ask the readers: what have you liked and disliked about belonging to a union?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have a question that I’d love hearing from your other readers about. Growing up, most of my exposure to unions was through pop culture, which usually portrays them as either corrupt and full of lazy thugs, or a great thing that we don’t need anymore because employers aren’t like the robber barons of yesteryear, and don’t we have it so much better now? I recently realized I don’t know a whole lot about these organizations that have been (and are) powerful economic and political forces.

I’m interested to hear from readers who actually are/were in unions – what do they like and dislike about it? What’s the day-to-day effect on their lives? How did it come about (unionization at an existing job, required to join in order to get a job, etc.)?

Readers who are in unions or have been in the past, will you share your experiences?

{ 614 comments… read them below }

  1. Schnoodle HRM*

    I had a partially unionized workforce, I work in HR. It was nice to just call the union and say we needed X journeyman or Y apprentices. They had a program to go from apprentice to journeyman so it was nice for people to start a career in.

    That said…union benefits were terrible, and their pension plan was nice except for…it was broke! I couldn’t help employees on their benefits and it made ACA reporting hell. Their STD payments if they were out on an injury, was $150 a week. Who can live on that?!?

    One pro on the benefit side though, it didn’t matter WHO they worked for, as long as it was “through” the Union, they could keep their insurance if they went from Employer A to B to C, back to A…whatever, as long as they kept working with the minimum hours required they were good to go. And they were W-4 EEs for us so I don’t know how they truly kept up that well. They were pretty disorganized.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      I work in a field that is highly unionized (entertainment industry), and I’ve definitely seen that people’s main criticism of their union or guild is along these lines. That it doesn’t offer good enough benefits, pay scales are too low/not enforced, and the union both isn’t powerful enough to advocate for its members in contract negotiations or isn’t doing enough to help members find work.

      To me — as someone who has never had a union-eligible job — this actually sounds like the best possible critique, because it shows that unions are good and needed, they’re just not strong enough. We need stronger unions in this country.

      1. Sharon*

        The DGA and WGA don’t exist to help members get jobs. These sorts of Guilds, along with SAG-AFTRA, are more concerned with protecting members than recruiting new members. The skilled trades unions—IATSE, etc— are more in line with traditional union activities.

        1. new in academia*

          IATSE is good because it gives members recourse if there is unsafe practices on set, requires mandatory OSHA workshops, and enforces stiff penalties for overtime/missed meals/missed breaks, etc. I was in TV, but non-union (I was a culinary producer which was so niche it hadn’t been included under the IATSE umbrella, although I believe it is now in some sort of art/set dressing capacity.) I know a lot of my friends that are IATSE art department or props but work primarily in reality struggle to get on union shows where they can earn enough hours to maintain their benefits. There’s also the massive fees you have to pay to enter, which is why I always hoped to be working in an art role on a show that flipped so I could be auto-inducted.

    2. AATD (Acronyms Are The Devil)*

      STD payments? Sexually transmitted disease payments?
      ACA reporting hell? Association of Canadian Archivists? Actual Crazy Arrangements? Artists Create Art?
      Thanks for the mild acronym-related chuckle (MARC, not to be confused with MAchine Readable Cataloguing).

  2. Emi.*

    I joined my union recently and am outraged to discover that I don’t get a literal union card to show to the union guard upon going to the union hall when a meeting it was called.

    …this is probably not very useful, sorry!

    1. Emi.*

      Okay here’s something maybe useful: I’m a federal employee, so (as far as I understand) there’s only so much the union can do — right now there’s a dust-up about mobile email access, which they can negotiate with the agency, but the things that matter to me personally (paid parental leave! that’s literally it) are up to Congress, so while the union could theoretically lobby (I think? I’m still new to this) there’s nothing they can do in terms of regular collective bargaining. But our dues are low, so that’s nice!

      1. Business manager*

        I took a MPA (Public admin) HR course this past spring and learned that federal unions are way less powerful than private organization/state level government unions are-negotiating rites are only allowed for certain things. I have since forgotten the exact details and can’t quickly find a good summary.

      2. LizM*

        I feel the same way about our (federal) union. But it was nice to have someone to go to when our manager started putting in place some really random rules, and seemingly enforcing them against a few people. Our HR primarily looks out for the agency, so it’s nice to have a non-HR person who can still help navigate those situations.

        1. Cacwgrl*

          This basically sums up my thoughts on unions as well and I’m on the federal HR side. I function more as a PM and liaison to the HR specialists for the programs, and I’ve found the union representative does much of the same for his shop. I’d heard so many bad experiences from the HR side about dealing with the union that I had a negative image to start, but I have to be honest, I love having the union representative. We have a great relationship where I can share with him things that are coming up, as well as heads up on potential issues and he does the same for me. The employees are comfortable talking to him and he’ll facilitate conversations immediately. He’s helped me prevent issues and concerns from becoming potential LER actions and I think it’s mostly by being the voice of reason and by articulating concerns more clearly than the employees have.

          When I was in private industry, we avoided bidding known unionized work and the one union contract we had was with us as the sub, so the prime contractor had to deal with all the issues. It was an employer friendly state where the union was constantly raising the flag on us. Sometimes it was warranted, but sometimes it was completely blown out of proportion. I’m very grateful for the situation I have now.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’m in HR, and though I haven’t worked at a unionized workplace yet, I’ve worked with a good number of people who have. As far as I can tell, it all seems to come down to the quality of the union rep you’re working with. If you’ve got a good union rep, doing HR in tandem with a union is no worse than without the union, and can even be better – but if you get a bad union rep, it becomes a nightmare. And it seems that there are enough bad apples out there that a lot of HR professionals get soured on unions in general.

        2. Anne Noise*

          “Our HR primarily looks out for the agency…”

          I’m also in a government union, and this was a key realization. In theory we’re a two-pronged workforce – Union and Management – but in reality we’re a three-pronged workforce – Union, Management, and the HR/Legal Entity that is the District. Once we started fighting against HR instead of trying to work with them, we made major strides in standardizing workplace harassment language, trans/gender policy, working from home, etc.

    2. mrs__peel*

      Ha, I grew up in a very lefty family and that was my bedtime song for the first several years of my life! :)

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Literally the first song I was able to sing all the way through by myself was “[I Dreamed I Saw] Joe Hill [Last Night]”. I still slightly resent that Stephen King’s son uses “Joe Hill” as his pen name.

  3. kc89*

    I’ve only belonged to a union once, and I got the short end of the stick because I knew it was a temporary job while I was looking for a better job, so I had to pay $50 each paycheck but wasn’t there long enough to reap any of the benefits really.

    1. Nanani*

      I had a similar experience. I was at a student job that was unionized, but all the benefits were for people spending their careers there, people in non-student positions, that sort of thing. I still had to pay dues (admittedly less of them) but saw zero benefits and knew from day one that I never would because there was never a question of the job lasting past graduation.

      My office jobs after that were non-unionized, and now I’m a freelancer.

      I do support the idea of unions and I think there’s value to them though.

      1. Alcott*

        I had a similar experience for a job I worked in college that was seasonal. I paid union dues for the union to negotiate benefits that only applied to the regular, year-round employees. And that job only paid me minimum wage.

      2. No Union wish I could be*

        Your benefits came on your next job. You know things like OT after 40 hours, vacation time, minimum wage.

      3. A username for this site*

        I had a similar situation also. It was a paid staff position in a research lab where most of the other employees were academic researchers (postdocs), grad students, and unpaid undergraduates working for course credit.

        I was told that I had to a) join the union and pay dues or b) not join the union and pay a service fee equivalent to dues. The union rep emphasized that it was very important that I join the union because it prevented my boss, a professor, from mistreating me, making false allegations against me, underpaying me, etc.

        Which would be great, but the professor I worked for was one of those “I don’t care what you do as long as the work’s done correctly” type of people. So the union saddled me with this really detailed timecard where my “butts in seats” time had to be recorded super carefully [I could only work 40 hours per week, not 39:45, not 40:15], and my vacation had to be approved weeks in advance by some admin in another department who I’d never met, and my boss didn’t care how I managed my time. From talking to other people with that position, it turned out everyone either lied on their timecard and came and went as they pleased, or literally sat in a seat doing nothing for hours on end after the office had emptied out because lying on one’s timecard felt unethical.

        It probably should have been a salaried position, not an hourly one.

        1. doreen*

          Here’s the thing though- if you mean the union came up with the ideas for the detailed timecard and the admin you never met approving your vacation, that would be an extremely unusual union. Because as a general rule, unions don’t care if your employer pays you for more hours than you work and they don’t care who approves your vacation. It’s far more likely that the union simply agreed to the detailed timecard that management wanted in exchange for something the union wanted – or perhaps management wanted a more timeclock like system and the union got them to compromise. Management at my sister’s agency wanted them to use software that operated like a timeclock, where signing in populated the entries.The union fought it, because there is a contract provision that says members shall self-report their time and cannot be made to use a timeclock. So instead, they have a timesheet where they make all of their own entries. And their time worked plus leave used must add up to 37.5 hours each week – not 37 and not 38. The union would have been fine with anything that wasn’t a timeclock- even a timesheet that says they worked 7.5 hours each day or even just “present” or “absent” – management wanted the detailed records.

          And as far as the vacation approval goes, I’ve belonged to three unions and supervised people who belong to an additional two – and while all of the contracts had sections about vacation requests and the deadline for a supervisor to approve/disapprove vacation, none of them had any language about who a position’s supervisor was. That was always a management prerogative – in every contract I’ve ever worked with, the contract would have allowed management to appoint an “admin in some other department” as your supervisor even thought the professor assigned your day-to day work. It makes sense for some jobs, not so much for others.

    2. BigTenProfessor*

      Did you get paid at the wage rate negotiated by the union? Then you benefited from the union.

      1. David*

        Not if the negotiated wage took into account the benefits that would only be realized by being long-term.

        1. Anne Noise*

          This. My union accepted an agreement that I voted against because it adversely affected new hires at the cost of the long-timers who were retiring anyway. It’s made it harder to hire new staff since our “cost of living” increase was based largely on internal historical metrics rather than the actual costs of living in the CA Bay Area.

          There are other ways temps, interns and seasonals benefit from the union – standardized work expectations and job descriptions, social and cultural protections, non-management/HR advice about advancement and protecting yourself.

          But yeah, pay was not a great win for us this negotiation cycle. :|

          1. BenAdminGeek*

            That is something I see often- new hires are adversely impacted to benefit those with longer service. I get why it’s done, but it’s definitely not ideal.

      2. Les G*

        This. Were your working conditions acceptable? Then you benefited from the union. Even non-unionized workers benefit every damn day from union victories like, oh I don’t know, the eight hour work day?

        1. Jadelyn*

          While I understand the sentiment, I don’t think it’s helpful to get combative about someone saying that the union they belonged to, specifically, not just unions in general, but that specific union didn’t benefit them because they weren’t there long enough to reap most of the benefits of it. We all benefit from the labor movement in general, but you can acknowledge that and still not feel that you’ve benefited from a specific, particular union you belonged to. Expressing the latter does not diminish the former, and aggressively and condescendingly defending the former to someone who expressed the latter is not helpful to the discussion at all.

          1. Working Mom Having It All*

            I think what people are trying to say (perhaps not well expressed) is that, because the sector you worked in was unionized, your company used union labor, etc. you had access to many unspoken benefits of union membership that did not come in the form of a pension or the like. I’ve worked in union shops or in fields that are heavily unionized (and thus influenced by the union), and I’ve always found that even as a non-member, they tend to be saner workplaces. In my entertainment industry career, while I never had a union-eligible job, because unions tend to rule how every aspect of production works, even people who aren’t members tend to benefit. Union bylaws dictated the length of our work days, how breaks worked, gave us paid holidays and sick days (because it would be difficult to adjudicate which individual employees had access based on union membership, this was given to everyone as a matter of course), etc. With union payscales in place, it didn’t make a lot of sense to drastically underpay everyone who wasn’t in the union, so the rising tide of union pay lifted all boats to an extent.

            As a non-member, I’ve never had access to union health benefits or guaranteed payscale, but my daily work life is better for proximity to the union. Not just for abstract things like the 5 day work week, but specific things like getting overtime pay and free dinner if I work over 8 hours. Because that was a union rule, and workplace morale would be shit if only union members got that.

            1. Les G*

              This. Union benefits go way beyond your pension.

              It’s disheartening, though not surprising, to see all the anti-Union sentiment in this thread. Folks here love to ask “is [insert X totally legal but not nice] thing my boss does illegal?” Of course it’s not illegal, but it might be against your union contract if you had one. Or, as Working Mom points out, if you are adjacent to a union your boss wouldn’t do it even if they technically could.

            2. Jadelyn*

              Oh, I understood that just fine, and I don’t even disagree with it. But that’s not what was being said.
              What was SAID was a sarcastic, condescending snark about gains made by the labor movement as a whole (“union victories like, oh I don’t know, the eight hour work day?”), and unless the union you’re adjacent to only just, themselves, personally won an 8 hour workday in the last contract negotiations, that’s not a useful or helpful (or even accurate) rebuttal to someone saying “I personally didn’t feel that I personally benefited from this specific union that I personally belonged to under these specific circumstances.” If you intend to comment constructively on invisible benefits that particular union might have procured for you even though you didn’t realize that’s what it was, then comment on that, and I’ll probably agree with you – but I’m not going to feel the need to respond to what Les G probably meant, when what they said was rude and condescending and unhelpful.

              Like, gods forbid someone have had a less than perfect experience working under a union. Apparently being anything less than unrelentingly positive about not only unions as a concept, and the historical progress won by the unions, but each. and. every. single. specific. union. out there, is “anti-union sentiment”. Which is ridiculous, and that’s what I’m criticizing here.

              1. Les G*

                Got it, so you understood my comment just fine but chose to leave a reply nitpicking my tone.

                If you think there’s not anti-union sentiment all over this comment section (and I’ll thank you to notice that I was not referring to the specific comment I was replying to, but the whole post), I don’t know what to tell you. Folks are parroting every anti-union line in the book. Unions make it impossible to fire bad workers? Check. Unions create antagonism between bosses and emoloyees? Check. These misinformed ideas are the result of a culture of anti-union brainwashing, and I won’t apologize for pointing that out.

                1. bunniferous*

                  I think the point being made was that people like me, who have never ever been in a union, live in a state that is not known for being pro-union, could be put off by comments we might perceive as snarky. I am reading this thread to be educated, after all, right?

                  No organization is perfect, they all have or are capable of having good points and bad points. That is just life.

              2. Working Mom Having It All*

                The eight hour work day is a great example of how you specifically benefit from either your union or being union-adjacent.

                There is no federal law covering everyone that requires either employers to offer a guaranteed eight hour work day to everyone, or in many cases, to pay for overtime beyond 8 hours assuming you’re still working a 40 hour week. You absolutely could be required by your employee to work 4 10-hour days or 3 12-hour days, with no overtime pay.

                But your union contract can require an 8 hour day. THAT is what unions are for. The pensions and health benefits and such are just an added side bonus.

                In film, the union contracts not only include a cap on the number of hours per day/in a row that workers can be on the job site, as well as mandated breaks during that time, they also dictate pay structure for overtime beyond a certain number of hours. Film shooting days that go over 12 hours start incurring what is called “golden time” for union members (which I think is double time but might be more than that?), which makes it extremely expensive to shoot longer days. This ends up putting a cap on the number of hours people are asked to work (union members or not) because at a certain point it’s financially prohibitive to the employer.

                If you’re a union member, and you don’t work enough days on union projects to be eligible for the pension plan, you sure as hell get to pocket that golden time money, as well as benefiting from the times the shoot didn’t opt to go into golden time because it would have been an outrageous expense for the production. Without the union, you would work 16 hours and be thankful that you got paid for all 16.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      Yes, I support unions in general but I admit that this is my own experience with them. I wanted a summer job working with the state (I was 21) and I was told that union dues were a mandatory deduction from my paycheck. I did not personally see any benefit from it, but I understand that big-picture it is probably a positive thing for many state workers writ large. Unfortunately this has been my only experience as a union employee, so I had to overcome an initial rather negative first impression.

      1. halmsh*

        It might feel like money for nothing, but know that when contract negotiations took place the union with your colleagues probably fought long and hard to ensure fair pay and working conditions!

        I recommend anyone coming into a job with a union reach out to their unit members to ask what was won in their last contract negotiations. When I was part of a bargaining committee, we were pushing for things beneficial both in long and short term. Pay and benefits were a huge part, but also things like channels for feedback about managers, flex time, comp time policies, etc – all things that short term staff could benefit from.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        Let me clarify when I say “I did not personally see any benefit from it,” because clearly there are things – like weekends off – that all employees benefit from that are the result of union activities. I was speaking from my perspective as a 21 year old employee who had held a string of other comparable summer entry-level jobs, before that one. I meant that I was not conscious of any difference in salary or working conditions at that union job than I did at my previous entry level nonunion jobs: I was paid minimum wage and was scheduled in shifts (was not full time) just like at other jobs.

  4. Reinhardt*

    My very brief experience with a union was when I worked in a grocery store in high school. The grocery store required me to join the union as a condition of working there (legal here in Illinois). The union didn’t really do anything for me. I got no pay or benefits beyond what state law required. I was paid $6.50 an hour, which at the time was Illinois minimum wage. Of course, the union was more than happy to take a chunk of money out of my paycheck each week on top of what was taken out for taxes.

    Even though it’s been more than twelve years since I left, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I’ve been skeptical of unions since (fortunately never had another job that required me to join a union).

    1. Reinhardt*

      Updating to edit that it ‘very brief’ wasn’t the best phrasing, I was there for over a year.

    2. What's with today, today?*

      My BFF has worked at a grocery store (in OK) since we were 16, literally the only place she’s ever worked. We are 37 now and she’s in management. One of the reasons she’s stayed is because of the union. She essentially can’t get fired because of all the protections they have.

      1. What's with today, today?*

        And it works both ways, while BFF is an excellent employee, she complains that some that are always late, absent, ect. can’t be fired b/c of the union.

        1. What's with today, today?*

          Also her insurance is way better than mine, and image doesn’t have to pay for it.

        2. anon-e-most*

          That was my fiance’s complaints when he worked at an airport (unionized). He was unable to get promoted or decent working hours even though he was, statistically, the top employee and recognized constantly for the work he did. It would have been ok but, because the union protected it’s employees so well, he ended up seething in resentment watching people make MUCH more than he did while he would literally have to do their jobs for them because they would simply decline to and spend all day in the break room if it was raining or too hot or too cold or whatever. He’s got a strong work ethic and worked extremely hard and in return was just constantly given the work of more and more people, with no ability to request a pay raise or promotion because of union rules regarding seniority. And his wage was…pathetic. After union dues and child support, he was bringing home less than $400 a month (and we live a very expensive city) while working full time.

          I don’t deny that we all have a lot to thank unions for (someone above mentioned 8 hour days, etc) and this experience is obviously 100% anecdotal but it showed us both that we are better at places where quality is not quite so compromised by seniority. That said, if he had been closer to 20 than 40 and able to live at home with less bills and a more flexible schedule, it absolutely would have been much more bearable and a great career opportunity. So… in my very limited experience, there’s good and bad – like anything else – and it’s best when things stay in moderation.

          1. Rachel in NYC*

            I work at a university and we’re split union/non-union employees. But we’ve internally discussed how rare it is for an employee to be fired. Not that an union employee can’t be fired but management tends to let the situation get worse and worse because of the issues of both firing and hiring a new employee. (It is admittedly equally rare for our managers to fire a non-union employee so this is an across the board policy.)

      2. PeanutbutterJellyTime*

        Oh yeah! I forgot about that aspect of union work. We get a ton of notice for layoffs, depending on length of service. First dibs at job openings or transfers. And a long documented process for firings, which is mostly great but can be an issue when a problem employee is able to work the system.

      3. DataGirl*

        Not being able to fire people isexactly my problem with unions. I was also part of a grocery store union when I was a cashier years ago and watched people steal, show up late/no show, cuss out managers or customers, and have the union always cover them so that they could never be disciplined or let go. And these people knew how to game the system, they couldn’t care less about being a good employee.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Well, you can fire people in unions, but you actually have to document the problem instead of saying ‘I don’t like Fergus’. We see this a lot in schools where administrations do some really bizarre things until the nice building representative has a wee chat with them–stupid things, like not letting a teacher with a broken ankle have a stool to set it on. And people have been fired (the building rep looks at some people and says, ‘good luck and God bless’, like the Special Ed teacher who had students run down to pick up her pain meds and then kindly offered to share them with some of the students. Of course, the police were called on that one, but still…).

    3. michelenyc*

      I also worked in a grocery store in high school and was required to join the union. Fee’s weren’t too bad for a courtesy clerk. When I was in HS it was considered to be a pretty good job to have because it paid way more than minimum wage at the time. The one sucky thing though is the amount of hours I had to work to get a raise were insane. I never got a raise at that job because of that. It really sucked.

    4. ThatGirl*

      Was it The Jewels? I have heard they’re all union.

      Unions are still very big around here, and while I understand the idea of worker protection, it seems like they are also shorthand for corruption, patronage and laziness. (This is also Illinois politics in a nutshell.)

      1. K*

        And that’s why I just moved out of Illinois.

        Didn’t Rauner recently win a case that people who don’t want to join unions don’t have to? I think that means for high school kids working at The Jewels part time don’t have to join and pay fees.

        1. Reinhardt*

          He did win a case, but it was for public sector unions. It dealt with the first amendment, and private unions aren’t bound by the first amendment.

        2. ThatGirl*

          Yeah, he did. And it has potential far-reaching effects for other states.

          I don’t feel strongly about unions, but I do feel strongly about Rauner, in that he is terrible.

        3. local employee*

          You’re talking about Janus vs. AFSCME, which was one of the premier Supreme Court decisions of the most recent term. It created a national right-to-work environment for unionized state and local public sector workers, where employees who do not join the union cannot be required to pay agency fees for their representation in bargaining. This is similar to how Federal employee unions already operate. Private sector unions are still permitted to require agency fees, so the grocery store worker still has to pay (unless they are in a right-to-work state).

          1. TardyTardis*

            But of course the freeloaders are still represented by the union contract, lucky them! What a pity that we can’t have it where only the people who pay get the union contract. People would join pretty fast in that case, because let’s face it, most employers would take advantage and pay the nonunion people less.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Look, I know the name of the store is Jewel-Osco, and I usually just say Jewel. But it’s a Very Chicago Thing to call it “da Jewels,” that’s what I was poking fun at :)

    5. Shrugged*

      I was in a union at a grocery store in CA in HS for the same reason, and with the same results. In addition to taking a chunk of pay out of my paycheck, twice a year I was required to drive to the nearest union headquarters, about 45 minutes away, to meet with my union rep. I was a high schooler without a vehicle, and these meetings took place during hours I would normally have been scheduled; I was paid for my time at the meeting but not transit to-and-from, which took a significant chunk of that week’s pay.

      I took worked there 10 months before leaving to work as a camp counselor… lower pay, but room and board were covered, and no-one expected me to ride busses for hours for free.

    6. The Other Dawn*

      I worked for a grocery store from when I was 16 until I was 21. We had to join the union. What I liked was having consistent, schedule pay increases and not being able to be fired for any old reason (although it’s a pain when you want to fire someone else). I don’t remember much beyond that since it was a long time ago. I remember hating having dues taken out of my paycheck.

      My dad was a union steward at his company for many, many years. It was the Teamsters. Again, I really don’t remember much about it since I was a kid, but he definitely had strong feelings about certain things that just don’t translate to the many non-union work environments. Many times I was told that I should tell the boss “this is how it’s going to be” and that I’m not getting paid enough to do X. Stuff like that. He never understood that certain things just need to get done and that, yes, I’m paid very well to do X even though it might be outside of normal working hours (I’m exempt).

      1. BenAdminGeek*

        Yes, I’ve seen this as well. The “union mindset” (not meant to be a criticism, just what you described about your dad) doesn’t translate well into certain jobs/industries.

        1. Electron Whisperer*

          Yep, joined one once (for the cheap public liability cover that I needed for a specific job!), basically otherwise a waste of time IME, and the stupid bloody rules…

          I am being paid for 8 hours if the most valuable thing I can do in that time is sort out a blocked drain instead of whispering electrons, fine, not bothered, I get paid either way. It needed to be done, but don’t try citing “demarcation” at me when nobody else is doing the job (Yep, the bloody steward tried telling me I could not lift a manhole and stuff a rod down the pipe because I was not a plumber, (we had no plumbers on staff!) I suggested some other dark places full of s*!t that might benefit from the drain rod).

          Same thing with overly detailed rules about breaks, if I am in the middle of something complex then maybe I push lunch back by an hour to avoid losing a head full of state, don’t see how me deciding to do that is union business, but there is a certain kind of steward who loves to stick their nose into that kind of decision.

