Labor Unions

Now, let's look at why unions exist, how they are structured, and how the collective bargaining process works.

Key Takeaways

  • Some workers belong to labor unions – organized groups of workers that bargain with employers to improve members' pay, job security, and working conditions.
  • Unions have a pyramidal structure. At the bottom are locals, who serve workers in a particular geographical area.

    1. Locals are usually organized into national unions that assist with local contract negotiations and negotiate industry-wide contracts.
    2. Nationals may be linked by a labor federation, such as the AFL-CIO, which provides assistance to member unions and serves as the principal political organ for organized labor.
  • When there's a discrepancy between what workers want in terms of salary increases, benefits, working conditions, and job security and what management is willing to give, the two sides engage in a process called collective bargaining.

    1. If everything goes smoothly, a contract is soon put into place.
    2. If negotiations break down, the sides may resort to mediation (in which an impartial third party makes recommendations for reaching an agreement) or arbitration (in which the third party imposes a binding agreement).
  • When unionized workers feel that they've been treated unfairly, they can file grievances – complaints over contract-related matters that are resolved by union representatives and employee supervisors.
  • If labor differences can't be resolved through collective bargaining or formal grievance procedures, each side may resort to a variety of tactics. The union can do the following:

    1. Call a strike (in which workers leave their jobs until the issue is settled)
    2. Organize picketing (in which workers congregate outside the workplace to publicize their position)
    3. Arrange for boycotting (in which workers and other consumers are urged to refrain from buying an employer's products)
  • Management may resort to a lockout – closing the workplace to workers – or call in strikebreakers (nonunion workers who are willing to cross picket lines to replace strikers).