Opinion: Why you should join a labor union

Union membership has more benefits than people realize


‘We Support Starbucks Workers Union Efforts’ Courthouse Plaza Arlington (VA) December 2022. Via Ron Cogswell.

In our society, corporate greed has caused rampant inflation, the average working class American is struggling to pay their bills and real wages have stagnated since the 1960s, all the while corporate profits are at a historic high. When a worker is facing less than favorable conditions, their best option is to join a union.

Union’s not only give worker’s an opportunity to collectively demand more favorable working conditions, but they also crucially give workers a sense of community and belonging to something much bigger than themselves.

This sense of community compounded with the substantially better benefits that unions provide pay off for workers beyond just financial considerations. As the saying goes, “live better, work union.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a labor union is a group of two or more employees who join together to advance common interests such as wages, benefits, schedules and other employment terms and conditions. Historically, unions fought to shorten the workday from 10 hours to eight and also got workers an extra day off during the week instead of just one.

You can thank the resilient efforts of early 20th century labor activists for entitling you to a weekend and establishing the 40-hour work week. Some of these strikes were so deadly that International Workers’ Day is based on one of these conflicts.

The most obvious reason why you should join a union is because they are linked to higher wages. In California, workers in a union make around 13% more than their non-union contract.When 60% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, a union will help workers fight for living wages. Workers threaten a company’s profits by going on strike or refusing to work and picketing the company.

To put this into perspective, a $15-an-hour minimum wage worker in California would instead earn $16.95 an hour with a union. A $31,200 salary off a 40-hour work week is now a $35,256 yearly salary. Every dollar counts when food and housing keep rising on top of an expensive healthcare system.

Another benefit of union membership are the extra benefits you receive compared to the average worker. Union workers have higher rates of employer-provided insurance and access to paid sick days than non-union members. These benefits are all the more important because of the low benefits workers in the United States offer compared to other industrialized nations. In fact, the United States is only 1 of 6 countries in the world that does not offer maternity leave.

With only 11% of American workers unionized compared to 23% in the European Union, it shows that a greater number of union workers brings stronger wages and benefits to the entire workforce.

Unionization also gives workers more leverage against their bosses. Every working person has experienced a bad manager at some point in their life, whether they have a negative attitude or go as far as denying you breaks and lunches. With a union, workers’ grievances are given the opportunity to gain much more momentum and thus, are taken more seriously by management as worker solidarity has a higher likelihood of interfering with profits. A union can easily call for a strike compared to an unorganized workplace.

Unsatisfied employees not covered by a union may want to consider creating one of their own given the numerous benefits and protections it offers. The National Labor Relations Board states that only 30% of workers need to sign a petition card to hold an election, so it is actually easier than most people imagine. From here, only a 51% majority is needed to win a union vote.
Recent unionization drives from Starbucks and Amazon show how the most extreme corporations will break labor laws in order to defeat union elections, and if all fails, they will choose to not recognize the union. Corporations recognize the power unions hold and do whatever possible to stall recognition until the federal government has to intervene.

With the number of union workers growing by 200,000 in the past year, it seems that workers are beginning to understand that a union is the key to an economically viable future. Don’t fall for anti-union propaganda as only your bosses don’t want you to recognize the strength of worker solidarity.