          My major beef is the whole demarcation thing, some of us are acceptably skilled at MORE THEN ONE THING, and quite like practicing those skills when the opportunity arises.

          As to management, meh, they get too insane I just fire them and go get myself some new managers, plenty of candidate companies out there, you just got to go interview them to pick yourself a good one, no biggie.

    7. Arya Snark*

      I once worked for a health insurance administrator that managed the benefits for a grocery workers union and had to join that union to work there. I don’t recall if there was a fee (if it was, it was small) and they didn’t really do anything for our employees. The only benefit I can recall was that everyone knew what everyone else was making. I didn’t like it at the time because I was new and there was a lot of resentment from people who had been there a long time because I made more than they did and they knew it. I couldn’t blame them and most didn’t hold it against me though, but I would appreciate that kind of transparency now.

    8. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      Is that even legal, since a requirement of your job was essentially that you work for less than minimum wage? (Genuinely curious)

    9. Happy Lurker*

      I also worked for a union in HS and some of college. At first I was resentful of the dues. It seemed excessive when I was making $3.85 part time for 15-20 hours a week (yes, I am old). It was a large store, more than 100 employees at that particular site.

      I had a couple decent years there, then my managers changed. The first one was great and helped me immensely. We got a new dept manager and she disliked me from early on. Small errors were written up. She would roll her eyes when I would ask to use the rest room, etc.

      I had come down with a nasty case of bronchitis and then mono. My manager and the HR person decided that I needed to go on a leave of absence. They were hoping that I would quit.

      I took my leave of absence and came back 2 weeks before my automatic termination. I asked for a reduced schedule. Manager refused to put me on the schedule. I got a doctors note. Manager told me she could not work with the stipulations of the note and she would not put me on the schedule. I asked her point blank if she was aware that next week was my automatic termination date and she replied yes. I can’t remember if there was a hint of smile, but I certainly have that impression.

      Little did they know that I had both read the union handbook and had two family members in the company that advised me to go to the union. I found my store rep, told my tale, and then spoke to the VP of the union who set a meeting with a district manager. They both decided that I could keep my job and only work 4 hour shifts and not past 8pm. My manager never spoke to me more than absolutely necessary after that. It was a relief. She also stopped writing me up for silly mistakes.

      So, 2 years of annoyance was wiped away in a very short period of time. When managers are abusing their power sometimes it takes a union to fix it.

      1. Joan Callamezzo*

        When managers are abusing their power sometimes it takes a union to fix it.

        This. I belonged to a union when I worked in healthcare. I had issues with the amount of dues and the fact that my professional organization and union were essentially the same group which meant neither function was done as well as it should be, but towards the end of my time there management starting forcing staff to do mandatory OT including double shifts. I’m embarrassed to say how long it went on before someone thought to inform the union reps but they shut that sh*t down IMMEDIATELY. They also negotiated a new contract for us that was certainly better than what we would’ve gotten without them–a coworker who was on the negotiating committee told me, rather shocked, how absolutely vicious and contemptuous the hospital’s lawyers were to/about employees in their meetings.

        My brother works for a major transport company you’ve certainly heard of and worked for years to unionize them. The company fought hard (and dirty) every step of the way, but he and his colleagues were successful. Literally everything about his work environment immediately improved: schedule, health benefits and sick leave, training, pay, you name it. He considers it well worth the time and effort.

    10. jennifer*

      I had the same issue with the grocery store I worked at in HS (Indiana, but bet it was the same chain as yours).

      There weren’t any benefits to someone under 18 who was only working part time—sure there were insurance options, but I was already covered on my parent’s insurance (which was better anyway). There might have been PTO benefits (maybe??) but because I was part-time, it wasn’t significant at all to me.

      I think they’ve changed their policy now in requiring everyone to join, my mother-in-law worked for them last year (same store I used to be at), and they didn’t require union membership.

  5. Mike C.*

    I work adjacent to two large unions (one white collar, one blue collar) and the effect is huge. I get to share in many of the benefits offered to them. Things like lots of paid vacation, paid overtime and so on. I’ve also seen first hand the development and use of serious and ongoing employee-driven safety improvement programs that help everyone.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      Yes! The safety aspects of unions are huge. I would say perhaps especially in unionized sectors that people don’t think of as being particularly unsafe–office workers, etc. The union guarantees me an ergonomic workspace, regardless of whether our office manager would spring for one.

      1. PeanutbutterJellyTime*

        Yup. It’s so nice to have the health & safety officer evaluate my workspace and write a ‘prescription’ for decent furniture. My partner has to make do with disgusting handmedowns or buy her own.

        1. Chinookwind*

          The side effect of this is that, if a shop wants to stay non-union, smart management will mirror the non-financial benefits unions bring in. My current workplace is non-union (and it shows in wages) but also values safety, gives decent benefits, tries very hard to keep as many guys on a possible during lean times and is open to anything the employees bring up (within reason).

          1. TardyTardis*

            You said ‘smart management’. Yes, good luck with that. Glad your place is intelligent, but would they bother without the existence of a union somewhere else?

      2. Dan*

        Yeah. I have a long background in aviation. Unions have been strongly influential in making aviation as safe as it is.

        1. MentalEngineer*

          My dad was an airline pilot and put in a ton of safety work with the union in his 20-year carreer. Some examples:
          Participating in crash investigations to push back on the universal narrative that every crash is “pilot error.” (Some are, but way fewer than the airlines want you to think.)
          Building systems for reporting safety incidents to a centralized database so problems with particular airframes could be spotted earlier.
          Doing research on pilot fatigue and attention and pushing for safer crew rest requirements.

          Importantly, any safety improvement that cost any money at all was usually accomplished only after years of fighting the airlines over whether it was really necessary.

    2. Artiste*

      I have also worked union gigs as a non-union worker (the union being the SAG-AFTRA), and the ripple effects are great. Safety is a big one — projects are required to have accident/workers comp insurance, there are rules about workplace safety, there are rules about the maximum length of any given shift, as well as rules about how long a period of rest time we must have before coming back to work. There are rules for the maximum amount of time we can work before we must be granted a lunch break.

      Plus there is the minimum pay rate. For non-union gigs, workers are considered independent contractors, and in some of the more terrible projects I’ve seen “help wanted” ads for, the day rate works out to less than minimum wage.

      I benefit from this because set conditions are going to be the same for everyone regardless of union status, and for small projects I’m not even required to join the union. I’d honestly like a shot at big projects and the chance to join the union. To a certain extent, my skills would be taken more seriously / given more value as a union worker, too — there’s the cachet of having “made it” if you’re in the union. Union members get additional benefits, of course, including the requirement that the employer pay into their pension and healthcare insurance that they have through the union, and the negotiating power of the union when standard contracts are being re-negotiated.

      SAG-AFTRA members tend to be very involved in union business, which I think helps in terms of minimizing corruption. They take their voting rights seriously.

      1. MamaCat*

        Ditto pretty much all that with IATSE and Equity; hello from the theatre! Both theater and film are rife with folks willing to work for cheap/free to break into the business and employers ready to take advantage of that, so it’s nice for the protection the unions provide.

        1. Capone*

          When companies work together to “protect” prices and prevent cheaper competition from underselling them this is called “price fixing by a cartel” and is generally regarded as a bad thing. In fact, it’s a crime.

          How is it any different if the thing being sold is labor rather than, say, heating oil?

          Would it be OK for BP and Shell etc to all get together and decide that they were going to set a minimum price of $5/gal for gasoline in order to prevent drivers from taking advantage of petroleum companies who were willing to sell for less?

          1. Jadelyn*

            Well, you see, different words have different meanings. “Wages” and “prices” are two different concepts.
            Also, human beings and companies are two wildly different things. And in any reasonable moral system, we value the lives of humans, who will die if they cannot afford food and shelter and such, more than we value the profits of corporations, who are not living things that can die. So, amazingly enough, if you change the critical words in a scenario to words that mean very, very different things, you change the meaning of the scenario and people feel differently about it. This is how language works.

            Hope that was helpful with any confusion you may have had.

            (PS the less snarky version of this also has to do with relative power – workers vs employers and businesses vs customers are two very different power differentials, which is why your example is useless. They’re not comparable situations at all.)

            1. Artiste*

              I love how these “counter-arguments” manage to completely forget/ignore power dynamics in their analogies. [rolleyes]

              1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

                It reminds me of the ‘free market’ argument of: Why do we need unions? Surely if a company doesn’t pay enough people will just leave and go to one that does?

                It’s frustrating to see people completely ignore context.

                1. TardyTardis*

                  I remember reading an old version of THINK AND GROW RICH, and even Napoleon Hill waxed very wroth about the practices of employers during the Depression. Want to work for a quarter a day? That was a possible thing back then. And of *course* people would have paid more without a union…

          2. Aunt Vixen*

            Because unlike people who perform labor, the heating oil is *meant* to be used up. It doesn’t have bills to pay and a family to support, and it doesn’t suffer.

          3. Devdas Bhagat*

            The power balance is weighted towards management, and corporations. Unions are one way for workers to talk to management.

            The alternative to union like structures is getting the government involved with legislation, and that is usually the worst alternative.

        2. Artiste*

          Yep… like any union, it acts as a barrier to the whole thing becoming a race to the bottom because workers are desperate and management is ready and willing to exploit that. Unions provide balance to what would otherwise be a pretty skewed power differential.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        Yep, as someone who has spent most of my career in IATSE-adjacent parts of the film industry, this is exactly how I would explain it. Especially for people with the short-sighted attitude of “had to pay union dues at my college summer grocery bagging job, saw NOTHING from it wah wah wah”. Like… the fact that the manager didn’t have you coming in to stock shelves at 2 AM means that yes, you saw plenty from those dues you paid.

        I can’t even list the number of union rules that protect everyone on a film set, not just individual union members. And the number of times I’ve seen those rules flouted on non-union projects that resulted in frankly barbaric working conditions.

        1. Artiste*

          For “fun” go on and google the early days of Hollywood, when extras would die on set because the studio totally needed that cool massive flood scene and they wanted it quickly and there was no one forcing them to take into consideration the safety issues involved in dumping half a million gallons of water onto a set filled with hundreds of people. []

          Unions have been responsible for getting us the baseline sanity of workplace expectations that everyone currently enjoys, including the 8-hour standard workday, weekends, workplace safety, and the minimum wage.

        2. TardyTardis*

          There are lot of good stories of Wal-Mart having their workers do just that, for free, if they wanted to keep their jobs.

    3. Cordoba*

      As a contrast, I’ve seen unions go to bat for employees who were doing profoundly unsafe things and make it difficult or impossible to discipline or fire them.

      The most egregious example was when I was working in manufacturing in the midwest, and a guy who was operating a forklift while high crashed it and hurt somebody else seriously enough that they had to go to the hospital.

      Surely this is a firing offense, right? The UAW didn’t think so, and protected him so thoroughly that in the end the only “punishment” he got was a revoked forklift license until he went back through the training.

      This was 20 years ago, though, I doubt the UAW has that kind of clout anymore.

        1. Cordoba*

          This approach does not seem to be compatible with “safety improvement programs that help everyone” if it extends to defending employees who hospitalize people because they were operating heavy equipment while cranked on angel dust.

          1. Mike C.*

            I think you’re conflating “defending” with “ensuring management performs the firing according to the contractural procedure”.

      1. Retired Accountant*

        A friend of mine dated a guy who worked in an auto plant (also 20 years ago, yikes.) He was fired for smoking pot in the plant parking lot after the lunch break. When she told me I said wow, what’s he going to do now? She said, the union will get him his job back. It took a few months but it did. Very safe environment.

  6. Amber Rose*

    It depends on the union. The one that Superstore forced everyone to join, for example, was awful. Never mind the fact that even low union dues hurt when you barely make minimum wage, they both severely restricted what kind of work could be done by who, and prevented the firing of useless people. Cashiers weren’t allowed to clean or face stock in down time because that was “stealing work” from the people whose job it was to do those things. And one dude put up a fight against literally every task for one health reason or another, but they couldn’t get rid of him, so he got paid to stand around.

    On the flip side, the union that my husband belonged to as a low ranking government employee was extremely valuable in protecting him from a vengeful boss and ensuring his wages didn’t get frozen, which is something he now deals with as an out-of-scope employee. The dues aren’t bad when you make decent money, and they’re tax deductible which is nice in April.

    All the unions I’ve known were just automatic joining upon hiring. My boss has said that if we ever unionize he’ll just sell the business or shut it down, which seems to be a pretty common feeling among smaller business owners.

    1. Carolum*

      You can’t be forced to join a union as a condition of employment in any state. I think the Supreme Court ruled that many years ago (in the 1940s, I believe).

        1. cheeky*

          Technically in this situation, you’re not paying dues, you pay agency fees, which account for the fact that you are protected by and benefit from the collective bargaining agreement. The difference between being a union member and paying an agency fee to the union is that if you’re a member, you can vote in union elections and some of your dues may be spent on political issues. If you pay agency fees, you cannot fully participate in the union and your fees might be slightly less than dues, because any moneys for political spending have been removed. The recent Janus v. AFSCME decision stripped public unions from the ability to require that non-member workers pay fees to the union, which was designed to weaken the strength of public unions by reducing the amount of money the unions receive.

          1. J.*

            Thanks for the concise explanation, cheeky! I’ve reached the point where I am so full of frothing anger whenever I see the oft-repeated misrepresentation about “required union dues” that it’s hard to manage it. :)

            1. Engineer Girl*

              Whether it is dues or agency fees it’s still money out of the paycheck. Where I worked, the amount taken out was exactly the same.
              I was really bothered by the fact that I had to pay AFSCME dues at a private hospital where I worked part time. As a part time worker I received no benefits. Yet I still had to pay dues.

        1. Middle School Teacher*

          Hahaha I was also part of that union! I really enjoyed my 25cents/hr pay rise back in 2001 ;)

      1. He-he-hello*

        You can’t be forced to join the union, but you can be required to still pay the “dues amount” not to the union, but as a donation to the charity of your choice so as not to disincentivise joining the union just because you’re not being paid enough. The money comes out of your check regardless.

      2. Lucky P.*

        To work above-the-line in entertainment at a professional level, you HAVE to join the appropriate union (DGA, WGA, SAG, etc.) You CANNOT be hired unless you join, because the companies/studios are guild signatories and have agreed only to hire union workers.

        That said, the entertainment unions are great. Great pay, great benefits.

        1. OperaArt*

          The problem is that SAG-AFTRA also makes it extremely difficult to join in a smaller entertainment market such as San Francisco. It can take a decade or more for a Taft Hartley opportunity or the collection of enough vouchers. Acting is my side job, so I don’t expect my way in to be easy, but even professionals find gaining membership to be almost impossible.

          That said, I’ve benefited from union protections as a non-union background actor on large union shoots.

          1. Artiste*

            Technically, it’s not difficult to join the union — all you have to do is pay the initiation fee, and keep up with your dues. It IS difficult to get to a place in your career where you can join strategically, since once you join you can’t do non-union work anymore.

            The difference is subtle but important — it’s not the union’s doing as much as it is the union-signatory studios being willing, or not, to hire you.

            1. Lucky P.*

              For many of the unions, though, it actually IS difficult. In order to join the Writers Guild, you need to have earned the equivalent of something like $70,000 of Guild-covered earnings, which means you need to basically sell a freelance script or be hired to write on a show which will guarantee you that amount of earnings, before the WGA lets you join. They won’t let just anyone join even if you are willing to pay the initiation fee (and the dues, at least for the WGA, are a percentage of your earnings.)

              1. Artiste*

                Of course — I was speaking to OperaArt’s post about SAG-AFTRA specifically. I have minimal knowledge of how the other unions work.

        2. Artiste*

          SAG has exceptions for ultra-low-budget / short films (both as defined by SAG), but largely this is true.

        3. boo bot*

          To build on this, I think it’s important to note that there’s a cause and effect cycle: entertainment unions are great BECAUSE the studios have to work with the unions, therefore you have to join one to work in the industry, therefore the unions are strong and robust, therefore the studios have to work with the unions, therefore… etc.

          There’s been erosion of unions’ power in a lot of sectors in the last decades, and I think that’s why it’s easy to look at one thing or another and say, “Unions don’t do much,” (although a lot of basic things like minimum wage laws come from early 20th century labor movements, so we’re still benefiting from that). The entertainment industry is, for all its flaws, an example of what strong unions can actually do.

        4. Working Mom Having It All*

          It’s not that you CAN’T be hired unless you join, it’s that, in those fields, there are thousands of other qualified people who are already in the union. If a DGA signatory project wants to hire you to direct, and you don’t want to join the DGA, they will just hire someone else who is willing or already a member. Likewise, you as a potential non-union director are free to go direct non-union movies all you want without being required to join the DGA.

    2. PeanutbutterJellyTime*

      A large outdoor media company I worked for had a unionized print shop until the company was bought by a larger company who promptly closed the print shop long enough to dissolve the union aspect, then reopened as non-union paying much lower wages for the same skilled work.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Mmm, yeah. See, that’s where which union is involved is more important than whether there’s a union. Some unions are awful. Some unions are vital to protect employees from employers who really are like old-school robber barons of yesteryear. And some robber baron employers get around them anyway.

        I like to think employees have more options to fight back for themselves as well though. And I know at least one company that closed in response to becoming unionized was successfully sued in court.

      2. TardyTardis*

        A prominent fruit basket company went ‘bankrupt’ to break the union and to dump their pension obligations on the government, and now they’re open again, desperately shilling for part time employees willing to take minimum wage and no benefits. One reason I no longer buy fruit baskets from them.

    3. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      My best union was with the Canadian federal govt. Excellent benefits which meant a lot as a single parent. The worst one was in hospitality. Our regional union rep used to come to town every 2 months, spend an hour in a closed door meeting with the non-union manager and then tell us how lucky we were to have a job.

  7. wilkzzz*

    I like that when I was fired illegally they managed to negotiate a substantial payout on my behalf which covered 6 months living expenses, allowing some peace of mind whilst job hunting.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      THIS is the flip side to the “I know a guy who they couldn’t fire because of the union, so he just stood around all day grumble grumble”. If you are disciplined unfairly, someone will have your back.

  8. Hamstergirl*

    In my experience unions are more about protecting and supporting the mediocre grumpy old white dudes and make it difficult for up and comers to get work and put non-union parties in a position to have to spend a lot of unnecessary money to do their jobs.
    (This is entertainment industry related experience though so it’s a whole different beast)

    1. LQ*

      This has been fairly similar to my experience in a white collar government work. I think a lot of it is about who your union reps are. Mine are…not great. Including one guy who (is no longer here) who was a frequent harasser, but now you have both the old white dude of the union and the old white dude of the management and it’s you against 2 old white dudes. And yes, you can just vote them out but that requires the rest of the people to move and do something which it’s easy to not do.

    2. Snickerdoodle*

      That was largely my experience working as a stagehand. We had useless grumpy old dudes who were on the A list and smart, hard workers who were on the D list. It was sheer hierarchy, no regard for actual work ethic, qualification, etc. at all. On the flip side, the freelancers were also subject to having their qualifications disregarded because of bosses who hired based on favoritism. The union typically paid better and was better about breaks, overtime, etc., but I ultimately refused membership because of the number of idiots who got steady work even though they were lazy or even dangerous to work with just because they’d been around longer.

      1. AutoFill*

        I’m currently working as a stagehand/technician in Canada, and while I haven’t joined my local because I do a lot of work in community theatre and non-union cultural venues with lower budgets, I’m well aware that many of the benefits I enjoy as a freelancer (the rates I can charge, the standard meal and coffee breaks I take, overtime and cancellation fees) are because the union has set the standard for the industry.

        I’d definitely agree that union membership does not necessarily mean that someone is great at their job or a safe worker, though.

    3. Anon this time*

      That was my observation of the entertainment industry unions when I lived in LA. I had a lot of friends trying to break into the industry (producing, camera, directing, etc.), and listened to their struggles. The root of the problem seemed to me to be that it’s all freelance work now – gig to gig. Without the stability of a single, long-term employer, the benefits that you got in terms of workplace safety, pay, and benefits (which I associate with unions) were temporary, in the best of situations.

      Moreover, it seemed nearly impossible for newcomers to get into those unions in the first place. You needed some magic combination of enough qualifying work before you could get in. And then once you were in, the dues came out of your pocket (whether or not you had a paycheck from somewhere). And if you weren’t working, you weren’t getting the safety/pay benefits — the biggest struggle for newcomers was just getting ANY work – they all seemed to be unemployed half the time I knew them.

      And while that union card finally got them access to group health insurance, I didn’t gather that it was cheap. Again, freelancers don’t get employers paying any kind of share of it. (At least not at the low rungs of the ladder.) You get the theoretically discounted group rate, but it’s on you to pay it.

      I don’t know, from the outside, the entertainment unions seemed like a bit of a racket, at least until you had achieved substantial career success.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Firstly, producing isn’t a unionized job. So your disgruntled wannabe producer friends were barking up the wrong tree in bitching about the union. Producing = management, not labor.

        In the film industry, the unions largely fill the gaps because of the gig-style work life. One film production isn’t going to offer health insurance to employees who will probably be on the job for three work weeks. So you string along from gig to gig, and the union provides that stuff.

        It can be hard to get into the unions, yes. A lot of them are little fiefdoms ruled by small-minded people who are mostly concerned with getting their kids into the industry and gate-keeping any other newcomers. Which sucks, a lot. A lot of them are fairly weak, as unions go, and can’t offer a lot (especially in terms of recruitment or helping members find work). However, having worked for the alternative, believe me, if you can join, you should join, and if you can work on union projects, you should opt for that.

        For the most part, the problems of the entertainment industry unions are that there are thousands of other people out there who want to break into the industry. There are pretty much zero highly in demand entertainment industry jobs. Which means that, unions or no, management will always have the upper hand, jobs will be thin on the ground, and people will always take care of their own before handing jobs out to a newbie.

        1. whingedrinking*

          Yup, this. Unions are interested in keeping their members employed, and what that looks like varies from field to field. Teachers’ and nurses’ unions, in my experience, are generally fighting to get people *in*, because they’re both professions with high rates of burnout caused by overwork. They’re constantly trying to get their employers to open up more positions to ease the workload on their members.

  9. Spreadsheets and Books*

    My husband is a member of CIR, as are most of his direct coworkers. It’s actually been great for us. The union presence in his program is notoriously extremely aggressive about contract negotiation, so we have free health/dental/vision insurance, generous raises, and annual rent increases of no more than 5%. He also gets overtime, which is relatively uncommon in his situation (from what we know). I really appreciate the union backing, particularly because his employer is kind of known for being a dirtbag in other regards and has fought hard to make the situation for employees worse than it already is.

    I know unions have an often-unpleasant perception – and I definitely recall a fight my mom had for years to get rid of my school orchestra director (who threw a stand at a child and was generally a horrendous instructor and dreadful person) that ultimately failed due to her union backing – but in our case, it’s nice protection.

    1. Mimmy*

      This is one of things that make me leery of unions – that it can be very difficult to fire people who are part of a union.

      1. Vin Packer*

        Honestly, this isn’t nearly as widespread as people think. You just have to do due diligence, and a lot of managers aren’t willing to fill out paperwork.

        Think about all the questions Alison gets here about underperforming employees, and how reluctant managers are to say *directly* “I will have to fire you if you don’t straighten up”; they always want to rely on hints and whatnot. Unions basically don’t let managers skip that part–there’s a process, and if you want to get rid of someone you have to follow it. To too many managers, “I have to give an employee more than vague hints and mind vibes before firing them” equals “employees are impossible to fire.”

        It’s not that a union has never ever protected a bad employee. It’s just that, to if I hear a story where the union “didn’t let” somebody fire somebody, my first inclination is that the manager didn’t want to put the effort into firing them through the proper channels, rather than that the union protecting its members is the problem.

        1. Amber Rose*

          My husband screwed up at work in a pretty dramatically bad way. His union rep basically flat out told him not to worry, that it would be impossible for him to get fired.

          Unions can make life hell for employers even with the proper documentation.

          1. Logan*

            I know my union has told bad employees that they are problems, and will support them within the scope of the rules (i.e will ensure that the employer’s paperwork is properly filled out and that they are following the proper steps toward termination) but otherwise the employee is on their own. And we work fairly diligently to advocate for our colleagues when management is a problem – the key is that we don’t automatically assume one person is right and the other wrong. Every union is different, and I’m really glad that ours is rational.

