What is a Union?

Learn what Unions Do and Why You Should Join

Improving the Lives of Working Families

A labor union or trade union is an organized group of workers who unite to make decisions about conditions affecting their work. Labor unions strive to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our nation. 

Who are Union Members?

There are over 60 unions representing over 14 million workers throughout the country.

No matter what work you do, there's a union that represents your work, including:

  • Teachers
  • Miners 
  • Firefighters
  • Farm workers 
  • Bakers
  • Engineers 
  • Pilots
  • Public employees
  • Doctors 
  • Nurses
  • Plumbers, 
  • Bus drivers, 
  • Office workers
  • Computer professionals and more are all union members
Benefits of Belonging to a Union

Higher pay, better benefits, and a voice on the job. These are the main reasons to join union. As a union member, you have a collective voice regarding:

  • Pay and wages
  • Work hours
  • Benefits - including retirement plans, health insurance, vacation and sick leave, tuition reimbursement, etc.
  • Working conditions
  • Workplace health and safety
  • Ways to balance work and family
  • The best ways to get work completed, and other work-related issues
How do Unions Work?

Unions work like a democracy. They hold elections for officers who make decisions on behalf of members, giving workers more power on the job.

A local union is a locally-based group of workers with a charter from a national or international union such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) or United Auto Workers (UAW). A local may include workers from the same company or region. It may also have workers from the same business sector, employed by different companies.

How to Form a Union
  1. It starts with the formation of a bargaining unit,  a group represented by a union for dealing with an employer. 
  2. It is legal for employers to try to persuade employees not to unionize. However, it is illegal for an employer to prevent employees from unionizing through threats, violence, and other coercive action. 
  3. An employer is required by law to bargain in good faith with a union, although an employer is not required to agree to any particular terms. Once an agreement is reached through negotiations, a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is signed. 
  4. After a CBA is signed, an employer can't change details of the agreement without the union representative's approval. The CBA lasts for a set period of time with the union monitoring to assure the employer abides by the contract. To learn more about collective bargaining and how unions work, visit CollectiveBargainingFacts.com.
  5. As with many other organizations, union costs are paid by member dues that typically cost about $50 a month. Most unions have paid staff to manage their operations. While some staff may be paid by union dues, members also often volunteer.
Setting the Standard

Additionally, unions set the standard. According to an Economic Policy Institute report, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries. 

Visit the AFL-CIO website for more information about the difference being union makes.

Everyday Benefits to Help Working Families

The collective buying power of union members is also used by Union Privilege to negotiate consumer benefit programs for working families.

Union Plus benefits and discounts are for union members and Working America members. Benefits include everything from financial services and legal services to discounts on AT&T, travel, car rentals, flowers, and more. Benefits also include unique assistance for workers facing financial hardship due to disability, layoff, strike and more. 
NOTE: No union dues money goes into the development or operation of any Union Plus program.

Can't Join a Union?

Working America defends the interests of working people who do not belong to a union. If for some reason you can't join a union, but want to support your fellow working Americans and fight for good jobs and a just economy.

Learn More about
Working America

Working America has over 3 million members — workers without the benefit of a workplace union. They use their collective power and resources to demand that politicians address the priorities that matter most to working people--not just wealthy special interests.

Using strength in numbers and the collective buying power of the affiliation with the AFL-CIO, Working America also provides its members with benefits and discounts for day-to-day life.

As a Working America member, you'll automatically be eligible for Union Plus discounts and benefits, including, but not limited to: