Last Updated on March 10, 2021 by Filip Poutintsev
An organization that represents the rights and interests of workers to their employers, for example, to improve working conditions or wages is called a union.
In more simple words, a union is an organization formed by workers who join together and use their energy to have a voice in their workplace.
Labour unions are important organizations and have a significant impact on employees, businesses, and even the political system.
Power of labour union gives strength to workers to raise their voice regarding many issues such as wages, benefits, working conditions, safety, leisure hours, and other work-related issues and it also makes sure that the upper management respectably treats workers, not as slaves.
Australian Bureau of Statistics states that a trade union is “an organization consisting predominantly of employees, the principal activities of which include the negotiation of rates of pay and conditions of employment for its members.”
Since labour organizations are democratic hence the leaders are elected by the membership, through voting. A labour union also called a trade union or worker’s union. The most common purpose of these associations or unions is “maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment”.
A labour union negotiates on behalf of its members in a process known as collective bargaining which includes the negotiation of wages, work rules, occupational health and safety standards, complaint procedures, rules governing the status of employees including promotions, and employment benefits.
Table of Contents
- History Of Unions
- Pros of Unions
- Cons of Union
History Of Unions
The concept of a labour union was first originated in Great Britain and became popular in many countries during the industrial revolution. Unionization spread after the industrial revolution as the economy has grown, small businesses have become more prominent and responsible for the growth in the economy.
Trade unionism also has known as organized labour originated in the 19th century in Great Britain, continental Europe, and the United States. Smaller associations of workers started appearing in Britain in the 18th century.
In the early days, any act of organizing labourers was considered a crime. At that time union and unionists were regularly prosecuted under various restrain-of-trade and conspiracy statutes in both Britain and the United States. In the United States, the government-supported the first attempts of organizing labourers despite the strong resistance from the business.
By the 1810s, the first labour organizations to bring together workers of divergent occupations were formed, first, such union was the General Union of Trades, also known as the Philanthropic Society.
Trade unions were finally legalized in 1872 after a Royal Commission on Trade Union agreed that the establishment of the organizations was to the advantage of both employers and employees.
Pros of Unions
1. Union Promotes Higher Wages
One of the major benefits of unions is that it provides higher wages to the employees. Through collective bargaining, unions can secure higher wages. Union representation helps workers bring in significantly higher wages also many benefits like pension.
From data provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, unionized workers brought in an extra $800 per month over non-unionized workers. The average union member earned $917 per week before taxes, while the average non-union worker earned $717 per week before taxes.
2. Union Helps to Get Better Benefits
Unionized workers have much better chances to get essential benefits from the employer. Unionized workers usually pay less of a share of the benefits they receive, get vacation days, and have better access to sick days compared to non-union workers.
3. Union Makes Political Organizing Easier
The public has the power to change the political system, by channelling workers’ energies into national organizations, unions make it easier to advance political causes that working people support.
In short, unions amplify the political voices of their members. This doesn’t necessarily mean unionized workers always support the political agenda of their union, but generally speaking, unions help keep candidates focused on issues.
4. Unions Protect Workers Right to Work
Employers can fire employees for virtually any reason. Union looks out for workers so that they have a better chance of retaining employment. Unions promise them enhanced job security, fair play, and a level of defence against things like disciplinary action statements and warnings at work.
5. Unions Increase Workers Negotiations Power
The union helps workers by providing a better-negotiating environment. Without a union, workers have to negotiate their pay and benefits on their own but the union provides better chances of negotiations.
Unions operate under a bargaining agreement that is renegotiated after a certain amount of time and allows workers to negotiate for better wages and conditions after a certain period usually after agreement time.
6. Better Retirement Benefits
Unionized workers have better access to retirement benefits, Employees that are represented by a union in the workplace have better access to retirement benefits. Over 90% of unionized workers have access to a retirement benefit that is provided by an employer while only 64% of non-union workers have such benefits.
Cons of Union
1. Unions Can Discourage Individually
Working in groups tends to generate “group think,” which limits individual creativity, and sometimes workers may disagree with the discussion but have no option but to support group decision.
This suppresses the individual decision and has to follow “go with the flow” protocol. After all, unions make all decisions based on majority votes not based on an individual’s thoughts, opinions, or ideas.
2. Unions May Set Workers Against the Company
Most of the time unions give power to workers to raise their voices for a common goal such as wage raise, workers’ safety but it is also possible that unions might pit some workers against the company they are working for. This can hurt the culture of a workplace and create conflicts between management and workers.
3. Discrimination Exists in Union
Unions tend to put a lot of influence on seniority instead of education and experience because unions have their internal leadership structures and favouritism.
Someone who has been at a specific job or company the longest has better chances for a promotion or a job transfer but this suppresses the growth of the educated and skilled worker. In the case of layoffs, the least senior person is the first one to go no matter their qualification.
4. Unions Can Push up the Costs
Because businesses tend to pay unionized workers higher pay that has direct effects on production costs which in turn makes consumers pay higher prices for products.
It is stated that hiring unionized workers can be more expensive than hiring non-unionized workers. Due to this, businesses might lose clients and customers if their prices are too high for people to pay and might collapse the business too.
5. Unions Require an Initiation Fee
Unions aren’t always free, some unions charge initiation fees which must be paid to join the union in the first place. Union dues are often deducted from a worker’s salary which takes a serious chunk out of workers’ paychecks, union dues are the dues are 1.5-2.5% of what worker earns. Workers, therefore, pay a portion of their salaries to receive the benefits of union representation.
6. Adverse Relationship Between Labour and Management
Because unions “unite” workers to tackle negotiations with management they can sometimes lead to hostilities between labour and management. And the bad relationship between worker and management might have a negative impact on workers’ futures in that organization/company.
Concluding the article, like everything, there are pros and cons and their usefulness and benefits are largely debated, depending on who you ask. A labour union simply advocates for the rights of employees and fights for workers right hence ensures that every worker is getting proper benefits from the organization.
On the contrary, the union divides the workforce, made to pay for a membership, affects labour-management relations, and possess discrimination.
Pro-union workers believe unions are one of the basic building blocks of a strong working-class while opponents say unions are too restrictive and hurt working-class employees. It is dependent on whether or not the company is ripened enough for a unionized workforce.