            1. MentalEngineer*

              I’m the contract enforcement officer in my union, and this is largely our policy. We also don’t have tremendously strong discipline/termination protections in the contract, and we’ve intentionally deprioritized bargaining stronger ones so that management can still fire people we all know deserve to be fired.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I don’t know the particulars of your husband’s setting but I have seen if a worker is overall doing a good job the union can back them if there is a problem, even a serious problem. There’s many factors that come into play, such as the work the person does, their history of behavior at the job, etc. I hope the rep explained the basis for why your husband should not be concerned. This could even be because of management problems upstream that factor into what your husband did, in other words there could be a larger story going on that your husband was not privy to.

          3. AMT*

            I worked with an admin at a previous job who basically could not do anything. She had the same title as another, higher-performing employee and had been there for years, but was given much lighter duties because she couldn’t be trusted with straightforward tasks and went into a screaming panic at the slightest hint of change. She had no computer skills, even though most of her tasks involved computer use. Her job involved booking town cars for clinical staff, which sounds simple (and it was!), but she constantly got the wrong address, time, or staff member.She was so oblivious to other people that she once blocked me into an elevator trying to barrel her way in while I tried to get out.

            The union protected her from being fired by at least three managers. They’re probably still trying to fire her today. I’m extremely pro-union and think that every worker should be unionized, but this is a great example of why a lot of people hate being in unions. Actually, this is a great argument for universal basic income, because I would rather my former coworker be pursuing other life goals or doing a lower-paying job that she could handle rather than trying to keep her head above water at a job that made her and everyone else miserable.

          4. sfigato*

            I’ve seen this play out a few times with unioned employees. A UPS driver was sexually harassing/stalking employees and when we complained, they said he was union and it was impossible to fire him (of course that scenario has played out the same way with non-union employees).

            I’ve also seen unions that protect their employees at the expense of the public/clients that they are meant to serve. A local transportation union has negotiated benefits for their members that make it really difficult to run the bus system in an efficient manner (limiting the number of part time employees which makes it hard to staff up during rush hours, allowing a high level of truancy before any disciplinary actions occur, etc). I think the police unions have done americans and their members a disservice by protecting bad actors.

            Then again, you read stories about amazon employees etc and realize that much of the wealth of this country is built on the backs of low-paid workers who have no union protection. So I’m not anti-union, i just think it isn’t a panacea.

            1. Working Mom Having It All*

              You realize that a lot of people simply hate the idea of penalizing people for sexual harassment in the first place and will make almost any excuse not to, right?

              I do (unpaid) work on the side in a creative field. Almost zero people who are part of this community are paid or are doing anything in an official capacity. It’s all volunteers and hobbyists, and a few freelancer types who are paid in cash out of the pocket of individuals who hire them. Organizations tend to be small and informal with few bylaws. Let alone there being anything like a union presence. And yet, when sexual harassment flares up in this creative community, authorities will come up with a thousand excuses not to penalize the person being accused. Sometimes even when there are criminal charges being filed against the person for very bad crimes like forcible rape. “Sexual harasser faced no consequences” is by no means a problem of organized labor.

        2. Spreadsheets and Books*

          In the case illustrated above, I do think the school system was hesitant to do the legwork. She was the only orchestra director serving three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school, and I can’t imagine that would be easier to hire for. She was stretched way too thin, which would have maybe been okay if she was good, but she wasn’t. She was awful. Throwing a stand at a child is unacceptable.

          1. Vin Packer*

            I am honestly shocked that wasn’t an automatic termination regardless of the other issues; how absolutely awful. Somebody should have been willing to do the work to get her out of there, for sure.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Makes me wonder about that union, what is going on with them that they think it’s okay to throw something at a child. Someone has some dirt on someone else, that can be an explanation here. “You fire Bob for throwing that stand and we are going to expose your decades of embezzlement….”

        3. Queen of the File*

          This is definitely part of the issue in my unionized workplace. People avoid conflict and avoid paperwork and so underperforming employees tend to get shuffled around rather than let go. There is also an issue where if the employee faced with potential termination provides a reason for their underperformance that is employer-related (such as not being provided with sufficient training/tools to do the job, which can be somewhat hard to prove or disprove) it seems like those decisions usually fall in favour of the employee keeping their job, for better or for worse.
          That said, I have seen people fired for poor performance, so it’s not unheard of. It just takes a manager who cares enough to try to address/improve the situation, and document the outcome.

          1. Le Sigh*

            The thing is though I’ve seen the conflict avoidance and shuffling around issue at a lot of non-union (even union hostile) places. It was easy to fire people and yet managers passed the buck repeatedly. Unions def. create hurdles, I just feel like this part is one that has more to do with managers/people.

        4. LaurenB*

          I understand this point that Alison makes, but to be honest in my experience it seems more like “it is possible to fire someone, if you are simultaneously an expert in employment law and HR policy yourself [because they “centralized” HR which drastically reduces our access], you have the time to devote 100% of your time to this process, the employee is so awful that it’s better to be without someone for the 1+ years it takes to do an external hire to replace them, and senior management will support you in the inevitable lawsuit by the union.” (See also having to be an expert in employment law to not screw up somewhere along the way.) Sure, in an ideal world we can all fire someone for underperformance, but it ends up being easier to keep people on for anything short of criminal behaviour.

        5. Le Sigh*

          I’ve worked in so many non-union places where it was perfectly possible–easy, even!–to fire someone and managers *still* didn’t deal with a problem employee that made my work life more difficult. In some cases for years.

          Yes, it’s harder to fire someone in the union, but it’s not impossible — I’ve seen it done twice! (The scale of this problem is also something I think tends to get exaggerated or used as an excuse.) And it’s not as if non-union workplaces are somehow free of this problem just because it’s easier.

          1. Indie*

            This isn’t an issue with unions in Britain because everyone has a contract anyway and everyone needs a verbal and written warning before being fired regardless of being unionised. I remember we had a trainee who was fired by our awful bosses who simply hadn’t bothered training her. There was absolutely nothing the union lawyer could do for her because she was still in the probation stage of her contract. Even if they had decided to fire a senior like me, the lawyers probably couldn’t have done much either unless it was frivolous or I ignored the substance of the warnings. This is true even though the union were not shy about striking or using their lawyers and we had lazy managers. It’s true too that I’ve worked in places where bosses simply don’t want the hassle of giving an employee warnings and they’d much rather let other employees take the slack than undergo the stress of rehiring. But they don’t blame the unions for it, they just avoid the topic. I never did enjoy paying dues though.

        6. Les G*

          This. Some folks need to read the “You may also like” before commenting. See where it links to an article called “no, it’s not ever ‘impossible’ to fire people”?

          1. Jadelyn*

            Do you always try to assign total strangers supplemental reading before they’re “allowed” to participate in a conversation? You must be a blast at parties.

            Gods forbid people talk about THEIR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES, in a thread which specifically asked them to do so.

            1. Les G*

              Removed. Please do not snipe at commenters here.

              (Jadelyn, I’ll make the same request to you, although I’m not removing your comment because I don’t think it was as egregious as this one.)

              – Alison

      2. Nonny Nonny (just for this)*

        The whole “impossible to fire” thing is what has me concerned. I live in a housing complex with a maintenance staff of unionized workers, and a few weeks ago there was an “incident” between two of them, apparently over one resident, that resulted in several residents being physically harmed, someone’s car being damaged, and apparently even one of them had a gun? Notices were put up that our board was in talks with the union over “disciplinary” action, but the fact that we have no more information is… not fantastic. I guess this is a little different… it’s not JUST a work place, it’s where a bunch of people live too.

          1. Vin Packer*

            School administrators in particular like to tell angry parents they “can’t” fire a teacher because they have tenure, rather than that they don’t want to or have no real reason to–it deflects their responsibility.

            Any teacher can be fired, you just have to (1) document the problems, (2) put them on a PIP, and then (3) except in extreme cases, they’re probably entitled to at least some of their year’s pay on their way out the door. This is a lot more work than just saying “you’re fired,” but it’s far from “impossible” and it’s also literally your job if you’re an administrator, so….

            1. Traveling Teacher*


              Rather than having continual arguments over whether or not “Looking for Alaska” fits into the curriculum, or that GLAAD is indeed an approved student org, or that teaching evolution is part of the curriculum, or that common core “new math” is the standard for the district, it’s a lot easier to blame the union for protecting teachers.

              It’s the equivalent of your parent saying to teenage-you, “Look, blame it on me if you don’t want to go to that party with your friends. Make me the bad guy. I will take the fall.”

              1. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

                My parents did this for my sister! There was a girl in our neighborhood she used to be good friends with when they were little, but around the tween/early teen years they became more like frenemies? They still spent time together and and my sister still thought she was a friend, but the girl was sometimes very cruel to her and sometimes my sister just wanted to get away.

                So my parents told her, when she calls home to ask if she can stay the night, if she *really* wants to stay, she should say “Can I have a sleepover with Jennifer?” And if she would rather come home but didn’t want her friend to be mad, she could say “Jennifer wants to have a sleepover.” So they would know when they should say “No, that’s not okay tonight” and play the bad guys on her behalf.

          2. OlympiasEpiriot*

            Absolutely. I remember my union parent telling me about a member who had been fired for vandalism coming to the union offices looking for support and no one, not his local, not the Council, would support him. All said basically, “you’re an idiot”. As he left, he slashed the tires of all the officers whose cars he could identify (many parking spaces had Pres./Secy-Treas. Local ### on them). So the union filed charges on him, too.

            *Insert eyeroll here*

      3. cheeky*

        It can be difficult, yes, but in my experience, that’s usually because the company or agency isn’t really doing their due diligence in documenting work issues. Union contracts provide due process for employees, but it is far from impossible to get rid of bad employees.

        1. Properlike*

          ^^^This. And frankly, for a real problem employee, any union worth its salt isn’t going to want to have that kind of trouble in its ranks either.

      4. Chinookwind*

        We are seeing that here in Canada with the nurse’s union in Ontario who inadvertently negotiated to protect the reputation of a nurse who turned out to be stealing drugs and killing patients. They literally knew about the drug stealing (but not the patient killing) but negotiated that the employer who did the firing not mention it in a letter of recommendation to future employers. Needless to say, there is an inquiry going on this summer that includes looking at union responsibility in the whole thing.

        Ironically, the union could have saved lives if they had been as interested in protecting their profession and the public as they had been in protecting one member.

        1. Middle School Teacher*

          Yes, that whole thing is a mess. I know some nurses here in my province, and their union is keeping a VERY close eye on the situation. I think the nurses are the strongest union in my province.

      5. Kelly*

        My late mother taught public school and for most of her career was at best lukewarm about having to be in a union. She did appreciate the benefit package, including having better insurance than my dad who worked in management at a manufacturing company. Part of her feelings were absorbed via my dad who has managed mostly union shops and hasn’t had great relationships with both the unions and their representatives. He was able to set his feelings about private sector unions aside enough to decide to have his entire family go on her state worker’s health insurance, because it was better coverage and cheaper than his. It was a bit of a reality check when she retired from teaching and they had to go on his insurance.

        She did appreciate having a union with the last principal she worked under who was very similar to Dolores Umbridge. This woman was walking proof of why they needed the union – she bullied teachers, many of whom had 15 to 20 years of experience teaching and was especially cruel to newer teachers who had not gotten tenure. Her contract wasn’t renewed after her second year and she’s in her third state and at least 5th school as a principal or administrator in a dozen years. Based upon her bio in her current job, it sounds like she may have been asked not to come back at a second school, where she had been hired after being fired from her job where my mom worked.

        1. C. C. McNally*

          My mom worked in a private school. Some of her stories are pretty bad. She was being harassed by a fellow teacher and the principle didn’t want to deal with the situation and just let it continue. Also, private school pay is MUCH lower than public school pay. It’s rough out there.

  10. Sandy*

    So for background, I belong to a white-collar, public sector union. We have an all-volunteer union executive, save for two full-time labor relations lawyers who handle actual contract negotiations and individual grievances.

    To be honest, I think I really used to take my union for granted. New contracts were magically negotiated with elves every few years, I guess? But then one year I volunteered for the union, and it really opened my eyes to how much my union does behind the scenes.

    I would liken my union to a condo board or strata: I pay them condo fees (dues) every month so I don’t have to worry about snow shoveling or liability insurance or common area repairs. I do still have to worry about the internal business of my “condo”, like asking my manager for leave, working out disputes with coworkers, etc. I don’t always *enjoy* paying my condo fees, but I am really glad there is a reserve fund built up when a pipe bursts in the parking garage.

    1. Katie*

      I’m in an government office job, and this has been my experience. We have some blue collar employees in the same union and the safety aspect is huge for them, along with “what happens if I work 8 days in a row?” which isn’t an issue for me. Our annual increases are terrific and insurance rates are reasonable.

      I have a friend in management at a different government agency and it did take her some time to fire a unionized employee. When people complain about how unionized employees are never fired, it’s usually because their mangers are too tired/lazy/burned out to work through the process. My friend diligently followed up and while it took longer than private sector, it was resolved fairly quickly.

    2. curly sue*

      I hear you on the magical contract elves. I’m in a union for adjunct academics and adjacent to one in the entertainment industry (I occasionally get gigs through them but am not a member – not enough local work in my specialty to make it worthwhile), and I love them both. Raises just show up automagically once my credit hours click over to the next category! I don’t have to face down a tribunal and justify why my work should earn more! When there’s a grievance there’s a clear protocol and chain of command, and most importantly, I have people who have my back.

      Academia can be very solitary in strange ways, especially for those of us not on the tenure track at the moment, and adjunct labour is being heavily abused in a lot of schools. Being able to push back collectively is a huge benefit.

    3. Aphrael*

      This has been my experience as well – the Union makes sure we get good benefits at low cost, and protects our retirement and wage increases. They do sometimes seem to devote too much energy to people who have held the same job forever, at the expense of helping newer people advance, but that’s understandable.

      One thing I’ve really liked is having a literal (long) written contract, which spells out almost everything, so you don’t have to wonder things like “when am I entitled to get a raise” or “how does pay work while I’m on jury duty” etc.

  11. Jack Be Nimble*

    I administered pension benefits for several manufacturing/construction companies and, across the board, the union workers received much higher payments than non-union employees. They also had representatives to advocate for them on their behalf. These were very old, established, and well-known unions, and it seemed like a really good deal for the workers!

    My own coworkers really hated the unionized workers and all the reps, because it made more work for us. I didn’t mind, but I’m pretty pro-union in general!

  12. anon4this*

    i am not in a union, but am friends with many folks in the nyc media scene, and there has been an uptick in media publications unionizing recently (google for examples, sorry i dont want to name names), and everyone i know has been very happy about it. especially in a volatile industry like media, where huge layoffs are becoming increasingly more common, and where many publications employ freelancers as to avoid having employees to whom they must give benefits, the folks i know find the unions *extremely* valuable in terms of job security, health insurance, negotiating raises, etc. i have always been pro-union but watching my partner and friends go through this process the past year or so has strengthened it tenfold.

    1. An Semicolon*

      I work for a small independent media company in NYC and have been pondering whether it makes sense to talk with coworkers about unionizing. Our management treats us pretty well–they just laid off one (1) person, and every person in the management chain up to the SVP spoke at the next company-wide meeting about how traumatic and stressful that was for the whole company and talked very openly about the financial reasons for it–so there isn’t a huge incentive, but I keep thinking we could maybe get a better deal. I’d love to hear from anyone who works for a small company, especially a small media company, about experiences with unions when you already know management isn’t exactly raking in the dough.

      1. halmsh*

        I worked for a medium sized non-profit that unionized. The non-profit was media centered/public media adjacent. I left before negotiations finished (they’re still ongoing) but the effects immediately were huge. Management suddenly learned that they had to answer to the union, and while they still tried to pull fast ones, we successfully negotiated severance and insurance extensions for colleagues who were laid off and ended a lot of back-door threatening and manipulation from HR and management.

        The benefits aren’t just earning more money + getting better paid benefits, it can mean better channels for employee feedback, more flex time/vacation time, ability to work remotely, etc. Think of things you and your colleagues wish were in place that aren’t monetary, that management has been saying no to even though the changes would be feasible/wouldn’t create an expense. I think every small company has some of that. Think of times you’ve gotten uneven treatment because one person has a better or worse relationship with their manager. Those are all things you can write into a union contract!

        Additionally, if your management doesn’t have a lot of money, they may be more willing to voluntarily recognize your union (meaning you don’t have to have a campaign) if a large majority of eligible staff is on board.

        Talk to a union organizer! In NYC I think a lot of folks have gone with Writer’s Guild. The Intercept is a great example of a small media company that unionized in NYC. All of the media company unions in NYC have twitter pages, reach out to them and ask! Folks are always eager to talk about the process. I would get informed on the rules + regulations from someone who has been there, because union membership is very dependent on how your organization is structured and NLRB laws don’t speak well to non-profit structures.

        1. soup, or art?*

          Everything halmsh said. I know some people who work for small, unionized media companies in NYC, and it’s definitely worth it. A lot of folks have indeed gone to the Writers’ Guild of America, East, which is a large, well-established entertainment-industry union, and it’s been eye-opening to see the process even from the outside.

          A super-important thing to know: once you join an established union (at least, with WGAE), you’re not on your own anymore, and you don’t have to figure things out from the ground up – the union reps will even help you unionize; they will help you negotiate and figure out what makes strategic sense – it’s a lot more power than just coming together with your coworkers as a group to talk to your bosses.

  13. Red Reader*

    A previous workplace required that an employee in my union-covered position must either join the union or pay the non-association fee. I opted to pay the fee, because that meant that while I did not have the option to vote when votes came around, I also didn’t have to worry about the outcome any of the ridiculous number of times that the union voted about whether to go on strike over things like a no-blue-denim addition to the dress code. (The vote never passed. 90% of the people in the union were patient facing and therefore wore scrubs as a uniform. I have no idea how they managed to get a strike vote for no blue denim on the table at all, let alone multiple times. But I sure to hell couldn’t afford to not work over blue jeans.)

  14. Retail Reject*

    I liked working in the union, because it was easier to resolve issues. Things were either addressed in the contract or there was a clear process to escalate and “people” to go to management if needed. Often Allison suggests speaking up as a group, and the union automatically acted as that group. I worked in education in Wisconsin and our unions were all but destroyed in 2011. Since then wages, benefits and most importantly workplace safeguards have gone waaay down.

    1. Katie*

      Yes this. My sister in law is a teacher in Wisconsin. The district had historically underpaid its teachers but it was understood that the benefits made up for it. After Act 10, pay *and* benefits are lousy.

      1. Anon for this 2*

        Act 10 has been a disaster for Wisconsin public sector workers. The school districts that still have strong unions, like Madison, seem to be in better shape than those that have weaker ones like Milwaukee. The Madison teacher union has made sure that the district does its due diligence on any charter schools that are allowed to form in Madison under the district’s umbrella. They have seen what happens when charter schools are rubber stamped, as has happened in Milwaukee. It’s also allowed districts to cut corners in hiring staff, including hiring people with online degrees and no student teaching experiences as teachers and aides, including my cousin in a district south of Milwaukee. The first time she had any time in the classroom was on her first day as an aide. She has the same delightful hereditary trait that runs in her family of thinking that she knows more than the person with an actual degree and experience doing the job and I feel for the teacher and the parents whom she had to work with.

        I was hired in Wisconsin after Act 10 and my feelings are that at least in the division I work in, if a vote to reorganize ever was proposed, it would pass. The older workers that hid behind the union to do the bare minimum are mostly gone now. It’s still very hard to get rid of underperformers simply because it requires paperwork to be done with all the steps followed and more paperwork to hire a person to replace them. Some were protected because budget cuts that the time meant that it was easier to keep them and have someone cover for them rather than lose the position.

        The most recent person hired in my office honestly really still has her job because my boss doesn’t want to admit she made a mistake in hiring her. It’s not great for morale when you have to work with someone as indifferent to doing the core job duties and someone who isn’t much of a team player. I asked her today if she’d be willing to help out a bit next week when another person is on vacation and she said she’d let me know once she knew her schedule for each day.

        Now, we have management and supervisors that aren’t great at managing and their skill sets are stronger in other areas. HR had to simplify the annual review process so it could be done online with the supervisor and employee just checking some boxes off because there were enough supervisors that didn’t want to do campus mandated annual reviews. We got an across the board raise in July and the employees whose supervisors were too lazy/apathetic to do annual reviews for them got the raise because it really wasn’t their fault. The supervisors who didn’t do the reviews didn’t get the raise.

        A committee I’m on is planning on proposing some training to improve basic management skills because it’s common knowledge that most managers need it.

    2. Anon for this*

      Yes! And, there have been early retirement in droves in all sectors covered by the state unions. The Dept of Natural Resources has been decimated, and lost a huge number of highly experienced people — the amount of “brain drain” (the loss of historical knowledge of natural resources, projects, properties and management) has been significant.

    3. Anon govt workerbee*

      Yep, I’ve experienced something like this first hand. My local government employer decided to go around the unions to go straight to the voters with a ballot initiative to pretty much decimate our pension and retirement healthcare benefits. It passed with a pretty wide margin. Extensive pay cuts were also involved. The unions sued to stop the pension part from going into effect and eventually won after a few years in court but in the interim a ton of people left so we lost a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge and expertise. Basically, an entire generation of low and middle level managers who would have promoted up to leadership positions at this point are gone and are not coming back because all employees hired after a certain date still get the garbage pensions. Employee retention is terrible. Most of our politicians have admitted their error. I cannot overstate the devastation this has caused on our org. And the same voters are complaining about lack of services, slow project delivery, etc., which is largely caused from the max exodus due to the very thing they voted for (the unions tried to warn about this but it was the recession so everyone assumed people will work for just about any pay). The unions are now chipping away at bringing back the pay and some other benefits every new contract negotiation to get us back to being competitive in hiring and able to retain staff.

  15. AnonforThis*

    I had worked in two places with unions (one where I was a member and one where I was seasonal so not eligible). Both were terrific.

    In one place, the union negotiated our work at home agreement, and when the organization tried to spring a new metric on us without warning, the union handled walking it back. We have a ton of benefits thanks to the union. The union also gave people help and resources and when I was stressed during training, gave me someone to talk to as a pep talk. Our union president can be a bit over eager, but he means well and he does a lot to protect every employee, not just members.

    The other place I worked, the union was also terrific. There was a pattern of cutting off shifts weekly just before OT and the union stopped it and got us OT for anything over 8 in a day. When some of us were being sexually harassed by a fellow employee, the union stood up for us, even though I wasn’t a member, and helped get the guy removed. They also ensured we got timely breaks and were not kept in hot conditions for two long. This was a theme park job that paid barely over minimum wage, but these protections made it much much better.

    My experience with unions has been over whelmingly positive.

  16. AnotherSarah*

    I have been in two unions–both have been amazing. Both unions have gotten us pay raises, fringe benefits we might not have had otherwise, and other tangible benefits. But for me, the most important aspect of unions is the transparency they offer workers–the idea that our policies are clear and that there is a clear grievance process. The ability to collectively bargain (which is what unions ARE, in the simplest definition–collective bargaining units) means that workplace conflicts aren’t between one employee and the boss. (This is also the argument used against unions, often, by management–“we treat you right, so why would you go to the union?”–but to my mind, this attitude is like the family business idea….)

    I work in a field that is at the moment an ideological minefield, and it’s the union–not my department chair, not the provost, etc.–who backs me up in terms of my academic freedom.

    1. Katie*

      Absolutely. While we have a gender pay gap between managers and staff employees, having a union nearly guarantees no gender-based pay discrimination.

    2. Canuck union experience*

      Agreed that it is the policies which are most important to me as a benefit. The pay and leave benefits are good, don’t get me wrong, but it was the advocacy which made me want to actually participate with the union. I am working to improve access to health benefits, and I also saw this one which might be interesting to anyone who is interested in academic and/or scientific freedom of speech:

      Scientific integrity for federal government employees was an election issue in 2015, and has finally been officially addressed. When unions are discussed, this type of advocacy is rarely what people imagine!

  17. Was I ready for a career leap?*

    Not in a union, but have something to add here. I work for a law firm that does insurance/municipal defense. In part, my job consists of arguing against people who think their demotion/termination/leave pay/disability pay was incorrectly handled (whether for political reasons or otherwise). I’d like to think our firm performs admirably in fighting these claims off — but some chunk of these people walk away with significant settlements or even verdicts, all because of what their collective bargaining agreement says about what benefits they are entitled to. ~4.5 years into a non-union career that values me almost entirely based on how long I can bill hours and NOT be away from work, with less than 6 weeks of vacation taken in that span — I’m not always convinced I’ve gotten the better of the deal by being so easily expendable.

    1. AnonForThis*

      Pssst…make the leap! You don’t even have to leave law! There are unionized attorney jobs (some gov’t positions) or you can work for a Union (whose staffs are often unionized). Check out some white collar unions in your area and see who they represent…

      1. Canuck union experience*

        Unions employ folks whose job it is to advocate for employees (as opposed to company employees who are voluntary stewards). With my union, almost all of those people are lawyers who were interested in work which directly helped people. Relations officers (which deal directly with complaints from employees about the employer), negotiators for the collective bargaining… there are options!

        1. Another Canadian*

          Yes. I trained in law and I work in a non-lawyer position for a national union. Unions hire lawyers, and a lot of non-lawyer staff have legal backgrounds.

          I have much better work-life balance than in private legal practice. Most weeks are 35-40 hours, though of course an active contract negotiation can involve long hours, late nights, and too much bad coffee. The in-house counsel have similarly reasonable schedules, with 35-hour weeks except during hearings. 5 weeks of vacation, which I actually get to take. I am well-compensated, though obviously not at biglaw levels, which is fine because I don’t work 90-hour weeks and hate my life anymore.

          And most importantly, I really enjoy the work. Yes, our duty of fair representation sometimes requires us to fight grievances or defend contract provisions we personally rather wouldn’t, but I haven’t had to do anything half as objectionable as some of what my old firm’s corporate clients hired us to take on.

          Take a look here and see what kind of jobs there are: Some unions are better employers than others for sure, and you’re accountable to elected executives that vary widely in competence. But overall I’m very glad I made the switch.

    2. Rachel in NYC*

      Or do a similar job for a city. I had a summer associateship for a NYC agency that was sort of a version of your current job but solely within the city framework.

  18. CaptainCopier*

    I’m a steward for the Teamsters. I love our local. They bend over backwards if you have issues. The medical is top notch. You only get out of a union how much the members put in. They voted out the old guard about 12 years ago because those guys were typical freeloading union leaders. They new guys cut costs and saved the local.

    My uncles were all Pipefitters. The only thing I’ve come across that I don’t like is some locals will get bent out of shape if your car isn’t a Ford, Chevy or Dodge – regardless of where your car was actually made. Old mentalities die hard.

    1. No Green No Haze*

      You only get out of a union how much the members put in.

      +1000. This is true, and it’s why unions vary so much — they’re still composed of people who may be good or bad at acting collectively, buying into procedures, enacting policy, maintaining focus, all the things that any group of people does. Whoever bothers to show up at the meetings? they’re the ones who make policy.

      My experience in my union has been both good and bad: in my 20 years my union has been run well and run poorly, all deriving from the quality of input and hard work by members. I have health insurance because of my union. I have a retirement plan because of my union. I have recourse against an unreasonable employer because of my union, if we have previously managed to quantify the nature of that unreason into our CBA. Whatever our bargaining agreement doesn’t cover that we think it should, we have a chance to revisit that when the contract ends.

      The thing is that unions are blunt instruments created by necessity. We’re blunt because we’re a group, and we have to act collectively because our collective nature is what gives us any power. This can act to hinder individual above-and-beyond performers, and it can artificially support low performers. But it’s the ability to say “not only will I take my football and go home, but all 250 of us will take our footballs and go home and your factory will grind to a halt today” that is necessary for unfairly-targeted individuals to have protection and for employers to find it easier to raise standards for everyone, cardholder or non. If unions were unnecessary I would not join one. They’re necessary. It’s my job as a union member to be a quality employee, because my performance reflects on more than just myself.

      Historically, I think America’s hampered by its own myth of being a classless society. We’re accustomed to thinking of blue-collar work as “labor,” which might require unions, but white-collar work as “professional,” and therefore based on individual merit. It’s not true. As soon as we are disposable to our employers, we are all labor, no matter what education we have, no matter what our job description looks like. That’s why media and adjunct faculty are beginning to unionize, and why “student-athletes” are trying so hard: they’ve recognized that their employers have all the power.

  19. Juli G.*

    I love this! Most of my union exposure have been close friends’ teacher unions. They aren’t particularly powerful in my state and the ones my friends have been in typically save most of their fights for more money as opposed to better working conditions (which is why two of my friends ended up leaving the field). My guess is that since the state weakened the impact of unions, they’re even weaker locally.

    Anyway, I haven’t been super impressed but I also know I have a small sample and it’s limited to public sector so I’m excited to see comments.

    1. Indie*

      Oh yes I would love to see teaching unions focus more on working hours than money, but they have to pick a battle they can win I guess.

  20. nnn*

    I find my union beneficial with no downsides.

    The way it affects my life most on a day-to-day basis – and something you rarely see mentioned when googling for the benefits of unions – is I am never working “against” my manager. We’re both simply proceeding within the framework set out in the collective agreement.

    I want some time off? I put in for the time I’m entitled to under the collective agreement, and my manager approves or declines my request pursuant to the criteria set out in the collective agreement.

    My manager needs someone to work overtime? He follows the procedure set out in the collective agreement to find a volunteer or, in the absence of volunteers, assign the work to to someone. And the person who does the work gets paid overtime pursuant to the criteria set out in the collective agreement.

    My manager and I are never trying to argue or coerce or persuade each other. I never have to negotiate with my manager. The arguing and persuading and negotiating is done by others around the bargaining table, leaving my relationship with my manager as purely collaborative.

    1. anon for this*

      Thanks for this. I used to work in management at a company where there were concerns our lower-level employees would unionize, and we got some training of what we could tell employees that would make unionizing seem less enticing, if an employee was to ask for our opinions (ha). One of the things we were specifically coached to say is that unions prevent employees from talking directly to their managers, and that’s obviously a negative for both sides. I couldn’t help but wonder how accurate that was. It’s nice to hear some details from the other perspective.
      (Union panic turned out to be overblown. I am generally pro-union, myself.)

      1. cheeky*

        Yeah, that’s not accurate. Unionizing is beneficial for employees, and businesses always use that line to prevent unionizing.

      2. nnn*

        My collective agreement has some clauses to the effect that managers can grant extra leave etc. at their discretion. (I don’t know what the unspoken criteria for invoking these clauses are, but they do exist.) So we totally can talk to our managers, and they are theoretically empowered to use their discretion to make things better for us. But they aren’t empowered to make things worse for us.

        For example, we have specific provisions for bereavement leave: who you can take it for, how many days you can take, when you can take it. Then there’s a clause saying the manager can grant additional bereavement leave at their discretion.

        So I could go to my manager with something like “My grandmother’s funeral is in a remote location where there’s only one flight a week. Could I have a full week because it’s literally impossible to get there and back sooner?”

        But my manager can’t go to me with something like “Are you sure you need a whole day for your grandmother’s funeral? Surely a funeral only takes a couple of hours. Couldn’t you come in and finish the teapot report before or after?”

    2. Chameleon*

      Yes, this is actually huge! So many of the narratives have unions and management being on opposing sides, but having a defined contract is a lot like having an employee handbook–both sides know what is expected, and so there aren’t surprises on either end. I always found it as being LESS adversarial between workers and management in a union workplace.

    3. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I agree. Alison gets so many “is this allowed” questions but when you have a contract and a union the answer for day to day things is very clear and you can ask someone higher up the chain when it falls into a grey area. As a result, principals (now non-unionized managers in my area, sigh) don’t usually try anything Alison worthy.

  21. catalog this*

    My dad is a mechanic and has been in a union for his entire career, and it’s been great to him. Good wages, really good insurance, and he’s got a real sense of community with other members of the union across the country.

  22. Baby Fishmouth*

    I’m part of a union! The things I like about it are that I certainly get higher pay, better benefits, and more vacation time than I probably would in the private sector. It’s also great for a work/life balance – I work 35 hours a week and there are strict rules about overtime, so I can’t be forced to work more than that without 1.5x comp time in lieu.

    The downside is that, while their are rules that departments have to consider union employees first when hiring, these are *constantly* circumvented so that they can hire the person they already had in mind for the position (usually somebody on contract who already works in that department). Which means only 40-50% of internal postings are actually real postings, making it hard to move up or move around to get new experience. There’s also a very ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality about administration which can feel mildly toxic at times.

    I had to join the union as a condition of accepting the job – every permanent staff-level employee here is part of the union.

    1. Baby Fishmouth*

      I should add, one downside I’m finding the longer I am here – it is clear that the lack of merit raises does mean that people are less motivated to do anything more than their job descriptions entail. I’ve even felt like that myself at times – I can’t just get promoted or be compensated based on my actual level of contribution, so why should I do more? I try not to get too bogged down by that, but it’s clear that after more than a few years, most people have that mentality.

      1. An Semicolon*

        My (non-union) company doesn’t make a lot of money, so everyone only gets cost-of-living pay increases, and is small and has a very flat org structure, so no one gets promoted. A lot of us still do the best job we can because of professional pride, but yeah, it’s not always great for morale.

      2. Lupin Lady*

        My partner also faces this downside, although he’s been in his workplace for long enough that he’s come around to appreciating the fact that after he does his job for the day he just kills time until shift is over. He says the union members with more seniority than him are even worse.

        Generally he likes the union, and I have amazing health/dental benefits because of it. But the lack of motivation does negatively affect workers for sure, unless you have another outlet to take pride in your work (side gigs, for example).

      3. College Career Counselor*

        I worked adjacent to a union many years ago during a summer job. I was temporary/seasonal summer labor through a 3rd party labor provider, as was at least one other worker there. The rest of the people were in the union and had been for anywhere from 5-40 years.

        While I have no doubt that the union protected them from being forced to work overtime without pay, mandated specific break times and a guaranteed lunch, etc., the rigidity of how this played out (and how it was “worked” by everyone) often drove me nuts.

        Our shift started at 7am, and everyone got a 15 minute break at 9am, lunch from 12-12:30, and a 15 minute break at 3:15. Nothing wrong with that at all.

        Here’s how it played out. The people I worked with would routinely tell me to start shutting down whatever we were doing, gather up tools/materials, and head back to the break area starting at 8:40am, so we could “start break on time.” Same thing with lunch around 11:30, and 2:55pm for the 3:15 break. That group of 30 people lost hundreds of hours of productivity per week because they would pad the time to close down a project and head back to clock out on break. Routinely, we would not start a project after 8am or 2pm, because doing so would “interfere with break, and we’d just have to start all over again after” or the next day.

        The kicker was that everyone would clock out on break at 3:15, but would not be allowed to leave until 3:30 when the shift was over. Everyone just sat around and did absolutely nothing until the end of the day. I suppose that there are risk management reasons for keeping everyone until the end of the shift (if you get in an accident on the way home when you’re supposedly at work, things get complicated), but the practice always struck me as absurd. You’re going to pay me for not working, but I’ve got to do it here?

        There were other things (not sure if this was due to union regulations or just the culture of the place) such as never offering a new solution or idea to fix a problem, but just doing what was on the repair ticket. I was there three months, and we fixed the same pipe flange three times. By the third time, I asked “why don’t you just replace this thing instead of repairing it every few weeks?” Two reasons, I was told:

        1) “Job security”
        2) “This is an easy job that takes 1.5 hours, and it means that I’m not doing something else I don’t really want to do for that amount of time.”

        TL;DR: Human nature nature being what it is, some people in both management and in labor will abuse whatever system there is without checks and balances.

  23. emily*

    I had an administrative job at a university, and thanks to our union vacation and sick time policies were generous, as was our lieu time policy (always time-and-a-half), and most significantly there was a really good parental leave policy. I’m in Canada, so it’s normal here for women to take a year off after childbirth, with the government providing an “employment insurance” amount (not a lot of money — take-home would have been less than half my usual salary). Thanks to our union’s negotiations, the employer topped us up to 90% of our usual salary for the first six months of leave.

    Unfortunately I had to leave that role before I was ready to have kids!

    1. LaurenB*

      I work for the Canadian government, where a new and “improved” pay system has left a substantial portion of the country’s public service paid incorrectly. (For an example, a co-worker didn’t receive any pay for three months after she returned from maternity leave.) I was completely disenchanted when I discovered there was nothing unions could do, and my union did nothing for a long time but put memes on their website. Now they’re at least doing more advocacy for members but being told there’s nothing the union can do when you’re not getting a paycheque is disheartening.

      1. LaurenB*

        Sorry, was meant to be a standalone comment! I think I was just searching for any other mentions of Canada to see if Phoenix had come up.

        1. Lupin Lady*

          Hearing about the Phoenix fiasco makes me sick, I’m so sorry your friend has to deal with that.

          This is a great example where unions should have more powers, but unfortunately don’t.

      2. RubyRed*

        Fellow Canadian public servant here! My husband has been in the public sector union for 20 years, and thinks highly of the union. I’ve only been in the union for 3 years and I’m more “meh”. Yes, defined benefit pension plan, top up of 100% of pay during parental leave, and no expiring of unused sick leave are awesome. All the benefits though are more like golden handcuffs right now – I don’t like my job, and want a change but can’t see anything in the public sector that is more “me”. In my non-union jobs of the past, I always got a pay increase for at least cost of living, and increased my pay by changing jobs.

        I guess it’s like the previous comment comparing union dues to condo fees. I’m not an active union member, and haven’t been here long enough to see the real point. I am for unions in work like hotel staff, retail, and the fast food industry. Places where the bottom line and profits has been built on the backs of a cheap workforce.

        And Phoenix … I’ve been impacted by that fiasco but only minimally. I’d say they named it aptly. ;D

      3. StudentPilot*

        So much this. While PSAC has helped me by negotiating a retroactive contract…. I have yet to see that money, and I have been underpaid for 2 years. All I hear from the union is “sorry…. cant do anything but give you this shiney sticker!”

  24. SansaStark*

    I worked for a union and we admins were part of our own union. My union had a ton of in-fighting, but they protected us from management taking advantage of people who needed jobs. Some of it was difficult – clocking in and not being more than 7 minutes late meant taking a much earlier train than I normally would have needed to because it was a hassle to have too many unexcused “tardies.” There were other minor hassles that were there for our protection, but in practice could just be cumbersome. And sometimes it had a feeling of “us” and “them” with the admins as union and our bosses as “management”. It felt unnecessarily adversarial at times. But there were also perks like when a coworker went on medical leave for a few months and I had to fill in for her. I had to be paid at her level (way above mine) when I was doing her tasks. The starting salary was far higher than most admins were making at the time. Of course, the negative to that was that there weren’t many merit-based increases because your salary was determined by your “step” which was mostly determined by your seniority.

    My day to day job was dealing with traveling union reps, so being union played a huge part in that — the reps couldn’t stay at non-union hotels and we had to keep an ear to the ground in case any hotels had rumors of striking. We also were located in DC so there were lots of opportunities to participating in protesting with other unions and big Democrat wins in major elections were widely celebrated.

  25. PeanutbutterJellyTime*

    I am a state worker & part of a large union.
    There are some great benefits, like having a decent leave accumulation and being able to use it without fear of overt retaliation. I like having a negotiating team working on our behalf when our contracts are up for renewal, especially when they can keep employee-paid health insurance expenses down or get us an extra paid leave day for community service. It’s nice to have workplace protections in addition to state/federal laws.
    The downside is that there is a lot of cronyism and unholy alliances with the institution’s HR regime in propping up systemic management abuse, depending on department. Sometimes help from union reps is dependent on personal relationships and favors and can be very toothless. And surprisingly, unions can bargain away fundamental workplace rights like breaks for every 4 hours worked or being able to have a ‘disconnected’ lunch break for essential personnel.
    Over all I prefer union jobs because it adds another layer of protection and wage support, but they could do a much better job representing members in need before using our dues for political purposes, no matter how well meant.

  26. RedSonja*

    This is so timely for me! I started a new job last year that is unionized (statewide university system; my particular workplace is healthcare provider, med school, and biomedical research facility). Our contract has been in negotiation for over a year, and the university system has just….. stopped bargaining. Which is frustrating, as we live in the highest COL area in the country, and what the university is offering paywise and benefits-wise would amount to a pay CUT. We’ve already struck once this year, and it looks like we may have to do it again.

    I, personally, am very pro-union. The only time I ever received a living wage as a zookeeper was at a unionized zoo, and I think the entire organization benefited from having employees that could be financially secure without having to work side hustles and second jobs. However, my coworkers seem apathetic at best. Maybe they’ll strike, maybe they won’t. And then they complain that we get paid crap. It’s very frustrating.

    1. Shades of Blue*

      Are we at the same uni?! I am pretty sure we are, but I’m in the second highest COL area as I work remotely. The whole thing is soooo frustrating!
      My particular position is being unionized, so I’m in this limbo where we’re not union yet but since we’re going to be, we haven’t gotten raises (‘merit increases’, eye roll) for 2 years now.

      At this point, this whole experience has me pissed at both sides, although I do think becoming union will ultimately be for the best. Also!!!! (if we are talking about the same place) it is so insulting that non-represented staff got X% the last 6 years that I have been here and the university counters with 1 percent less than that!! AGH. Minus the union dues, I’d see less than a 1% ‘raise’.

      1. RedSonja*

        I suspect we are indeed at the same place! And oh man, the two years without a raise must SUCK.

        And yes, I’m flat out offended at the university’s offer. Particularly as they’re simultaneously trumpeting about all the grants and positive rankings that we get. Guess what??? If you didn’t have us supporting all the research that brings those grants in, you’d be screwed! The least they can do is pay us well for making those awards possible.

  27. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    Caveat lector: I’m from Sweden, a fairly unionized country but am a white collar worker where the unions are less powerful.

    Unions here also handle unemployment benefits/insurance. Nowadays, you don’t have to be a union member to be a part of the unemployment programs, but if you are, you get more money if you become unemployed.

    I’m a member of the largest white collar union in the country. My firm has signed collective agreements with mine and another union. However, my firm has significantly better terms than the collective agreement, so it really impacts my life very little.

    I’m a union member mostly because I see it as almost a charity thing; unions are important and do important work, and while I might not need them (right now), others do, and without members (and their money), they’re screwed.

    Unions here also offer reaaaally good deals on insurance. I pay like $10/month for life insurance, casualty insurance, long term disability and a supplemental health insurance.

    And they give you a few hundred bucks a year for classes or training.

    1. HR Expat*

      I’m relatively new to supporting Sweden from an HR standpoint, so it could be that I am misunderstanding how things work. But the most interesting thing I learned was that I couldn’t get a list of who was a union member because everyone is covered by the union protections whether they’re a member or not. I’m not sure it that’s specific to the local agreement signed with my company or if that’s a law.

    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I’m from Finland. The biggest benefits are similar: unemployment benefits (I’ve received those for a few months) and collective agreements, and also insurance discounts though not as good as yours are. In addition, I’ve gone to a fer trainings and seminars organized by the union, I’ve received legal advice for free from the union’s lawyer, and every couple of months I receive the union’s magazine for free. (The magazine was more useful before, but now that the teapot makers’ union merged with the coffee and cocoa versions, there’s just too little teapot stuff in the magazine anymore for it to be interesting to me.) There are also services I haven’t used, like some union expert reviewing CVs and job application letters. I don’t know if it’s any good.

    3. Ophelia*

      Agreed – I’m not a union member, but overall I see unions kind of like vaccines – if enough people participate, they protect us all, and while there may be some side effects to their existence, they provide a net benefit to the balance between employees and employers.

  28. Roscoe*

    I had 1 union job and one job that is typically union but wasn’t.

    The union job was great, because any type of formal discipline you got, you had a union rep there. Think having a lawyer on call who can argue on your behalf and make defenses that you didn’t even know were valid defenses.

    I also was a teacher. Most teachers are unionized. In this district, we weren’t. It was definitely nice that we could kind of advocate for why we deserved a raise. And if you did great, you could get a merit based increase instead of just the “step increase” that you had to get based on number of years service and degree. However, it was a lot easier to get fired. The thing with teaching is that so much is subjective because the same things don’t necessarily work year after year, and every group is different. So I could do the exact same amount of work one year to the next, but my results could vary widely. Those results were often what decided if people got to keep their jobs or not. So it was a bit scary at times.

    1. Bears Beets Battlestar*

      That’s a great point that teaching evaluations are often subjective. Plus, you’re often teaching kids who are tired, hungry, afraid, have disabilities, mental health issues, are up with a baby at night, the list goes on… So even the best teacher in the world may not make much progress.

    2. Chameleon*

      My husband is a unionized teacher. Part of his performance review was based on a required statement to put up every day in class that told students what they were supposed to be learning that day. At one point he was given a shockingly low performance review because, while he had given the students the required statement, he hadn’t called it the ridiculous edu-speak jargon name that administration called it. He called his union rep and got that performance review altered immediately.

      1. Roscoe*

        Ha, that sounds about right from teaching. I’ve never been in a situation where bosses threw around more buzzwords

  29. Dasein9*

    I was a tenured professor at a state university when I was laid off, with eight of my colleagues. The union paid for the lawyer who took the case to arbitration. We did not win what we asked for (reinstatement and back pay), but we
    a) did win a couple of concessions and settlements which benefited some of us,
    b) hopefully created enough trouble that our erstwhile colleagues are less likely to meet the same fate, and
    c) did not go down without a fight.

    The current trend of erosion of workers’ rights in the US, along with my own experience, makes me a supporter of unions.

  30. SigneL*

    If you are a professional musician (at least in N Texas) the union makes a huge difference. You have no idea how many people take advantage of musicians.

    1. Orchestral Musician*

      Another vote for the musicians union! I travel around the US to perform, and the places where the union is strong are almost universally better working conditions than the places where it isn’t. The two worst gigs I’ve had: one was a non-union gig in Florida, a right-to-work state where the musicians’ union isn’t powerful at all, and one was a series of national tours for some big name artists. Because of the efforts of the musicians’ unions in a few large cities, the touring contractor is now on our Unfair List, which means union members aren’t allowed to work for them. These tours were really shady — we’d get hired for an unspecified amount of money (“around $200 a show”) and we’d get yelled at if we asked how much. Different people got paid different amounts for the exact same job. Performers were promised a hotel in City A and were stranded an hour and a half away. The Florida work was even worse — musicians were stranded in airports because the orchestra forgot about them, people were forced to share beds with coworkers, bus transportation was provided for a five-hour drive between venues but the bus had no bathroom, and people were fired in the middle of rehearsal and demoted in the middle of a concert. Anyway — I’m very grateful for the musicians’ union!

  31. Phil*

    I was a sound mixer in records, movies and TV. I belonged to 3 unions. The unionization of Hollywood was long and bloody-see the Disney strike-but necessary because they work us like dogs. A 12 hour day is normal and 16 not unheard of. The unions made sure we would be paid fairly for those hours. Actors too.
    Some of these unions were corrupt, no question. But they got us a fair share of a very large pie.

  32. sb*

    I’ve only ever been in a union for a summer supermarket job — the store was very apologetic and clearly had had some people turn down jobs on being told they’d have to pay union dues; they were surprised that I said it was no problem.

    It was a great place to work, for a summer supermarket job; management was good to us, lots of my coworkers had been there for quite a while and seemed happy, and I have no idea if the union had any hand in that, but I can’t help think it didn’t hurt.

  33. LSP*

    ** Disclaimer – I have always been and continue to be pro-union, however, I do have a problem with unions who become more interested in protecting themselves as organizations and their power, than they are about provided safe and fair workplaces.**

    When I worked for my state, my union actively fought against raises and promotions based solely on merit. Instead, it was a combination of longevity and passing a written exam based upon your title. The exam had several problems:

    1. Only a handful of job titles had any sort of exam prep available, so most people just had to wing it.
    2. Your job title may or may not have anything to do with your actual job duties and day-to-day work.
    3. Tests were only given periodically, so you could work at your job for over a year before a test came up for your title, and if someone else scored higher, you could lose your job to that person, despite how good you may be at your job.

    As someone who faced all three of these challenges, I was excited when the state legislature brought up a bill that would work in some level of consideration for how good you were at your job, because I was VERY good at my job (which had NOTHING to do with my title). My union killed the bill, and actually handed out flyers outside my office trying to convince people that getting raises and promotions based upon merit was bad for them. Also, the union rabidly protected any of their members from firing, even if that person was TERRIBLE at their job.

    The few instances I heard of people actually being fired from a state job included:
    – An alcoholic who left work in the middle of the day to go to a movie (and get drunk while doing so) and literally killing someone outside his office with his car while driving back to work, and
    – A woman who had already physically assaulted a coworker (TWICE), finally got fired after she told off the COMMISSIONER of the department we worked for, when he told her daughter not to park in the fire lane.

    1. zora*

      agreed with your first statement. Just like everything else in this world, there are good unions and there are bad/badly run unions.

    2. Anon for this*

      Well, at least your union fired them. We had these problems crop up at our state agency. Note, these happened prior to 9/11. Also, the state agency was and currently is notorious about never firing anyone.

      1. Manager used state credit card to purchase boats, guns, decoys and other hunting equipment (tens of thousands of dollars). Lower level tech accidentally got sent a credit card bill, which is what tipped upper managment. Unable to return stuff (used), so it was absorbed into the agency and some of it was sold for pennies on the dollar. Manager was told that if s/he voluntarily left, s/he would be given a “neutral” letter of recommendation. S/he left voluntarily and works at a federal agency. S/he did not pay any money back.

      2. Office worker was found to have embezzled thousands of dollars from a state park. S/he was transferred to another park and not authorized to handle funds. None of the money was recovered. S/he did not pay money back.

      3. Technician was found to be keeping handguns in their locker. When a law enforcement officer noticed this and asked about them, tech said “guns were to take care of those co-workers who hated him”. (Tech was not a law enforcement person). Tech had been making verbal threats to others in months prior and acting oddly. This had been reported to management. Tech was sent to a different office to “get them away from co-workers”. Co-workers were notified of situation and told that “if they see Tech or Tech’s truck to lock the door and call police”. Tech worked there for two years, then was transferred to a “single person office”, essentially a shack on a state owned property, and co-workers were told to “send all broken equipment to Tech, Tech will fix, and mail it back.” Tech also got mileage and lunches reimbursed while working at the different office and at the shack until retirement, since they were not Tech’s “home base”.

      That being said, I have family members who work for city unions in a different state, and they have great benefits and pensions. It really depends on your union.

      1. LSP*

        We had one guy show up to work a week after a school shooting that made national news to show someone that he did, in fact, have the same kind of gun the shooter used. He was NOT fired.

  34. fish*

    I am a teacher in the UK and I love my union. I’ve been to multiple training events they’ve run where they’ve also paid my transport costs and provided food (and also cover childcare) to attend. They do annual conferences including ones for minorities — I’ve been to the LGBTQ one and it was really good. They also send out regular information clarifying our rights and things which the union is currently/about to to bargain for. I marched with them at my local Pride. They’re also a surety of support/help if I ever needed it in my workplace. Also, they negotiate us discounts with other companies — just got my will done for free by a partner law firm!

  35. Colette*

    When I was in university, I got a co-op job with a government employer that had a union. Unfortunately, they were talking about striking. I don’t know what the issue was, but I was stressed about whether they’d go on strike while I was there, because going on strike would have meant I didn’t work enough weeks to get course credit. (Now I realize it would have been fine, but at the time it was a concern.)

    In my experience, unions have their pros and cons. Work-life balance is typically better when there’s a union, but they also make it more difficult to fire people (either due to actual policies or because managers perceive it as too difficult.)

  36. Bears Beets Battlestar*

    I am a member of the teachers union because I would have to buy my own professional liability insurance if I wasn’t, so the cost is about the same. They have been really helpful to me a few times when I was told to do things that were unsafe or illegal by my bosses.

  37. Hug a Union Thug*

    I work at the DC HQ for a national labor union. Because it’s the HQ and not a union shop, I imagine things work differently here than elsewhere, but I was surprised by a couple of things.
    Although everyone literally works for the union, management still has to be non-union. This means that contract negotiations between the non-union management and the two staff unions still get nasty. Since I’ve been here, we’ve picketed our own building and have held strike authorization votes – all against the union HQ.
    Everyone also assumes you know everything about unions, so there’s no explanation about what the union at union HQ actually does for you. They actually forgot to sign me up for the union when I first started, and it was years before I actually attended a union meeting.
    However, it is really nice to actually be able to push back against sudden overtime and weekend work requests, and to have the entire disciplinary and “you may be fired” pathway laid out explicitly in the contract.

    1. debonairess*

      yes I only realised recently that the management of our union are in a different union to our union that they manage.
      Hence there was a weird stand off at our union convention this year where the management walked out against our union! I was holiday at the time so missed most of the details but it was…. strange!

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Management being non-union, is that a law or regulation of some kind or just the way things are typically done?

      1. debonairess*

        realised i misread this – thought hug a union thug was saying the union management (i.e. paid negotiators, union leaders etc) can’t also be in the union as the one they are paid by.
        But I guess now that they mean management in their workplace, right?

        I manage two employees and I am in the union and so is my boss and I think there are also people further up the boss-scale who are in the union. I absolutely want my bosses to sign up to union membership and show they are willing to support their employees rights and working conditions.
        I imagine once you get higher up there may be informal pressure/ an expectation that you’re *not* in the union, and potentially for the very top bosses there would probably be a conflict of interest given you have to negotiate with the union. I don’t know how high up that pressure would start though. Also (in the UK) union membership is protected information under data protection law – so say the principal of teapot university turned out to be a member of the union, any one revealing that fact would be committing a data protection breach. So I’m not sure how banning management from union membership could be enforced.

        1. AnonForThis*

          I also worked at a DC Union HQ. My understanding is that folks who sit on the management side of the bargaining table are barred from joining the union as well as some extremely high positions that would defend the union against lawsuits (so not every lawyer, but the general counsel). Our staff was under a union separate from their employer.

    3. Bratmon*

      >we’ve picketed our own building and have held strike authorization votes – all against the union HQ.

      I think that’s hilarious.

      If I drive by the union headquarters and see that happening, I don’t know what to think.

  38. Union Wife*

    My husband has been at his job for 8 years now – I hope relaying some of his experiences secondhand is okay. He’s a state employee and in a union; caveat that I’m not sure what is due to the union v what’s part of being a public employee.

    Their benefits are great: cheap insurance with a lot of coverage, pension plan, more time off than he knows what to do with.
    Pay isn’t and everything in that regards is very regimented. Step raises at specific anniversaries usually < 1% and cost of living raises of about 0.5% yearly. Compared with the national average of about 3% yearly, it sometimes feels low. I work in a non union private sector company so I get things like raises based on merit and bonuses based on performance that are foreign concepts in his job. On the plus side, guaranteed raises rather than just hoping is nice to count on. That is when they're not between contracts. When the former governor took about more than a year to renegotiate the contract, it meant no raises until that was done.
    Also because of the contracts, discipline is very regulated too. The guy who regularly falls asleep at work is still there because of how much it takes to fire someone. I guess that's good if you're not a decent employee but it can be tough to deal with if you're someone who works hard.
    Union dues aren't too bad.

    All in all, the insurance benefits alone make any negatives worth it. They're about half what mine cost.

  39. debonairess*

    I am in a union at a UK university for two reasons
    (1) collective bargaining (pay rises, pensions, work place rights). These don’t just happen, they are negotiated for by the union at national level (with the “collective” of universities) and local level (within our own university). The negotiating position is stronger the bigger the union is.
    (2) individual case support – if I had a problem at work, someone complained about me, employer tried to sack me unfairly, etc.

    I had not really taken part in industrial action and use to think the whole “solidarity” thing was a bit lame until earlier this year we had the biggest ever higher education strike about proposed pension cuts. (The cuts were stopped, although to many people the strike was called off too early – union bowing to pressure to be amenable to the employers – and hence negotiations still ongoing. We may strike again later this year or early next.) For me and many of my colleagues it was an incredible feeling to be involved in joint actin, most of us felt strangely rejuvenated as well as incredibly stressed, and were forced to reconsider the purpose of our roles and our work life balance. The experience has definitely stayed with me and influenced how I interact with colleagues and students.

    Messages of solidarity (car honks, people saying “well done”) as we stood outside in the freezing cold made a huge difference to morale and I will now always go out of my way to do similar if I see a picket line.

    No union is perfect but every labour right we enjoy (including not only benefits but many health and safety issues) was won directly or indirectly on the back of the trade union movement, and I have much more respect for that now that I myself have gone without several weeks wages as part of industrial action.

    1. Practical Criticism*

      Long time reader, first time commenter – and I came here to post exactly the same thing. I’m in the same UK union, and also took part in the recent industrial action.

      Our union isn’t perfect – especially in terms of accountability and transparency at national level. But I would rather be in the union than outside of it. Our branch reps especially work really hard, on top of their job responsibilities. My union has also been very supportive to friends under excessive and harmful pressure from management.

      The strike was both awful and brilliant at the same time, for all the reasons you say. I don’t regret any of the time I spent on the picket line, and I developed a closeness to my colleagues and students that I didn’t have before. I also wanted to demonstrate to my students that if their future employers treat them unfairly, they can do something about it – they have a voice, and they should band together to use it.

      Historically, unions are the reasons we have reasonable working hours, safe working practices, why (in the UK at least) we can’t be dismissed on a whim for no reason. We should never take those things for granted.

      I often hear complaints when other unions go on strike that their workers are well paid, or have loads of holiday, and people in other jobs don’t have that. I try to always say in response, well, that’s because they have a union that stands up for workers’ rights and that other areas should celebrate and try to emulate that, rather than complaining that people have dared to ask for a wage that allows them to live, hours that allow them to work safely and see family, and time off.

      Solidarity forever!

    2. PNU*

      Another first time commenter, UCU member! My great grandfather fought for the right to unionize, and my family has always been pro-union. I joined after the 2015 GE in some sort of vague show of support for Labour, as I am a non-citizen.

      I am in a very apolitical science field, with low union membership and I was really heartened by the support during the strike, even and especially from my non-union colleagues. I also really liked the opportunity to get to know some of my colleagues outside of my department, and the support we received marching down Whitehall in the snow was great. I too have greater respect for the history of trade unionism!


    3. Trying anon*

      Not in the UK, but my union also had it’s first ever job action 18 months ago and stressful but rejuvenating is a really good way to put it. Unfortunately, my work isn’t an essential service, but a lot of people see it as such, so public support wasn’t 100% with us which was really demoralizing, but some of the support from our…er… clients (to keep the anonymous thing going) was amazing and made me feel a lot more positively about my job and my union.

  40. Lucky*

    I once lived/worked in an area where the major restaurants were union houses. I was a student, so some of the benefits were lost on me (health & dental insurance), but did enjoy advance scheduling, show-up pay, and free “house” dinners. The owner was a swell boss and would have provided much of this anyway, but it was nice knowing that these benefits couldn’t change without our buy-in. Being in a union meant that we had a say.

  41. neverjaunty*

    or a great thing that we don’t need anymore because employers aren’t like the robber barons of yesteryear

    I hear this a lot, and it’s always from well—off white-collar people who come from a privileged socioeconomic background. Working-class people may have issues with a particular union or even unions in general, but those issues aren’t “but bosses are all nice now and bad things are illegal!”

    I’ve worked directly for a union and represented union members – the drawbacks come in when a union has no oversight and isn’t accountable to its members. Other than that, in the US, the alternative for workers really is “hope you live in California and have a good lawyer”.

    1. Chinookwind*

      “or a great thing that we don’t need anymore because employers aren’t like the robber barons of yesteryear”

      As I say down below, DH is part of a police force that is non-unionized and falls outside every labour law legislation, so they are living in a world similar to the ones the robber barons lived in. From my perspective, I see his employer (technically Parliament but they do have a commissioner who runs things) as being able to put things off (like safety, raises, working conditions) because no one is forcing their hands. Things cost time and money and often there are higher priorities and not helping your employees can definitely be as nefarious as wanting to crush their spirit but is instead apathy or optics.

      Unions and/or legislation help force an employers hand to do the right thing in a timely manner.

    2. cheeky*

      It’s funny because many corporations act very much like the robber barons of yesteryear, just through newer mechanisms.

      1. Ophelia*

        Right? You might not be working in a textile mill, but your Amazon warehouse isn’t a shining beacon of labor standards.

  42. EmilyAnn*

    I am not a paid member, but I receive the benefits of union membership because I am a federal employee. I have been two situations where the Union has been helpful. First, when there was an investigation into someone else’s behavior, I reached out to the Union for things I should know before I was interviewed as part of the investigation and they gave me good advice on how to protect myself from possible retaliation. I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective. It was a fraught situation and they really helped.

    Also, during the course of having my job advertised publicly so I could be promoted the Union reached out to me so I understood the risks, and were ready to fight if it went sideways. I am a big fan of what the Unions do for Federal Government Employees.

    1. cheeky*

      Respectfully, the benefits you receive without paying into the union make you what is called a “free rider”. Because you mention that you’ve benefited directly from the union protections at your job, you’d be doing your union (and yourself) a favor by becoming a dues paying member. If everyone decided to stop paying dues and free ride on the contract, your union would fall apart.

      1. AnonForThis*

        +1! You can also think about it as insurance against any future unjust disciplinary actions. I worked at the HQ of a Federal Union and we would represent members in certain disciplinary processes. If I had a dime for everytime someone called saying, “I meant to join the Union, I just never got around to it! Can’t I just join now, I’ll even backpay dues…” Of course we said no, if anyone could only join when they needed us, there’d be little incentive for membership.

  43. Anansi*

    Full disclaimer – I have never been in a union but my father is a mail man who is extremely involved in their union, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC, which is also affiliated with AFL-CIO). Like everything, there are some pretty significant benefits and some things that aren’t as great as they’re portrayed. I’d say the two biggest advantages my dad has had from being in the Union are:

    1) They will truly go to bat for you on work-related disputes, and they usually win. This is huge, especially in a place as dysfunctional as the U.S. Postal Service, where work disputes are pretty common.
    2) The benefits are pretty good. Not insanely great, but definitely not bad! Plus, in addition to medical benefits, you get access to things like credit unions, or services that help you negotiate bills, improve financial literacy, etc.

    1. Katastrophreak*

      +1. My aunt worked in a postal distribution center and received a lot of support from her union. My great-uncle was also a letter carrier and was able to retire thanks to his benefits negotiated through his union.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      my aunt has worked for the post office for decades (retired either this year or is retiring next year…can’t remember) and her benefits have always been phenomenal. I guess I just assumed that was the perk of being a federal employee…never thought about the union piece of it since she never brought it up.

  44. R*

    I currently work for a white collar union (admin staff at a university). ON one hand, I really like it–my benefits are really good, the union has our backs in case something goes wrong, and most importantly (for me personally) the union negotiated for a really good tuition package so I’m getting my master’s for free. I like having a connection to other workers here.

    On the other, we don’t get merit raises or bonuses, just COL bumps, and that can be really really hard to swallow, especially as I get older and feel as though I have been working well enough to deserve a raise in another, corporate setup. It can be kind of demoralizing, and since only entry level is union and management is not it’s hard to get promoted because it involves so much balancing.

    I am, however, personally very pro-union. I think they’re incredibly important, but they only work when people are willing to work at them and let them evolve and be shaped by what the worker needs in the 21st century. Otherwise they get bogged down and dinosaur very quickly. But in general? Unions are fantastic.

    1. debonairess*

      interesting – it sounds like unions in the US must be quite different.
      Here in the UK (university union) the union is there for collective bargaining and case support but other than that you don’t get additional benefits (other than access to training courses).
      Union membership is a protected characteristic (like sex, race etc) so any question of getting different benefits/ raises/ bonuses due to union membership and the union would be straight on it! There is no question of anyone getting less of a pay rise because they are a union member.
      Can I ask what sort of benefits you get due to membership?

      1. zora*

        I’m not R, but in general in the US when we mention “benefits” we are 90% referring to health insurance, and other things the UK government provides as a national system. ;o)

        So, in many cases here it’s that the union negotiated as part of the agreement, high quality/low-cost medical/dental insurance, good retirement benefits, maybe life insurance, EAP, those are the kinds of things classified under “benefits” in the US.

        And unions are usually structured by the way positions are classed, so management positions are usually not in the union because they are the ones ‘making the decisions’ supposedly about what the unionized group of workers is doing.

        So, it’s not necessarily that union and non-union workers get different benefits, it’s more like the hourly staff get higher pay and better medical insurance than they might have if they weren’t part of a unionized workplace.

        1. debonairess*

          Thanks for clarifying. Such an interesting thread. (Thanks Alison!)

          Sometimes I do feel a little bit annoyed with colleagues who aren’t part of the union so don’t pay dues but do enjoy all the benefits obtained through collective bargaining (pay rises, contract improvements etc etc).
          Especially during the recent industrial action it was annoying to see people crossing the picket line knowing they would benefit from the concessions we got from losing a month’s pay. Everyone tried to be respectful but it did lead to a bit of tension between members in / not in the union.
          I try to remind myself you can’t know anyone else’s circumstances or reasons for doing/ not doing something and get on with my own business, strengthening the union! :D

  45. Utoh!*

    Hubby is a member of a union through this job with the state. I can say that there are pros and cons to being a member, thankfully, they have been mainly pro for him except that they never fire anyone, regardless of their poor performance. My husband, who is very dedicated to the work he does (in the medical field), is always telling me about his awful coworkers. Thankfully, he’s out in about 3.5 years, with a full pension and health benefits. He will stop paying union dues and still be entitled to a COLA raise every year. We also plan to move to a state that has no income tax and other perks our current state lacks. I work for a mixed union company, and we were recently acquired by a larger company looking to get rid of the union. I don’t see a benefit of a union for myself per se, as I will be getting a pension (though since 2009 they no longer have a pension for new hires), have a 401K with company match, and my husband’s state benefits which are far better than what my company offers. I have never been a member of a union, but it does seem like those who are (in my company anyway) want to keep it, and it was pretty volatile for while when we were in the midst of being purchased and there were a lot of union versus non-union emails being sent from the organizers.

  46. Pam*

    I am a member of Academic Professionals of California- the union covering California State University professional advisors, financial aid counselors, etc. We have other unions for faculty and other staff.

    I love it! My union is there if I need assistance with a bad boss, argues to improve our benefits, and is definitely worth the price.

  47. A*

    I’ve been a unionized worker and a manager in a unionized workplace (government). In general, as a manager, it was a pain as I inherited a group where the problem employees had been warehoused. I did EVERYTHING according to the book to notice and write people up, which became a job in itself. I was telegraphing that they really needed to work and they were telegraphing that that was an impossibility. The stories are unbelievable and generally make people want to stop paying taxes.

    As a worker, I don’t like having to contribute to a group who use the money to pad themselves with salary and office space (10K SF in the most pricey US real estate market). They are generally terrible in communicating or doing anything to help members (I’ve had to fight to get my benefits). They refuse to get or use email. This is the union for the highest tier/most analytical workers.

  48. OhGee*

    I’ve been part of two unions – one at an Ivy League university (which had the best pay in the city for administrative assistant roles and the like) and one at my current job in a small nonprofit. Both already existed when I was hired, and I don’t remember if the uni union was compulsory – I don’t think so, but you got the benefits and paid the dues whether you joined or not. I was not involved with the university union at all, but they negotiated excellent benefits and pay for our area, so I was happy.

    My current union experience has been more complicated, but I still strongly support being part of a union. I was steward for several years, through a few really difficult personnel issues in which people were terminated. Those situations were challenging because the people who were terminated definitely needed to go (both terminations involved the employee initiating altercations with coworkers) but management’s handling of the terminations dragged things out in a way that was unnecessarily stressful. Collective bargaining is also a big pain in the butt – you’re inevitably going to compromise both with your fellow union members and management, and negotiation points are sometimes talked to death. But my organization has fantastic benefits and very good compensation for a nonprofit. I do struggle with people getting really, really literal about their job descriptions — that stuff makes more sense in a workplace that requires specialized equipment and safety measures, but when a communications coordinator doesn’t want to perform a quick semi-annual task, even though the last two people in the role did (and this person is *not* busy 40 hours a week, every week). because it’s not ‘in their job description’ my eyes roll back in my head. It’s a good protection against people taking each others’ work and against management arbitrarily adding big new tasks, but some people take that a bit far for my taste. l also feel a strong sense of solidarity with other union workplaces. I know there *can* be corruption in unions, but I still think they’re the best way for employees to support each other and create a workplace that is good for all.

    1. OhGee*

      I’ll add that my current organization’s board is very out of touch/cheap (our board president/founder hasn’t had a job in decades and doesn’t think about things like retirement and health care the way most people do) and I am certain that collective bargaining for benefits is the only reason we have such good benefits. Our employer pays 100% of our medical premiums, and we’ve had to renegotiate twice in two years, because our insurer keeps eliminating the plan we’re on. Both times, we’ve selected a better insurance plan than our employer wanted to choose, which wouldn’t have been an option without collective bargaining.

  49. LQ*

    My experience has been mixed. I like that I don’t have to worry about negotiating my pay or benefits. I don’t like that it’s incredibly difficult to be recognized for merit. I definitely am paid less than private sector. I don’t like that the union doesn’t seem to actually care about getting good people into management, they want people to get promoted but stay within the union (which means not getting promoted into management). Which sounds lovely if you want to be an individual contributor, but isn’t so great if what you want to do is change actual attitudes and the way it functions. My union definitely has an us vs them feel with management.
    I do like that a lot of the rules around things like vacation are just there. But I have a feeling that in my job somewhere private they would be too.

    I think it is really beneficial to the folks in the call center where I work. Those jobs absolutely benefit a lot from having a union.

  50. formergradstudent*

    The graduate students who worked as teaching/research assistants at the university where I did my masters degree were unionized, and it was wonderful. Grad students are paid very little and easily exploited. When the university tried to raise our health insurance rates, which would have resulted in an effective pay decrease and was prohibited by our union contract, the union successfully fought back. The union also was very strict about TA/RA working hours, and my department therefore carefully respected those limits. All TAs and RAs, regardless of whether they chose to join the union, benefitted equally.

    1. RedBlueGreenYellow*

      I was likewise a member of a graduate student union for many years (under the umbrella of the UAW). I don’t remember the fees being onerous, but I do remember the union being great for dealing with safety issues (like getting the grad students in a particularly ancient building a fire escape). Also, given how hard the university tried to push that we were “students, not workers,” and given how many hours we worked, we appreciated the relative strength that came from collective bargaining.

    2. Rock Prof*

      I was also under a UAW union in graduate school, and it was fantastic. I never had problems where I needed the union to advocate for me, but I had some friends with problems (got hit by a car, in one case; semi-abusive/neglectful advisor in another), and the union reps had to advocate against their supervising professors, and it was what really what got them through finishing their PhDs.
      Now, I’m in a state where public employee unions aren’t actually allowed to collectively bargain. I can still be in one, but they can’t really do anything. Even only being a professor here for 5 years, I’ve seen pensions, health care, bargaining, tenure, etc. all deteriorate. It’s fairly troubling to me, as someone raised in what was at the time a super pro-union coal state.

    3. Manders*

      My husband was a part of the graduate student union at his university, and he had a much worse experience. In the end, it comes down to how willing the union is to push back–his wasn’t at all strict about TA/RA working hours, and there was a lot of pressure from professors to break union rules. They also tended to get hung up on odd issues that benefitted a small number of graduate students over major problems like the university going back on funding promises and not paying on time.

      The tricky thing with these unions is that they can be pretty easily hamstrung if the students in them are afraid of retaliation from their departments or their advisors. Everyone has to be united, and my husband’s school did a very good job of making sure grad students felt like they were in competition with each other.

      1. Emily Spinach*

        When I was a grad student I was active in my union, and pay on time was a constant issue that we (I) attempted to address like eight different ways. I know many of my peers thought we weren’t doing anything because they continued to be paid late, but being on the board helped me to see how much you have to do (for free! on top of graduate work and teaching/RA work!) to make progress on some of the university’s bureaucracy type issues. It was frustrating! But since I was doing it, I know we were trying very hard.

        One tough thing I found as an active member and leader was the balance of communicating all the things we did versus boring/annoying our members with too many updates or too much information. I know almost every group struggles to find balance with that.

    4. Buffy*

      A group of grad students at my university made an unsuccessful bid at unionizing. It seemed (at least to me) it would benefit the non-STEM graduate students a lot more, who were traditionally paid a lot less. The STEM grad students apparently would be making less money, with dues added.

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        My supervisor was in grad school when there was a bid for unionizing of grad students and that’s his feeling. And it was entirely a pay thing- they supposedly told that STEM grad students would have to be paid less so non-STEM grad students could be paid more.

    5. Chameleon*

      Also in UAW (and on the board for a few years). Our union successfully pushed back on mandatory “fees” (which unlike tuition, were not waived) that amounted to almost half a month’s pay each quarter, we fought to prevent international student workers from being gouged on tuition, we fought a couple of professors who tried to mandate work under unsafe conditions, or in one case, who attempted to retaliate against a student for reporting an unsafe condition. Grad students also had really amazing health insurance.

    6. Cat Herder*

      I was very frustrated in grad school not to have a union (back in the previous century, when it was pretty much unheard of for graduate students to unionize). One year the dept cut our already humiliatingly low pay for teaching by 25%, right before the term started. No one would go along with refusing to work — all afraid that it would hurt their standing in the dept, ability to get references, etc. I was able to get an adjunct gig at another local school, but most of my colleagues had to suck it up. That’s what happens when all the power is on one side. For all their problems, unions still are one of the few, maybe the only, organizations that look out for workers.

      After all, how often does AAM recommend having employees go as a group to talk to management about resolving problems? That’s what a union does — bring the power of numbers.

  51. BigTenProfessor*

    I was briefly in a white-collar union, and the biggest benefit is pay equality and knowing I will get as much as my male coworkers.

  52. Chris*

    I belong to a union and I am also on some committees. Before I joined the committees, I admit that I didn’t totally understand how important the union was and how much work they do. In the years that I have been in the union, they have gotten us guaranteed raises and profit-sharing bonuses every year. Our healthcare is better than the employees not in the union. We have a pension. My only problem is that if I get any more promotions, I have to leave the union and that’s not something I want to happen. However, I couldn’t turn down a promotion now can I?

    The only negatives that I’ve seen re: being in the union is that some of my co-workers that should no longer have jobs still do because it is hard to fire them. So the union is great because it protects us but some people take advantage.

  53. Tendell*


    Great health insurance! Seriously, I will probably never have health insurance this good again. It’s the best benefit we have in this district of [national grocery store chain].

    Hypothetical protection for good workers against bad managers. (It’s hypothetical because I can see it happening, maybe, but it’s never been an issue.)


    Joining is mandatory, and dues add up fast. A minor helper clerk that we hired was fired for not paying her initial dues, even though she had them in the mail the day before the deadline. There is no leniency.

    The union proudly supports political causes that individual members might not support, and there’s no way to opt out, so if you work for this store you ARE supporting the union’s politics. I, personally, really hate that part, and would gladly de-unionize for that reason alone.

    Protects bad workers from good managers. We had one coworker whom I dreaded seeing because he would be so insubordinate/argumentative toward me (and others) over ridiculously basic tasks… I think that once you’ve repeatedly refused to do your job, refused to follow basic rules, refused to discuss it with your managers, and talked about how you don’t care because you’re leaving soon anyway, you should be able to be fired, but the union didn’t allow it. He finally transferred, thank heavens, but I feel so sorry for his transfer store.

    Overall, I would not have joined the union if given the choice. I have nothing against them fundamentally, and I know they wereoriginally crucial to forming basic working standards and rights, but in this situation it’s less a united coalition of workers and more an outside protection racket that forces us to pay dues and support their interests in return for one or two good things and several more bad things. I don’t think it’s a good trade-off.

  54. Anon today*

    I was in a union for about three years and standardized reviews, raises, vacation, and sick time were amazing. Plus the fact that you didn’t have to do the negotiating for those things – it was done by the union. One major downside was that it was near impossible to fire people that were lousy at their jobs but not bad enough that they did something terrible – like theft or something. Also, the length someone was at the organization was far more powerful than it should have been. If two internal candidates were going for the same position, it really didn’t matter what they said or did in their interview or what they were bringing to the table. The person that had been there the longest would always get the promotion.

  55. SQL Coder Cat*

    I’ve been a member of multiple unions through my three career paths, and overall I find them a positive thing to have. In each case, the union was already established when I got there, and the ‘fair use’ fee was equal to the union dues, so I always just joined.

    The good:
    1) The healthcare plans are amazing. Seriously, you will never get health insurance as good as you get with a union anywhere else.
    2) The feedback loop. Unions are great for making sure there are clearly defined processes for getting feedback on your performance, and helping you if you are falling short.
    3) Guaranteed cost of living adjustments. The unions I’ve belonged to have all negotiated standard cost of living adjustments every year, in addition to a longevity raise (which varies based on your performance review). Under my current union, I get 2.5% cost of living and a 2-5% longevity raise annually.

    The bad:
    1) The paperwork. Remember that clear feedback process? Turns out even when everything is going well, you have to fill out paperwork showing you know things are going well.
    2) The slowness. Even minor changes in job titles or responsibility require review, so it takes at least twice as long to process as it would otherwise.

    My current employment is gearing up for contract negotiations (the current contract expires next year). Both the university and the union take employee feedback seriously, and we’ve had a number of joint surveys already regarding different areas of the contract and our preferences, as well as a number of meetings where we can express our wants/needs for the new contract. It’s not an adversarial relationship here at all.

    TL;DR: My experience has been positive, but your mileage may vary.

  56. Ruralady*

    I love my union! I work for a large non-profit, and my union has been essential in getting better pay, benefits, and equitable treatment. There’s a section of our workforce that hasn’t been allowed to join our union, and it’s such a stark difference. The non-unionized employees haven’t gotten cost of living increases, pay raises, protection from harassment or toxic behavior, union benefits are better…the list goes on.

    They have also been

  57. Testdrivealexis*

    In my last job I belonged to a union and enjoyed the solidarity and what they stood for. However, there was lack of enthusiasm amongst a lot of members and not many in leadership willing to really push management for change. I would have stepped up for leadership if I wasn’t planning to move onto another job (which Alison here helped me to decide). I don’t really blame them though because management was very hostile towards the union and did everything they could to undermine. Meanwhile, all workers were underpaid while the 3 execs at the top reaped the benefits of our hard work: the CEO’s bonus was double my salary (it’s a nonprofit so they made 6 figures but not as much as other CEOs).

  58. Mimmy*

    I’m not nor never have been in a union, but I work for the state, which is unionized. I don’t really understand the ins-and-outs of it, but I remember during the new-hire orientation, the union leaders practically guilted everyone into joining. Because I’m technically classified as temporary, I am not eligible to join, so I was semi-relieved.

    I look forward to reading everyone’s responses here because it may help me understand unions more. I’m not sure I really want to get involved with a heavily-unionized employer but I need to be better informed before I make that decision.

  59. Marcy Marketer*

    While I’ve never been in a Union, my husband has and he HATED it. You needed to be there for 2 years to get protection and during that time if you ruffled any feathers or seemed to do your job too well the union employees would try to get you fired. He was warned to always log out of his computer when he left it.

    Then he became a manager and he feels he had a good partnership with the union reps and they work well together. But it does make for more work (which he doesn’t mind) and sometimes there are situations where they can’t come to an agreement on a problem. For example if they don’t need as many employees because of a downturn in customers, the union doesn’t let them get rid of jobs which is bad for the company.

    Coming from an education background, I’d like to see adjunct professors unionize because they have no benefits, poor working conditions and horrible pay.

      1. curly sue*

        Ouch. That feels like a conflict of interest on some levels, or at the very least, a lot less incentive for the union to focus on the needs of the part-timers. I’m an adjunct in a union that covers adjuncts and TAs, and the full-time hires have their own union. It probably annoys HR, who now have to deal with… three? separate unions on campus? No, I think four. But I do like knowing that ours is focused on improving our position without having to dilute anything down.

  60. MamaCat*

    I’ve done permit-work for the local chapter of the stagehand union when I’m between private sector theater gigs; on one hand, it’s great, because I only have to call one place in order to be considered for a bunch of gigs, but on the other, the work is not consistent. Theater is rife with under paying people, so the threat of unionization definitely helps keep theater owners on their toes, at least in this area. And when my mom was working in a completely different industry, her work made sure to pay everyone above the union scale to limit the incentives to unionize. I have noticed some blatant favoritism in the union, though, so it’s not all peaches and cream. All in all, I think Unions do good things, if only to scare businesses owners into paying decent wages and keeping everything on the up and up.

  61. Taryn*

    I used to work for Walt Disney World a decade ago, which has a union representing the front line hourly employees.

    I did not choose to opt in with payments, but apparently was still covered under it.

    One of my most vivid memories (and probably the beginnings of my anti-union opinions) was when I was working at the Jungle Cruise as a skipper- at that attraction, the boat is on a track, but you control the throttle. I was pulling my boat up to the unload dock- I overshot, and bumped the boat in front of me, which is an automatic safety reprimand. To make matters worse, the boat was completely empty except for a little girl visiting with The Make a Wish Foundation, who had been boarding when I bumped her boat, causing her to fall.

    I got pulled from my boat and sent to the office to speak with a manager. A union rep joined us, and he assured me that he wouldn’t let Disney write me up- I stared at him for a moment, incredulously said something along the lines of “I was admittedly being careless, I struck another boat with my boat, and I made a child with cancer FALL OVER. Of course I’m going to accept this write up, why on earth would you want me to fight this??”

    Both the manager and the union rep stared at me, disbelieving. The union rep left, I signed my counseling, and I went about my day.

    It really soured my opinion of the union- I always thought they were there to fight for you if you were being wrongly accused. Not force Disney to not hold you accountable even if you very much deserved documentation.

    What kind of monster would say they shouldn’t be held accountable for putting a kid with cancer in danger?!

      1. Taryn*

        I didn’t get fired. It was a first level counseling, and one I deserved to get.

        I believe and support in progressive counseling. Even if I’m the one that’s done wrong.

    1. eee*

      I dunno–you could argue the same for lawyers defending clients? Like, it’s that person’s job to go to bat for you. In a situation where no one was hurt, why shouldn’t they fight for you?

      1. Taryn*

        It would be one thing if he had just introduced himself and said he was there to make sure I was being treated fairly. But he didn’t. It was a black and white policy for the company that bumping boats was a safety reprimand, and he came in acting super offended that my management were trying to hold me accountable, and promised me he would get it thrown out, even though I 100% deserved to have something put on my record.

        It felt like the Disney Union was there to allow people to suck at their jobs and not follow safety policies (which are super important. People have died at Disney many times over the years due to employee negligence) instead of just trying to look out and make sure everyone was treated fairly.

  62. Probably Nerdy*

    My profession is ineligible for organization (so I’ve heard) but I had representation by a federal employee’s union before. I only heard about it when I was embroiled in a protracted complaint against my manager and a sympathetic colleague put me in touch with the union president, an elderly lady on the verge of retirement. She was very helpful but didn’t have much to offer beyond advice.

    It was hard because we were on a military base and anything union-related could not be discussed via the base communication system (e.g. the internet would block the site for instance) and the managers were not allowed to tell us that we had union representation. You had to do everything kind of clandestine which was so odd.

    Ultimately the union was unable to help me much. My personal opinion (like anyone cares, ha!) is that labor representation is good but that the unions from last century have not kept up with the times and we need a new incarnation for the modern workplace.

    1. L*

      I am not a union member, and have only once had a job with part of the workers unionized (the typographers and pressmen union; I was editorial). Even then, 30+ years ago, the mentality of the union seemed 19th Century. It’s been too long to remember specifics, but I agree that while the idea of unions is still good, the daily nuts and bolts need to reflect modern times.

  63. Vin Packer*

    I loved my union, but it was small and very democratically run. I think that’s key; some unions are so big they’re almost like corporations unto themselves.

    My union actually won a lawsuit against the employer over some really shady stuff, and over the years has acted like a brick wall to stop some other really shady stuff from happening in the first place. There’s no way we could have made those things happen without the organizing power.

  64. AnotherAnon4This*

    My husband is in a white collar union (he’s an engineer). While I’m not overly impressed with every aspect of it–the union leadership let some major changes to the contract process slide through a few years ago without a member vote, it was very shady–I am SUPER glad it exists because the Large Engineering Company That Shall Remain Unnamed that my husband works for would 10,000% work their engineers into pulp if the union didn’t exist. As it is, this company is pretty fucking shady in certain ways already. But my husband is salaried AND gets paid overtime, and it’s a pretty rigorous process to be approved to work overtime at all, and I am extremely glad for that because he would be working 60+ hour weeks as baseline expectation if there were no union. The union newsletters also keep us up to date on things going on within the company leadership that would be hard to track on our own otherwise.

    My mother worked for a state dept. of education for many years (I will not say which one). She was managerial level, so not unionized, but she managed union employees. The popular perception among other managers was that the union employees would be protected by the union no matter what, so rather than dealing with problem employees they tended to just shuffle them around. My mother thought that sounded more like managerial laziness than reality, and she was right. When she had a (severely) underperforming employee–think an executive assistant who refused to use a computer, in 2010–she just followed the process of giving an honest performance review. The union got involved, saw my mother’s documentation of the situation, agreed that the employee should be terminated for poor performance, and she was. So… not all unions are unreasonable about keeping shitty employees around at all costs, either.

    I, personally, was also unionized as a graduate student, and the union didn’t do much for me but I had colleagues who found the union essential in navigating the graduate student health insurance process. So I was very glad that my dues helped to support them in their time of crisis.

  65. Tracy*

    When I was a junior in high school, I got a job as a bagger at a grocery store for minimum wage ($3.35/hour) and once I was hired I was told that I had to join the union. I had to pay a $50 “initiation fee” and then after that my “dues” were two hours of pay every week (so out of the 20 hours I worked, I only got paid for 18). It seemed like (and still seems like) a waste to me since I was just a kid trying to make some pocket money. I think that in the right circumstances a union can be a good thing as long as the demands that benefit the worker are not detrimental to the company, but I also think that unions should have an opt-out option for minors.

    1. Tracy*

      Oh, and I’d like to add that I’m not sure seniority-based promotions are a good idea. If there are two equally qualified people and the one with more seniority gets the promotion, that makes sense. But to move someone up just because they’ve occupied space longer than someone more qualified makes zero sense to me.

      Can I add one more thing? LOL, I guess I’m on a roll here. Take my home state, for instance. Its public employee pension fund is almost empty due to the fact that they have an incredibly generous retirement package. Like, a package that hasn’t been seen by the general public for well over a generation. While I believe that everyone who was hired with this retirement package should receive it, I think that the new people that are being hired now should have a retirement package more along the lines of everyone else. That makes sense; the state can’t afford to keep hemorrhaging money and a new employee can know what to expect at retirement and plan accordingly. But the public employee unions are fighting to make sure that the newly hired employees are still eligible for the retirement package that will eventually implode on itself. They want to raise taxes in a state that already has some of the highest taxes in the country. Makes no sense.

      1. Chameleon*

        Or maybe instead of tearing down the benefits that union members get, you can try to fight for everyone else to get better retirement plans?

    2. Cat Herder*

      Maybe, but then you could see that the stores would try to hire more minors, who they could push around. The expense to you was large because you were not working full time or long term and it was a flat fee, rather than say a sliding scale.

  66. Anon for this*

    Well, the board of the attorney union for the state of California is stacked with state DOJ attorneys. During the furloughs in the recession, DOJ attorneys weren’t furloughed while other member attorneys were. Left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. The DOJ attorneys are well organized because they are the largest block of attorneys working in a single organization. The union has previously refused to share member lists with member who wanted to run in board elections.

    I was fair share member because I had to be. I’d be demanding they stop taking $ from my pay following Janus v. AFSCME if I were still in the union. Because of what happened during the prior furloughs and the politics of the union, I would not trust the union to fairly represent me in the bad times even if they’ve had some moderate successes in the good times.

    The union is ON TOP of the civil service protections. If the union didn’t exist, the civil service protections would still be there. Didn’t really feel like I really needed the union, to be honest. I’m in a non-dangerous job in a profession that is highly educated where there is employer competition in the market.

  67. Batshua*

    I belong to a union, but I don’t pay my dues, because they are NOT sliding scale and are currently an exorbitant amount of my pay. However, the union rep has been there for me, and while I think they could be doing better, my local chapter definitely doesn’t suck. If I ever make enough money that I can put away savings, I’m totally gonna start paying dues.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      That’s interesting! The few unions I know of don’t function like that. Usually if you’re not a paying member it’s basically radio silence from the union reps.

      1. Chameleon*

        If you are part of the collective bargaining unit, the union is legally required to represent you, even if you are not part of the union itself.

        1. AnonForThis*

          Like all things, that depends. If the Union has successfully negotiated recognition as the exclusive representative for a particular bargaining group, then they have to represent unionized and non-unionized employees in that group.* But if multiple unions represent the unit or if someone outside of the union, like an employment attorney, can represent an employee in a disciplinary proceeding, then the union does not have to represent non-members. (Some collective bargaining agreements will say that only union reps can be heard at the disciplinary hearings for members.)

          *This is what causes a lot of anti-union sentiment. In the US, bargaining unit employees can sue unions for ineffective representation, including non-members in these situations (to the delight of anti-union lawmakers). This is the main reason why I think unions fight for ridiculously bad employees. They’re scared that the problem employee is going to sue the union so its easier to represent them in the action versus fighting the dysfunctional employee with lots of anger and free time on their hands thanks to unemployment.

        2. Anon, Anon, Anon*

          I always understood this as – you get the raises/benefits that are bargained for, but you don’t get the “extra” perks like having a union rep with you during a grievance meeting or the like?

    2. Annie Moose*

      This is why my mom isn’t in the union. She’s a paraprofessional, and while the fees are lower for the parapro union than the teacher’s union… it’s proportionally so much more money she won’t do it.

  68. Ruralady*

    *ack, submitted before I was ready*

    I love my union! I work for a large non-profit, and my union has been essential in getting better pay, benefits, and equitable treatment. There’s a section of our workforce that hasn’t been allowed to join our union, and it’s such a stark difference. The non-unionized employees haven’t gotten cost of living increases, pay raises, protection from harassment or toxic behavior, union benefits are better…the list goes on.

    They have also been a real change agent in my organization, holding them accountable to better behavior.

  69. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I just joined a union, and so far I really like it. Our management is pretty focused on screwing us over, but the union has been able to negotiate significant COLA increases and aggressive equality with benefits. Most of us can’t afford to live in the City in which we work, and because there’s poor public transit, most of us have to drive. We’re penalized for the parking and for commuting by car (essentially local eco programs benefit the wealthy who live in the city and penalize lower-income workers who have to commute in). The union has helped us bring down and/or freeze those out of pocket costs, which I appreciate.

    Our union has also been invaluable and supportive in helping us challenge clear violations of our CBA and wage-and-hour laws (e.g., increasing our workload without compensation or coverage, trying not to pay us for work performed during a specific season, even though we’re legally obligated to perform that work).

    The one place where it’s been difficult is in our classification. Right now, we’re lumped with a bargaining unit that has really different work duties and evaluation criteria. It may make sense for us to transfer units, but that would decrease total union membership, so the union is not excited (and may oppose) our efforts at reclassifying with a more appropriate bargaining unit.

  70. formerteacher*

    I’m no longer union due to switching fields, but when I was a teacher I loved being union. They got us excellent benefits, went to the mats so we could actually be fairly well-compensated (for teachers, mind) and had our backs when there was a conflict with a parent or the administration. They also gave great advice when you were trying to find some professional development workshops. Teaching is a profession where you can easily feel unsupported — you mostly hear from parents or administration when you’re screwing up, or they perceive you to be screwing up — and so to have that guidance and support from the union was really beneficial.

  71. AnotherSarah*

    There’s another important aspect here, beyond personal experience. What we see as nostalgia for a time in the U.S. when working in a factory could provide for a family of four should be understood as a nostalgia for good _union_ jobs. Job re-training programs (in Appalachia at least, but my guess is elsewhere) are typically retraining people who came from union jobs into jobs that pay terribly and have no job security. There is no way workers on an assembly line could have fed their families without a union. Unions also helped (and still help) immigrant workers communicate with their American-born bosses, and brought the U.S. the 5-day workweek. So while the criticisms of unions can be just ones, they are largely to thank for the postwar boom years. (Historian speaking here.)

    1. Higher Eds Union*

      This is such a good point – thank you for making it. Whenever I hear the stories about the individual “bad employee” I remember that it’s *collective* bargaining and for every bad employee there are hundreds of good ones who are getting benefits.

  72. TotesMaGoats*

    My FIL worked in labor relations for a very big government agency. The stories he told me about the union and the problems he had to work on. Hair raising. The union employee that needed a support animal. That animal was one of those little monkeys. Said monkey attacked people and threw poo. For real.

    I’d probably consider myself anti-union but not vehemently so. If you want to be in one, then I support that. However, from everything we’ve read and seen, unions as a whole could probably be done a whole lot better.

  73. cheeky*

    I love this question! I work in an engineering-adjacent role for a large utility company, am a member of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), and am a shop steward and active participant with my union. Like the LW, as I was growing up, my exposure to unions was limited to what I learned in social studies class and heard from popular culture and politicians, and it was largely negative. My first experience with a union was as a tutor in college and was a member of the United Auto Workers, which actually represents lots TAs, graduate assistants, and tutors in universities. Back then, the UAW was fighting to increase wages and benefits like room and board subsidies. For the work I do now, before coming to my company, I’d never have expected to be in a union, but it’s been an enormous blessing. There are so many advantages to being in union, from my perspective. As a woman, in particular, I value the full pay transparency for all union jobs, with clear, progressive wage increases, annual cost of living increases, and the guarantee that I am being paid fairly for my work. I also know that I’m paid better than people in similar jobs at other companies, and that is certainly because of contract negotiations. I also have job protections and cannot be laid off without a reason or due process. I have protection from retaliation. I have a platform and strength behind me to speak up for my rights as a worker and for issues with work that may not otherwise be heard. A few years ago, my work group was hemorrhaging people because of a major project failure, and my group was risking collapse. As a steward, I was able to work with management to put a retention plan in place, which paid an 11% annual bonus to employees who committed to staying in the group for 2 years, which made people willing to stay and saved the group. We also have the ability to “bid” into jobs (meaning that you can transfer into certain jobs without having to apply and be interviewed) internally to move and grow within the company.

    The only downside for me is that there is some rigidity to the contract and that that seniority counts for a lot, sometimes at the expense of skill and merit. I haven’t been significantly or negatively impacted by this, but some people do get promoted or stay in their positions despite not being the most qualified for the job. In my experience in my company, though, this happens in management and other non-unions jobs, too. On balance, though, we benefit far more from being in the union than we would if we were all left to our own devices to as for raises or push for more opportunities for career growth and progression. And after surviving a lay off and underemployment during the Great Recession, job security is something I’m really grateful for and don’t take for granted.

    There are lots of powerful groups and people in this country who benefit mightily from subverting and weakening unions, to our collective peril. So many of us don’t understand the value of unions unless and until we are in one, especially as fewer and fewer people know union workers. My parents weren’t in a union, I didn’t have any exposure to unions at all, but it wasn’t hard for me to understand the value to me in being unionized.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      My classmates and I always joked that we went to school to become lawyers and came out as auto workers :)

  74. Msdoodlebu*

    I’m a government worker in a union and I’d say it’s been mostly positive. The department I used to work for had some questionable management and having the protection of the union against being fired was comforting. The union protected me after I contacted them because my boss was trying to write me up for breaking a rule that did not exist and not following procedures that existed only in his head. I do have a pension still, but it gets worse for each generation that comes in. I was pretty disappointed last year when our union was negotiating pay raises that they wasted months making a political point (which I actually agreed with in a lot of ways – it was related to including community advocacy groups more in planning) but ended up not getting us a higher raise than originally offered (which barely covers cost of living increases, and does not cover any sort of equity adjustment to make our pay similar to that of other counties in the state.) Overall though I encourage my coworkers to join for the job protection aspect.

  75. Engineer Girl*

    I was forced to join the union when I worked my way through university. The job was in the hospital kitchen. My state was a closed shop state so I had no choice on joining.

    The union took a huge chunk out of my paycheck with pretty much zero benefits. They would not negotiate for partial benefits for part time employees (less than 32 hours a week).

    The air conditioning broke in August. We had people passing out and hitting their heads on the steam tables. The union did nothing. They allowed the hospital to do slow delivery (two weeks) of the parts needed for the air conditioning. We only got change when the employees banded together and reported the hospital to OSHA. Only then did the hospital pay for 2 day shipping.

    So my experience is that the union takes your money and does nothing in return.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh this sounds familiar.

      My old union took almost a day’s pay each month. They sent us brochures promising to teach us to read. Yeah, brochures for the illiterate….. They would call you at home and tell you where you were to go the next day such as “walk a picket line, 50 miles away from home”. Having to work was not a reason for saying no. If you said no you got a black check mark next to your name. Later if you needed help form the union they would check to see how many check marks you had. If you had a few you would not be helped.

      They sent out flyers telling everyone who to vote for. They made it sound like they would know who you voted for and there would be fall-out if you voted for the wrong person. I could see people believing that the union knew what went on the voting booth, they were very convincing.

      If you quit the job you had to pay $20 per month to keep your membership alive OR pay the initiation fee of several hundred dollars at the next place.

      The company was a decent size. Rumor when around that this union was going to be voted in no matter what. So when there was a company wide vote to bring in the union only 10% of the employees voted. Of those voting employees, 10% voted against the union. Those who voted for the union said that the union was going to come in no matter what way we voted so a yes vote did not matter, either.
      Newspaper headlines read, “Company votes in Union by landslide vote”.
      And we then hit new levels of despair. The union was as much of a monster and the management. People became robotic.

      If I had to deal with a union it would be very difficult for me to trust them.

  76. schnauzerfan*

    My Dad worked for the city. Before the union came in they got 1 week of annual leave that had to be requested in January and all had to be used at one time. It didn’t roll over. He could be called into work at any time (he was a mechanic and so if a snow plow broke down etc…) After the union they got several weeks of leave (I think it maxed out a 3 weeks) and it was able to be taken in smaller chunks. He got time and 1/2 overtime for extra work. The pension system was beefed up. It was harder to get fired and the bosses buddy wasn’t the only one to get promoted.

    I work in a unionized workplace. The benefits, time off, pay, work conditions, etc. are all better than they were before the union. Yes, sometimes being unionized makes it harder to dismiss people who aren’t working out. There is a procedure that needs to be followed, but things are fairer for everyone.

  77. PugLife*

    My partner was unionized as a teacher in a school system he worked in for 1 year. He just got a check back for union dues (there was an issue with the way they were processed at the national level and so the local chapter refunded dues). He was expecting $20 but the check was actually several hundred – every penny he’d paid into it for the year he’d been a part of it. So, a nice surprise! (and very uncommon, haha)

    1. PugLife*

      And also, I think, speaks to the benefits of having good union leadership that will look out for it’s members, since I don’t think every local chapter got dues refunded, even though the problem was at the national level – this local chapter was just particularly determined to track everyone down.

  78. Higher Eds Union*

    For a long time I was part of a union in higher ed that was tenure-track professors + paid professionals + grad student workers + adjuncts. There was definitely a huge rift between people who were more or less fine with the status quo (guess who those people were…) and those who wanted more.

    I wish I could say it offered pay equality but the pay schedules were so broad and there was a lot of room to negotiate. I saw male adjuncts with a year of experience ask to be put on the top step and then women who didn’t know you can negotiate. For me one of the main benefits of union membership is not having to deal with this sort of inequity, but I guess this practice is more common than I thought.

    That being said, there were some major wins while I was there. Grad student workers won health insurance benefits. Adjuncts had benefits extended – though not as much as they should have and being an adjunct is crappy even when you’re in a union. There were some major pay increases for full-time faculty and staff that resulted in a lot of back pay being paid out since the contract had expired years previously. They negotiated long term contracts without tenure for adjuncts but it was glossed over that you were probably just going to be let go after the three years.

    I come from a union family (one of my relatives was nearly killed in the early 20th century for union organizing) so I’m pretty biased. But there were definitely times where I couldn’t believe how much leadership wanted the status quo and didn’t listen to membership. It was always about incremental gains. Cut to over 10 years later and adjuncts are making about $1000 more a year if they teach what amounts to a full-time course load. I was really active in the union at the time and I can’t stress enough what a white boy’s club it was. Probably the reason everyone enjoyed the status quo!

    All of that being said, I can’t imagine how crappy that experience would have been without a union. There were moments when it really paid off (one time quite literally) – especially during times of trouble – to have people have your back. I live in a state where public workers can’t strike so the leverage was always really limited.

  79. JKP*

    I work in an industry where 99.99% of our profession are self-employed solo practitioners. We have a union, which allows me to buy health insurance & liability insurance as part of a big group and thus better rates than buying individually. Also, the union would be the only way to advocate for our industry, since there are no big corporate to pour money into lobbying.

  80. triplehiccup*

    Until LGBT people become a federally protected class, I will never teach in a non-union state again. I was a public high school teacher in a state where teacher “unions” are essentially legal insurance for when shit really hits the fan. While I was at that school, a fellow gay teacher was witch-hunted out of the school by parents who accused her of giving more playing time to gay players (the true Gay Agenda!). Since the administration declined to help her, she had no support. It was awful for her, demoralizing for me and other gay teachers at the school, and the school lost a wonderful instructor.
    I now work for an education nonprofit that is fairly anti-teacher union because they’re “bad for the kids.” It’s true that they make it more difficult to get rid of bad teachers–if administrators are lazy about documentation and offering sufficient coaching (New York’s Rubber Room is a fairly rare exception). Well, my rotating cast of admins back in TX were also inept at properly managing people out of the workplace, and there was no union in their way.
    Ultimately, I think that stance takes a short view of what’s good for kids. Most of them will spend a lot of more of their lives as employees than as students, and, despite their many inherent flaws and historic wrongdoings (add the systemic perpetuation of racial segregation in the workplace and subsequent income inequity to the list started in previous comments), unions are an important source of protection for workers. In my opinion, it’s no coincidence that, since the 1960s, the real wages in the US have stagnated and union membership has declined.

    1. triplehiccup*

      Sorry for the wall of text; I didn’t realize I needed to hit return twice between paragraphs.

        1. Triplehiccup*

          Thanks for the updates. The rubber room is definitely alive and well in the public imagination, unfortunately.

  81. Union Proud*

    I’m a NYC public school teacher and I cherish my union. We have probably the highest salaries of any teachers in the country and our benefits are excellent. I belong to teacher groups on facebook and I am always hearing things from teachers across the country about not having a lunch period, or not having a prep, or having to do lunch duty, or having paraprofessionals teaching classes- NONE of that would fly with the UFT. I don’t have to worry about negotiating a salary or being underpaid relative to anyone else at my school- we all know exactly where we are on the salary scale and can plan accordingly. The union will not protect you if you do something illegal or unethical- well, they will make sure you get due process but they won’t shield you from all consequences. And most importantly to me, since I’ve been teaching for 15 years- no principal can push me and my high salary out and replace me with two brand new, cheap teachers. I LOVE my union!!

    1. Chinookwind*

      “I am always hearing things from teachers across the country about not having a lunch period, or not having a prep, or having to do lunch duty, or having paraprofessionals teaching classes- NONE of that would fly with the UFT.”

      Wow, with the exception of the paraprofessionals teaching, all of those other things happen with the blessing of the Alberta teacher’s union. And paraprofessionals and even parents can “teach” (more like babysit) when they can’t find a qualified substitute teacher to cover. I guess the ATA isn’t as powerful as I once thought.

      1. Anon Teacher*

        I’m a Boston public school teacher and have very mixed feelings about unions. Our union is extremely powerful and I certainly appreciate the salary and benefits they negotiate. I’m not an especially assertive person and appreciate never having had to negotiate salary.

        In general what I have seen is the same thing that has been mentioned in previous comments about other unions: they protect their own. They’re great for older and established members, but can be rough for the younger teachers starting out. I worked in a district where they allowed teachers with tenure to just take another teacher’s job if that other teacher didn’t have tenure. I knew new teachers who were “bumped” to another job every year for five years. And they could only get tenure if they stayed in the same job for four years–something they weren’t able to do because they kept getting bumped. The senior teacher didn’t need to have a reason for switching jobs other than just wanting that new job. I’ve seen young teacher get frustrated and leave the field over conditions like that. The union rules also can just lead to some really rigid hiring practices–I’ve had friends have to go through the whole process of reapplying and re-interviewing for their jobs at the end of the year. Even though their admin wants to keep them. I’ve also had some stressful years waiting to see if I would be cut over budget cuts. It was frustrating to know that I would automatically get cut if positions were eliminated–and not the teacher with a history of performance issues or the one who hadn’t come to school in a month.

        It really bothers me how many teachers I see who are just putting in time. I’m a fairly new teacher (less than ten years) and I work hard and care about my students. Of course you can never know exactly how someone’s job performance is when you’re not their manager. But you can get a pretty good sense. I’m just deeply disappointed on my students’ behalf when I see teachers just not come to school for a year before retiring because they are basically using up their sick leave. Or retiring in November (based on union rules for benefits, it often depends on a birthday) even though that means students will likely have a substitute all year. I know as employees we sometimes need to put our interests before the job. But the students I work with are mostly low income and come from difficult backgrounds. They need their teachers to be looking out for them.

        I realize that not all of this can be put back on the unions. Some of this is employees just not doing their jobs. But some of the benefits are so generous and the rules so strict that it’s hard not to feel like the system could be better set up (and less rigid) so people wouldn’t be able to abuse it so freely. And in general my admin is very weak willed and unwilling to tackle performance issues. So I understand that things wouldn’t magically get better without a union.

        I am also so sick of how in your face they are with their political adds and their pushing of specific candidates and policies. Even if I agree with them at times, the tone comes across as over the top and close to propaganda at times. It can be frustrating to know that my union dues are going to political candidates and causes that I may or may not support.

        So all that is to say, I appreciate my union on the one hand, but I worry that some unions looks out for teachers at the expense of students.

        1. Morning Glory*

          Yes, very valid concern about students becoming collateral damage, so to speak.

          Public sector employee and Union member here. Dues are stupidly cheap, thank goodness, because I’ve seen no benefit from them.

          I remember being warned by a colleague when first at my job that the Union “protected all the wrong people” and sadly, that’s proven to be the case. The stewards file grievances for workers who barely show up to work, and when they do, spend all their time socializing and not actually working. When management attempts to deal with the performance problems, the Union stewards go into attack mode. This usually results in management caving and re-assigning work to people who actually care about their jobs. How, I ask, is that fair to the taxpayers who pay our salary and benefits towards services they can’t rely on????

          It doesn’t seem like my Union cares about those workers: the ones who are left to be clean up crew. I have brought my concerns to several Stewards and hire-ups and get told “management has the right to assign work.” So, maybe when I decide to spend my entire day in the break room, my Union will fight for me.

          Other than that, there are no merit based pay increases and promotions are not easy to obtain. The labor contract also gives power to seniority which, in my experience, is a deterrent younger workers trying to get ahead.

  82. AKchic*

    It all depends on what union you work for/with.

    My current union is amazing. I have been with unions off and on my entire career. Some have done nothing for me, some have helped, some have made things worse. Some (like this one) have helped me in ways I cannot describe.

    Thanks to a union, I was given extra backing when two religious people decided I wasn’t allowed to show any of my religious beliefs in the workplace because it was “satanic” and against theirs. Sure, the legal recourse they had after their threatened lawsuit was to stop putting me on the schedule… and had I not been 17, I would have been smart enough to even fight that; but I was a temp worker and I got a better job elsewhere. I didn’t want to spend my whole life working in a hospital kitchen with two religious nutters.

    Thanks to a union, I had extra standing to fight the military when they refused to actually do *their* job and protect me, a civilian contractor on a military installation when one of their soldiers was helping my soon-to-be ex-husband was stalking me and sneaking on the installation.
    Thanks to a union, I had support when I moved jobs (another unionized job) because of that stalker ex, and he kept showing up and my new job and was arrested multiple times and was spreading rumors about me and the corrections system (I worked in corrections at that time). I didn’t stay because I knew it would be a continued problem, but I was glad the union was there to help.

    I’ve had the union’s backing when dealing with gender discrimination in my current workplace. I know that if I decide to push certain issues, they will have my back. They ensure I get paid on time and my health benefits are amazing and cover all of my kids at no additional out-of-pocket cost to me. Because of my union, I can afford a good house in a good neighborhood and not living in a ramshackle hovel in a crime-ridden neighborhood.

    Unions make people do the right thing. No corners cut, no shoddy safety shortcuts, and paying decent wages for the knowledge/skills. You know what you’re going to get when you hire union. Good work. Safe work.

  83. Akcipitrokulo*

    In UK, and get impression it’s very different – for starters, having a “closed shop” where you have to be in a union to work there is illegal.

    I am in a union, and it’s a very positive thing. There aren’t enough members where I am to be recognised for any collective bargaining, but there are a lot of benefits – from special deals on credit cards through to access to courses.

    But the main thing is insurance in case something goes wrong. If I’m worried about something that’s going on, I can call my local office and ask them what my options are. (“Can my manager do this? What can I do about it?”)

    If there are any disciplinary issues, my rep will come to all meetings with me to protect my interests.

    If I’m unfairly dismissed, I will have zero legal costs, no matter how far it goes as my union will pick up the tab for it.

    And I’m helping support other workers as well, so that we don’t lose any of the protections that took so much to win in the first place.

    I was briefly without a union – I was on maternity leave, and had let it lapse. TBH I was more concerned with other things, and had a “I’m not in the office – what could happen? I’ll rejoin when got less on my plate…”

    What happened is that I was made redundant while on maternity leave, and if I’d been in a union at the time, would have hung them out to dry as they broke so many of the anti-discrimination laws. As it was, I cut my losses and took the standard redundancy pay – partly because couldn’t afford legal fees, and partly because I was under a lot of stress and couldn’t look at it as clearly as I could. Someone in my corner I could call and who would pay for a good lawyer? Would have made a world of difference.

    So yeah – decided then that I would *NEVER* be without that protection again.

    1. debonairess*

      Wooo UK union high five.

      Yes this thread is so interesting, I had no idea about the differences with unions in the US.

    2. triplehiccup*

      Legal insurance is the main upside to US unions in states where closed shops are illegal–for teachers, anyway. If I had been a special ed teacher, I would have happily joined.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Although you can get insurance on your own! There was a bit of kerfuffle among teachers of my acquaintance in the past couple years over this.

  84. Shrugged*

    My sister and I have two vastly different takes on unions:

    I mentioned above my experience as a grocery clerk, and how little use I had for the union I was mandated to join. Mostly it was a pay-suck. A small but significant chunk of my minimum wage went to the union, I was required to attend meetings that took me a couple hours to travel to and from, and for which I had to pay for transit out of pocket. Overall, I can’t think of a way that the union benefited me. (No health insurance, as I was part time. Minimum wage. No need for promotion assistance, as I didn’t intend to make a career of it.)

    My sister, on the other hand, also works in a job that requires union membership, and adores it. She’s made a career as a medical assistant with a corporate medical behemoth. There are multiple competing unions, and the union members select their representing union for the next five years via vote. So benefits and salaries are constantly being negotiated, and the union MUST do a good job or the staff will choose a different union the next time. My sister dislikes the period right before the votes, because those unions really go all out to get votes. Then again, she receives quarterly updates via email on where her union dues were spent (in general terms), so she can see how much is spent on advertising/vote gathering. And the union has helped her get promoted, protected her job while she’s on medical leave, helped her get the hours she wants, switched her between departments without losing seniority, switched her workplace locations entirely, and so on. In addition to all of that, my sister is part Native American, with dark skin and hair, and feels that the union protects her from some of the racism that she otherwise might have faced.

    Her experience is so vastly different than mine, and I think a large part of it is that she is making a career of a unionized job. And some of it really is the competition between her unions – I can see why she dislikes it, but I can also see the benefits it brings her, in terms of really making the unions do what helps the workers most.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      The forced aspect is really off to me and I’d feel the same :( in UK your employer doesn’t even have right to KNOW if you’re in a union or not.

      1. Becky*

        I’m curious–how does the UK deal with the freeloader problem? I don’t necessarily agree with forced union dues but I don’t know how else to deal with the freeloader problem. The union negotiated salaries and benefits go to everyone–even those who aren’t members or paying dues so those paying dues are subsidizing and supporting those who aren’t paying but are still gaining the benefits.

        1. debonnairess*

          It can be annoying sometimes, especially during industrial action when people are crossing the picket who will benefit from our lost wages. But really it’s just something you put up in the knowledge you are doing your bit. I speak to new members of staff to ask if they are interested in Joining and hope others will join as and when they can afford it.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            We have a total of 4 members (that I know of) at my workplace (over 100 in UK). It’s frustrating there is the assumption that being in a union is an unusual thing to do :(

            As a customer, I try not to use services if I know that members are on strike… would never do a striking colleague’s work as it’s just wrong, but understand that non-union colleagues could be sacked if they went on strike. Which is shit. (Insert Thatcher rant here.)

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          They get the benefit of negotiated wage rises, etc… which is fine, because that’s for everyone… but they don’t get the protection of having a rep on call if you’re threatened with losing your job, dealing with discrimination/bullying or any other workplace issue. And obviously don’t get all their legal expenses paid if they need to go to tribunal or court over a workplace matter.

          They also don’t get the soft benefits like special deals on financial services, sometimes reduced rate holiday offers and options of going on courses for self development that some unions offer.

  85. FameThrowa*

    I work in a unionized workplace right now and like my union a lot. I have amazing benefits and pay, especially for a small non profit employee. However my organization works directly with unions so I don’t know if I am getting the normal experience.

    My ex had a unionized job but it was pretty awful for him. When they interviewed him he was told he would be doing two different tasks, but after he accepted, the union told him he could only do one task, and it was the really crappy task, not the one he was interested in doing and took the job for. It didn’t help that the pay was close to minimum wage and the health plan was pretty awful. I don’t know how much of that is the unions fault though vs the company being a raging dumpster fire.

  86. Prior HR*

    I used to work in HR. There were plenty of employees who didn’t want to join the union until I pointed out that the union was there for them to negotiate raises and benefits. If they weren’t part of the union, there was no guarantee that they’d receive the same benefits or raises.

    Currently, my husband is part of a union. Due to changes in state law, they can’t do too much regarding negotiating raises and benefits, but when my husband was dealing with an unfair discipline issue, the union was there for him and helped him through it. My husband is also able to get Long-Term disability through the union, life insurance, and AFLAC – all at lower rates then you can get on your own.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Wow – kind of stunned as that’s another huge difference! Not giving someone the same benefits or raises based on membership/non-membership of a union is very, very illegal in UK.

  87. anon today*

    I was a long time member of IATSE, which is a theatrical stagehand union. They basically act as a staffing agency for all kinds of gigs where they need specialized skilled labor to load in, run, and load out events. Including things like a travelling broadway show, to corporate events, rock & roll, etc. It can also include “house” jobs where a person might be pretty permanently assigned to one venue and have set hours there, but they work for the union rather than the actual vanue. In a right to work state, my local didn’t really have much power at all, and had some competition from other “stagehand” agencies, so us getting called for work depended on providing people who actually know what they are doing, are dependable, and have a decent attitude. It’s great because the union arranges all the details and you just let me know your availability (like, I have a regular job but I can work nights & weekends so I’d get called a lot for load ins or one nighters). And they make sure you get paid, and the paycheck is from THEM with benefits taken out & such. Young stagehands doing it on their own have no idea starting out how much this matters! When you have 1099s from a trillion people, no benefits, and got stiffed on a few jobs, you start to appreciate it!

    Later I was touring with a broadway show (also a union gig), and got to experience a LOT of local unions in different cities. There were locals where drug use was extremely common (like, getting high at the picnic inbetween the matinee & evening show!?!), there were locals where people were “on the books” that didn’t actually show up for the call. Then there was Pittsburgh, where the coked up sound guy got into a screaming match with the head carpenter and the teamsters and the locals couldn’t agree where the dividing line was between who’s job it was to do what (teamsters said they got the boxes off the truck and that’s it, IATSE said they didn’t touch boxes until they were inside the theatre). So there was this no mans land between truck and dock and we had to hire a whole DIFFERENT set of people as box pushers just to move them through the no-man’s land!!! Or possibly there was some $$$ involved, but anyway they got moved the 15′ or whatever. : / There was a guy in Atlanta who was 90+ years old who’s job it was to pull the front curtain, he did literally NOTHING ELSE, and his curtain pulling skills were pretty awful too. But he got paid the whole call! We also got board operators who had never seen one before and didn’t know how to turn it on! So that’s the kid of stuff that drives people NUTS about unions! The producers HATE that crap (and rightly so!!!). But there were also plenty of cities where the local was very well run, very friendly, helpful, and highly skilled.

    The local where I live now (I’m not in it but interact fairly regularly), is also in a right to work state. they have great leadership, they do a lot of training events for members to keep them up to date on technology and standards. They realize that skills matter, so instead of just having seniority lists, they go by knows skills as well (so if someone calls for a light board operator, they call the highest person 1st on the list of people who have that skill, not the highest person on the overall list). and they know they need young people with good technology skills so they actually encourage them and give them work. They are successfull negoatiating because they provide a valued service! And there are still theatres in town who are non-union — they tend to be more full time and employ entry level people in the case of the less established theatres. In one case, they have been successful attracting people and not getting themselves unionized by actually offering decent pay, benefits & 401K (something also completely unheard of outside of unions in non profit theatres 20 years ago when I was doing that work). This is the union of the future, and they are doing it right. We are also in a “right to work” state. I don’t have any recent experience with the more established locals (stories above were from 20 years ago), but I hear that a lot of other locals have cleaned things up a lot.

    1. anon today*

      Just realized that I said Pittsburgh in the story above when I meant to say Philly! Sorry Pittsburg, you guys are great, didn’t mean to slander you! Philly on the other hand — ask ANY touring stagehand about Philly and you will get a Story.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Somehow I never thought about touring stagehands as a job before. That sounds like it’d be incredibly interesting but also ripe for amazing drama.

  88. catsaway*

    In grad school I was part of the grad student union (I went to a public grad school). The union made sure the health insurance was affordable on a grad student (paid 5% of the premium) and a good policy ($200 deductible, included dental etc). I went to some of the negotiation events and I saw that every time our contract was up for renewal the university tried to push back on the health insurance, like once trying to push a policy that would have only had coverage for the county the university was in even though it had satellite institutes/centers (where grad students had to live full time for their programs) outside of the county.
    Where I’m a post-doc now there isn’t a union but a more informal post-doc association and that association has helped keep some fringe benefits with the university – like we get the student bus pass rate but the university tried to do away with that. (For those who don’t know post-docs in general exist in a weird liminal space between student/trainee and real employee. For example, at my university we have to faculty/staff health insurance plan, so we’re in that risk pool, and if we want to park on campus we pay the faculty/staff parking rates but we can’t get on the faculty/staff retirement plan).
    Of course there are bad actors but overall I think unions are beneficial for the workplace.

  89. Danie*

    I have been a part of a Union in several sectors: as a grocery store clerk, as a graduate student doing research, and now, in the public sectors. I also grew up in a blue collar public sector household.

    When I worked in a grocery store, the union did basically nothing for me. But I was PT and a 17 year old idiot. I do think it made a difference for many of my long-tenured colleagues.

    Being unionized as a grad student was incredibly beneficial, helped fund my schooling, reduce my debt burden, provided incredible benefits and just generally alleviated key stressors when I was studying.

    Now, I work in a public sector union. It’s general great, we have good benefits, pay, merit pay, flexible work arrangements, etc.

    However, key point: I think it’s problematic that unions (at least ours) are dominated by older, largely white men! Diversity in union executives is really important. For example, it’s standard in my field to be on contract first. (You’re still a member of the union, but have to opt-in/pay for certain benefits, some job protection pieces don’t apply to you, etc.) Long term contracts are more and more common here. In a previous bargaining round, the union exec basically threw young contract workers under the bus- we (I was contract at the time) had to give up more vacation days than permanent staff and they dropped the bottom of all the pay bands (that really only affected young/new workers).

    Unions are not irrelevant- they are more important today than ever. But they also have to evolve and better reflect the diversity of their membership.

  90. SaffyTaffy*

    The teacher’s union at the public school where I grew up protected the career of a man who physically abused his 3rd and 5th grade students, a woman who coerced her 1st and 3rd grade students into putting their lunch money into a jar to buy her “band kids” treats, and a Humanities teacher who made $68,000 per year (in a farming community) and regularly left his 1st period classes waiting in the hallway because he came to work late. That 1st period class was supposed to be an intro to psychology course for me, and at least 4 days per week we spent 40 of the 50 minutes sitting in the hallway talking because there was no teacher.

    1. anon today*

      that’s exactly why unions have a bad rap! Did you ever hear the “this american life” story about the teachers in NYC accused of something (in some cases they had no idea what they were accused of), who are removed from the classroom and have to show up every day to sit in a room all day? Some for YEARS without knowing why?!? It’s the very definition of insanity.

        1. Nice Going Angelica*

          It’s not? Could you point me to a resource/article explaining? I’ve worked in education for many years, including with current and former teachers in NYC, so I’ve heard about it first-hand from so many people, but if I’m misunderstanding I’d like to learn better. I did a google search and found that there is a common conflation between the “rubber room” teachers and ATRs, but not that demonstrated that the former didn’t exist.

          1. doreen*

            The rubber room absolutely existed – I don’t believe anyone doubts that. But I just read the ” This American Life” transcript and there are two statements in there that I simply don’t believe. One is that teachers spent years there without knowing what they were accused of and the other is that a teacher was fired without any formal charges after spending a year in a rubber room. I can absolutely believe that there were teachers who weren’t guilty of what they were accused of , and I can even believe that some principals made up allegations- but not knowing what they were accused of is a different mater, and I cannot believe the teacher’s union would allow it nor it allow a teacher to be fired without any formal charges. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons for the rubber rooms and their current equivalent ( which is not the ATR, but teachers who are not assigned to classrooms who may do some administrative work) is the length of time it takes to get a decision on a disciplinary hearing- I read about one teacher who was waiting for a decision from the independent arbitrator more than 4 years after his hearing.

        2. SaffyTaffy*

          Hi fish, I know a public teacher in Newark who did this for 3 months of a spring semester while something was being investigated. He used the time to do coursework for a Master’s degree and to nap.

  91. AnonAcademic*

    I was in a union as a grad student. We received good, affordable insurance, an okay (though far from luxurious wage) and protection in terms of the types of work we could be asked to preform (must be related to teaching or research – not administrative or personal errands). Several students in my program chose my university over others because the assistantships were better than other schools.

    We were already a right-to-work state, but the rights of public employee unions was recently gutted, so it is up in the air how long students will keep these benefits. Currently, I am an adjunct professor (aka a temp) at the same institution. I make less money than I did as a student. There is a movement to unionize temporary faculty, and recently part of this cohort was granted access to fairly affordable health insurance. I’m interested in seeing how this plays out, but trying to move out of academics ASAP.

    I also have noticed that recently more people seem to be choosing to pay dues and participate in unions, now that the benefits are at risk.

    1. designbot*

      I was also in a union as a graduate student employee. The pay was really not great, and the attempts to limit our working hours were so ineffective as to be considered an ‘on paper’ but not real thing. Because of the department trying to get around union pay, they classified first-time TA’s as ‘TA interns’ which was a joke—we did what TAs do, just didn’t get paid a penny for it, didn’t get a tuition waiver, and didn’t get health insurance. Our activities and hours were supposed to be capped lower than ‘real’ TAs, but in practice that’s not how it worked out.
      Also it wasn’t required to join the union, but you had to pay for their negotiating either way, and somehow the flat fee for non-members came out to be a few dollars higher than the percentage based fee for members. It felt like an extra set of rules that people had to work around, because nobody was making a real effort to work within them.

  92. Aly*

    White collar, public sector union here. The good: I have a contract that spells things out for us (what time off are you entitled to if a relative dies?). I get cost of living increases. I know how to make complaints. When I was being treated unfairly due to gender, after exhausting all reasonable options, I sat down with my boss and told him that if this continued, I’d consider going to the union and grieving the treatment. Within a day, things improved. Honestly.
    The bad: union dues are high, some slackers are protected. It takes forever to negotiate contracts, so we are in limbo for years (you still get paid, just according to the old contract).

  93. Mike H*

    There is no form of human enterprise immune to corruption and incompetence, and unions are no exception. That said, I believe unions are crucial for working people.

    I spent about a year in a half in a union for university clerical workers. The benefits were hard to ignore. After two years of temping in entry-level admin work at starvation wages, followed by two years in an allegedly ‘professional’ job at a nonprofit that paid less than $30k in a high cost-of-living area, I was finally getting paid a living wage in the union job, with excellent fringe benefits, including an affordable healthcare plan and tuition remission. Thanks to the tuition remission I was able to take night classes to improve my technical skill set, and as a direct consequence I was promoted to a salaried, non-union position where I could put my new skills to use. I’m confident that the existence of the union jobs for waged workers puts a high floor on the compensation packages given to the salaried workers. In other words, all workers benefit from the union.

  94. Icontroltherobots*

    I have never worked for a Union – but I have worked in industries that are desperate not to unionize and as a result treat their employees every well. I’ll talk about my current job and a fun union related story.

    My current company is the only non-unionized in the industry and as a result we are the most efficient and profitable. I receive more than generous health benefits, pay and bonuses. I have zero complaints. We have a very strong culture of management can work best directly with employees and employees have the autonomy to make important decisions without following a union authorized chain of command.

    I.e That thing is on fire, I should put it out:

    My company – employee who sees the fire puts the fire out.

    Unionized company – employees who sees fire has to report the fire to the fire control expert who then needs to have the fire control supervisor sign off on the fire extinguish , then the appropriate fire control employee can put the fire out. In the mean time, the building is burning down.

    Fun Union story – I was once at a talk with Hostess right before they filed bankruptcy and the VP in charge of labor relations spent 2 hours describing how they had avoided shutting down by negotiating with the teamsters successfully. Then a few day later the bakers union reneged on their deal and the company filed for bankruptcy. Most interesting presentation I’ve ever attended.

    1. Robyn*

      I think you are (perhaps inadvertently?) making the case for unions having a positive impact on the tangible things for employees like generous pay and benefits here – your workplace is “desperate not to unionize and therefore treats their employees very well.” Would they have the same incentive to do so if the competition did not have represented workers?

      In addition, in my experience (public sector, white collar work), there is no union chain of command to follow to put out a fire (or deal with other urgent work issues). There are times when I need to get buy in from my (non-represented) supervisor to make a decision about my work that will be visible to the public or cost money or require me to re-prioritize other projects, but that doesn’t seem out of line with other workplaces discussed here.

  95. No Thanks!*

    I’m an lawyer for a union. I’m employed by the union itself so I give advice to our executive and representatives, file and respond to complaints, and appear at hearings on behalf of our union and members. It’s my first true exposure to a union and I cannot wait to get out. I will admit I am extremely jaded because of my personal experience. I do believe unions are necessary and they started from the right place. However, despite the fact that my union is an international union and it is the largest private sector union here, it is a giant hot mess. There’s no true leadership, no respect of hierarchy, no training, and no desire to evolve. We’re extremely political and adversarial but not in a smart and calculated way. It’s just a lot of strong-arming and bullying. We break so many laws (legislation and common) but no one is willing to speak up because the job pays well. My work place talks the talk but it doesn’t walk the walk.

    When I started job searching, I said I will never work for a union again (or at least in the foreseeable future and I will be extremely selective the next time around). I’m moving over to the employer side in a couple months. I cannot wait.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      My husband had a degree in labor relations. He honestly believed that the winner was the one who did not fall asleep at the negotiating table after 24 or more straight hours of negotiating. To say it was rough work, is a wild understatement.

    2. AnonForThis*

      That sucks! I’m super sorry to hear that. Are you and the other staffers unionized? I worked for a different union hq and while it wasn’t all roses, I didn’t find it to be at the hot mess level. I imagine that being unionized gave us much more leeway to speak up against issues.

      This is more specific to working in a union hq, but one of the things that was annoying in the moment but work that I was proud of was the in-house ethics and interdisciplinary stuff. At the national level, especially in the legal department, we were involved in disciplining locals and stomping out corruption. Fighting with those members/local leadership wasn’t fun in the moment, but it was good to know that we didn’t put our head in the sand regarding union corruption.

      1. No Thanks!*

        The staff is unionized but lawyers are out-of-scope. However, the staff is passively aggressively penalized and eventually edged out for utilizing their union. The environment is one where people can cultivate favors by being differential to the president and not rocking the boat at all.

        I think what’s really disappointing is that our national president is aware of our issues (he’s personally reached out to members and staff) but nothing is done. It’s just all swept under the rug. I know not all unions are like this but it does leave a bad impression. It sounds like you were in a vigilant and active union so that makes me happy!

  96. Anon E. Mouse*

    I’ve been in a few jobs over the years that were in unions of one sort or another. Most were just when you got hired you joined that job’s union. For the most part, I didn’t notice much in the day to day. Sure sometimes you heard about the union making the organization not impose some new job duty they were thinking of us doing, and I’m sure the wages/benefits I got were impacted by the union at some point. There was a reassurance that the union would have our backs if we needed it, but I never had to put that to the test.

    One job I had as a student was where I really saw the benefits to the union in action. They had negotiated that the company cover special footwear for us and a number of my coworkers took advantage of it. The one benefit that really worked in my favour was where they had a developmental leave that you could take to take courses or training or education, and it allowed me to take time away from my job while I was doing an internship as part of my program in another city, and still have a job when I came back to finish my program.

    AS for how I got in them, they were all just automatic parts of the job. The only one that was different was the one that gave me the leave where some sites were in the union and others weren’t, and then someone decided to make it so that all sites in the company were covered, so my site was added to the union.

  97. A Teacher*

    I’m in a teaching union in the State of Illinois. If you follow Illinois politics, there was just a cap on teacher raises at 3% max per year that was passed without warning or justification, it just happened. It capped what we could get but we’d only had a 1%, .5%, and .5% raise for the last three years. This year the union was able to negotiate 3% a year for a two year contract. Our benefits also will cost us a little less. We settled for a 2 year because there is a chance the raise portion of the bill will be thrown out.

    I like the protection that we have from administration especially under Danielson Model of evaluation–which is subjective at best. I’ve not really had major problems with evals but I’ve witnessed numerous coworkers that have. One administrator had all of hers thrown out when it was realized she wasn’t following the law. The union also allows us to push back when they want to put too many students in our classes. Max capacity in my room is 28 students because of the union (high school teacher) and there were years when it was 30-34 and it was union pushback that kept it from happening again.

  98. Leslie knope*

    I feel like some of the people in this post need to read the post that’s linked about how it’s not true that it’s “impossible” to fire people.

    1. fish*

      Also I just don’t understand arguing *against* having a standard, rigorous documented process when firing someone. Like… that’s what everyone *should* have???

      1. debonairess*

        Yes, exactly. If unions force people to have a process for firing people, that’s a Good Thing imo. Otherwise what is to protect you too from the senseless whims of a crazy boss? (if AAM teaches us anything, its the existence of crazy bosses with senseless whims).

    2. A*

      It is virtually impossible. This is coming from someone who worked as a manager in a unionized environment. None of the people I wrote up suffered any real consequences, even while documented working for 5 min a day, taking off 4 hours for meals, etc. Many moved to other jobs, but none were fired or disciplined.

  99. Kalliopesmom*

    I work in a union hall, office coordinator. My family was mostly UAW (united auto workers). Have cousins in the labor unions. I have seen positives and negatives from both sides, watching my mother work in an auto factory and now experiencing the ins and outs. Unions strive for better wages, working conditions and benefits. A collective bargaining agreement with contractors to make sure all these issues and more are covered. Members received education and training. There is so much more but I am not sure all of what the OP is looking for. Feel free to ask more questions. Have a wonderful day!

  100. Savannah*

    My time has come!! Or rather, my husband’s, but since he doesn’t read AAM I thought I’d comment with our experience.

    My husband decided to join the carpenter’s union back when he was hurting to find reliable work (and for those in the construction field, you know what can be an issue for small companies or self-employed handyman and women). That was about two years ago now, and I can count on one hand the number of times that he hasn’t had plenty of work, and still have fingers to spare. Benefits are the bomb; pretty much everything health-related is covered 100%, though my understanding is that this does vary by local, so this may not be the case for every union local. It completely paid for our daughter’s $10,000 surgery.

    The only downside we’ve run into so far is the lack of pto- you don’t work, you don’t get paid. His local’s contract does have a “vacation” fund tightly can tap into if needed, though, so that’s a plus.

    Overall, we’ve loved the comraderie and stability it’s afforded us, and the more involved you are with meetings and events, the better. What you put into your union, you will receive back tenfold.

  101. Lesley McCullough*

    I am a lawyer and manager of lawyers – and many other occupations – and have never belonged to a union nor worked for one. I support them wholeheartedly and believe that they are more needed now than ever. People often think that they don’t need a union until they are in a situation where they are being treated unfairly or have limited leverage to improve their working conditions. Then they see that they need the support of other workers! And for management, I prefer dealing with a union and a collective agreement that clarifies the nature of job duties and expectations. I am sure that there are corrupt and thuggish unions just as there are corrupt and thuggish employers – I worked for one once and got out of there quickly – and corrupt and thuggish governments – and governments which are edging in that direction every day. It’s the job of all of us, as unionized employees, as employers and managers, as citizens to become involved and oppose corruption and intimidation. If you think that there is no longer a need for representation from organized labour when worker’s rights are being rolled back particularly it seems in America ( I’m not American nor do I work there) you are fooling yourself.

  102. Bye Academia*

    As with most things, the quality of the union depends on the specific union.

    I work at a place where every position is covered by the union rules. Every employee has to pay 1% of their salary in dues, whether or not they are a member, but >90% of employees choose to join.

    For me, the most obvious benefits have been amazing:
    -annual cost of living salary increase
    -five weeks of vacation a year
    -up to four weeks of sick days that roll over to cover long-term events
    -health insurance with ZERO PREMIUM which is frankly invaluable
    -8% match in my 401k

    -not really any room to negotiate merit-based salary raises
    -slow bargaining when the contract is up; my pay is currently frozen because the last contract expired and they haven’t negotiated the new annual cost of living raise yet

    Overall I’m glad to be a part of this union, and I think the dues I pay are 100% worth it. I genuinely believe it has the best interests of its workers at heart in a climate where we would not be given these benefits on an individual basis.

  103. Thornus67*

    I’ve never been a member of a union, but I have represented unions as attorneys. It’s been a mixed bag.

    Some union leaders really do care about representing their bargaining unit members. They want workers protected. They want higher wages. They want good benefits. They want to do a good job. In many cases, union presence can be a good thing. I’ve seen some downright dirty tricks pulled by management, such as docking people’s worker’s compensation when they didn’t show up to a hiring hall to be hired for jobs despite the fact that their injuries were so severe their doctors had cleared them for only the most basic of light duty sedentary work (while the industry they worked in was rough and tumble, there ain’t no such thing as light duty work). I’ve seen them fight for pay benefits which I personally think are very outdated and no longer tied to the segment of the working force who the benefits were originally supposed to benefit due to industrialization 60+ years ago, but they still fought hard to keep those bonuses for their BUMs.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen the bad side of unions too. I’ve seen leaders who cared only about lining their pockets and spending dues on more than $300k travel expenses in a year which were frankly unneeded. I’ve seen union leaders who, despite “caring” about the labor movement, never gave their office staff raises (while asking for 25% pay increases themselves) then trying to (illegally) fire said office staff when they walked off the job in protest (yes the NLRB got involved, and yes the union got in trouble and reinstated the staff with backpay). I’ve seen incredibly racist union leaders, of varying races, who used their unions to keep the type of work covered by the union 100% segregated – different trades within the same international but with different locals would be 100% white or 100% black for instance. I’ve seen leaders sell out long term ideas for short term gain just so they could get reelected in five months.

    Unions, like everything in life, are a mixed bag. Their are good unions, and there are bad unions. There are good leaders, and there are bad leaders. There are unions who truly want to help and fight for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. There are unions who do nothing and just collect dues on minimum wage paychecks. If you’re in a unionized workforce, and you’re dissatisfied with the leadership, attend membership meetings or vote in elections and try and throw the bums out or possibly try to find a different union to represent you if that’s feasible. If you’re not in a unionized workforce, remember that you still have protections. Assuming it’s private sector, you still generally have rights to engage in concerted protected activity even without being organized. If your worksite is a victim of labor abuses, possibly think about organizing and think about trying to be a leader to make that worksite good. Or don’t – it’s your life. But in the end, unions are only human, and they have to respond to democractic concerns of the BUMs.

  104. Didi*

    I was in a white-collar union for about 10 years.

    It was great when I was young and green to my job, since the union pay scale was pretty good, I got overtime and sometimes hardship pay, and I was protected from abuses such as unlivable schedules and management craziness. For example, the union intervened when my boss tried to schedule me to work during my honeymoon because I had not specifically asked for the weekend off (I didn’t work weekends, ever).

    After a while, though, the union held me back. Because there were strict rules about what was and was not part of my job, I couldn’t try new things or take on different kinds of work. This inability to innovate really hurt in an industry that was undergoing rapid technological change. Also, the union protected a few dead-weight colleagues who were near retirement and just phoned it in.

    Once the pay scale topped out I got paid what everyone else at my years of experience got paid, even though I was way more productive and impactful than some colleagues. I could not negotiate more. When I won an award for doing a very well-regarded project of my own idea and volition, I got a whopping $100 bonus.

  105. Not So Super-visor*

    Oooh.. this is an intersting question.
    I grew up as the daughter of a Teamster back in the late 70’s/early 80’s. While my family dealt with a couple of strikes when I was very young, overall the union was a positive thing. We had great healthcare benefits. My dad’s retirement was a sure thing. It was so ingrained in my dad about being and staying union that he left a company that de–unionized and faced unemployment with 3 kids until he could find another union job.
    Flash forward and the union has lost a lot of it’s gleam even for my dad. In an effort to save money, a lot of the older drivers from some companies were let go to save money for minor infractions that the union would have fought against in the past. My dad’s retirement money is not as secure as he once believed and on and on…

    I currently work for a union company but in a non-union role and in a non-union office. While I still think that drivers are some of the best people on the face of the earth, dealing with union office employees leaves a pretty sour taste in my mouth. Overall, a lot of them are apathetic and will straight up tell you that they’re not going to do something because it’s too much work. If people in my group were to behave like that, they’d be written up or fired, but a lot of managers of union employees feel that it’s pretty pointlessa as the union will just get it overturned in a grievance hearing. You can’t change the training process or job duties without union approval so good luck in improving things in an ever-changing business environment.

  106. Leagle Beagle*

    When I was a young reporter, the entry-level wages for my first job — with a newspaper whose owners proudly proclaimed their Libertarian views (so I should have been warned) — were so low, I qualified for food stamps. Ten months later, I was hired by a newspaper with a unionized newsroom and my wages tripled overnight. Although I worked in a “right-to-work” state, I joined the union in gratitude and never regretted it.

    I have since become a lawyer and, lately, I work for government. And, although I still work in a “right-to-work” state and government unions here do not collectively bargain nor can they strike, I have joined the government-employees union. Why? Because they work collectively and there are a lot of issues, such as paid parental leave (which I strongly support, even though I have no children), that are more effectively sought by organizing people and working collectively to achieve.

  107. imustbanonymous*

    I am a contractor at a large, well known facility. Occasionally a new company will take over our contract, while we workers remain in the same job. Our Union was formed because a previous company was bouncing our paychecks and not paying our health insurance premiums. I had to repay for a doctor’s visit after they called and told me my health insurance required the payment they had made be sent back since it wasn’t in force at the time. A co-worker had to pay for a surgery he had out-of-pocket for the same reason. Also scheduling issues, such as the boss handing out good schedules to those he liked and terrible ones to others, and laughing about it to our face. Since that time my pay has more than doubled, and working conditions are much better. Do unions sometimes protect those they shouldn’t? Absolutely. They are only as good as their leaders are. Also, no matter how much you gain for your membership, some people are never satisfied. Everyone wants their own particular thing, and if they don’t get it they say the union does nothing. Corporations are doing a good job of eliminating unions, by employing the Jedi mind trick of saying don’t let a Union force you to give them your hard-earned money. But believe you me, businesses are not there to put your best interests at heart, they are in business to make money. Witness the trend of eliminating as many full-time jobs as possible to avoid paying benefits. Yes I’m sure there are many places owned and run by good people who don’t exploit their workers, but unfortunately that’s not been my experience.

  108. lnelson1218*

    I was in a union while working as a cashier at a supermarket while in college many moons ago.
    It was roughly $3 a week, but it did get us paid breaks, not just the 15 minute one but for those on longer shifts a paid 30 minute lunch/dinner break. Since they almost always wanted a six hour shift, we got our 30 minutes paid.

    Later in life I worked in higher education which had unions. I found them to be a mixed blessing. I don’t know how much the dues were, but in one way they weren’t helping. They had a points system to reward long term employees, but it hurt when trying to recruit new people when many years experience was wanted.

    The idea behind unions to protect workers is great. But I hear stories about them protecting bad workers to the point that good worker suffer.

  109. Allison*

    I negotiate contracts between a large company and merit or union shops. I was neutral/slightly negative on onions when I started this job and have become solidly negative in the short time I have negotiated contracts. The cost difference between a merit shop and union is nearly 50%. We would not be able to operate efficiently if we were forced to use union shops for the work completed at the site. My company’s safety and training programs are stronger than what the unions provide. Using union shops just adds costs without providing us much benefit.

      1. Allison*

        Hard to protect workers when they don’t have a job. It needs to be a two way street or you end up with a situation like the Detroit UAW.

    1. oaktree*

      The benefit to the employer is that they can sleep at night knowing they’re not screwing their employees.

  110. a*

    I’m a professional in a public sector union, working for state government. Without union protection, I would likely have been fired by a terrible manager who thinks that making risque comments is cute and that job requirements are merely minimums and you’re not successful unless you’re far exceeding regardless of circumstances. And I appreciate that our union was able to withstand the onslaught of a union-busting governor for 4 years without major damage (in terms of salary and benefit reductions).

    We have had several people in my field forced to resign or get fired, so the idea that it’s impossible to fire union employees is laughable to me. As someone else commented, it’s generally lack of will/follow-through from managers that keeps people in positions when they shouldn’t be there. But, shouldn’t it be difficult to fire someone?

  111. A.N. O'Nyme*

    My only contact with unions is students unions (yes, my country even has student unions. Like fraternities they organize parties, but they also do useful things like like getting you your coursebooks cheaper if you’re a member or even print out coursebooks that profs make themselves so the price can be kept down as much as possible). It is very handy to have a central body that represents students’ concerns in university decisions or ideas. They also make sure students actually know and understand what is being proposed rather than letting wild speculation and misinformation run rampant.

  112. DMLOKC*

    I didn’t grow up in a union family, I married into one. I was appalled to see the families of employed, well-paid workers standing in line for government cheese and other goods because they believed they were due these goods. I was dumbstruck when he came home in the middle of the day he’d “drug up.” He quit his job to get the unemployment he’d “earned.” This was common among his union members when they wanted a break from the job. He worked at the STNP for years. For months of that time, the workers were directed to hide at the top of the plant all day to avoid work. They’d just sleep. This was driven by the union leaders to extend the project and ensure jobs. I couldn’t be part of this theft, the immoral behavior. It was gross and wrong. This is one local office, but it has hundreds of members and nationwide it has thousands. I’m not a fan of unions.

  113. Aphrodite*

    The community college where I work has a union, the CSEA. I didn’t always appreciate it, but I have come to realize that while there are some issues, I overwhelmingly feel the union is necessary and wonderful. They protect the rights of “classified” staff. Without them, the college would definitely treat the classified staff badly.

    We have fantastic benefits: four medical plans (which include vision), three dental plans, disability, generous vacation days (which can be accumulated up to two years’ worth), 16 holidays per year, and 8 hours of sick leave once a month that can be accumulated without limit. These are available to everyone, but I think the union ensures we have them as well.

    Our local union officials, especially the president, are very involved in the state group. They stay on top of all political issues that affect the union. They hold a monthly meeting, send out a monthly e-newsletter and regularly email the union members to keep everyone apprised of contract negotiations and other issues that are of importance.

    As I said, they are good but like with any group there are issues. Fortunately for us, they are minor and not universally felt. I give an enormous amount of credit to the unpaid (and too often, unappreciated) local union leaders. They really do stand up for us because HR can be a total shithead.

    My father worked for AT&T when it was Ma Bell. He retired the day that it was broken up, in 1986 if I recall correctly. All his life he was a union member there, and I remember how much he appreciated it because there would have been very unpleasant situations if there had not been. While I do not know, and Dad is no longer alive, I suspect his union was like mine, good, effective and neither all good nor all bad. I do know he was a strong supporter. He was an excellent worker as well–and I inherited his values and work ethic.

    I view unions as excellent. Rose-colored glasses and attitudes are silly, as is the seeming hatred some (who are not part of a union) have for unions. On a local community website I wrote in once when the college president gave us paid time off to deal with a major fire in the area and mentioned how grateful I was. Most responses were supportive but, not surprisingly, a couple wrote in only to make bitter comments about the school/union. (Methinks jealously plays a major role; if that’s the case they may want to hunt for a job with one. I could tell them, however, that working in higher education or government has its downsides as well.)

    Overall, I am very glad they exist. They are not perfect–nothing is–but they fill an important need. To anyone uncertain but open to learning, check out the history of unions and the companies involved. It’s violent, nasty and extreme on both sides. But ultimately, in my view, it turned out well and continues to be that.

    1. Aphrodite*

      Wanted to add:

      It costs me $35 per month for union dues plus another optional $1 for my local school’s union that allows me to vote in its elections. I think its day-to-day effect has been, overall, excellent. My last manager was an awful person, vindictive, angry, abusive. If I hadn’t been protected by the union I might well have lost my job despite doing great work (unacknowledged). My new manager is a dream (he calls us the “dream team”) so having the union there, while personally important, is irrelevant professionally.

      It’s true that firing someone is much more difficult. I work with both good and bad people, the latter absolutely needing to be fired. But they can’t be. It’s frustrating but, sadly, just part of the equation.

  114. Anonamoose*

    I’m in a graduate student union that’s part of a larger union (auto workers, I think?). But we have killer benefits. We get health insurance through the university, but dental, vision, childcare, and health/wellness reimbursement big enough to cover 1 year at the university gym (or apply the amount to other gyms, fitness classes, etc) through the union. They renegotiate our contracts with the university pretty much yearly and are always pushing for more benefits, higher wages, graduate student housing, etc. (we fill out a form every year with what’s a priority and they push for it). They also have a formal grievance process to help you if you’re having trouble with your advisor and/or department. They just give us a lot of protection from being mistreated by the university and they fill the gap in benefits not covered by the university health plan. Membership is like 3% of my wages (which are below 25k) but it’s worth it. I have never had to use the more job stability/grievance sections of the union contract with the university, though I know several students in other departments that have done so.

  115. A tester, not a developer*

    Many many years ago I worked at a place that definitely should have been unionized. It was an industrial/commercial laundry (mostly for hotels and hospitals). The safety guards on the machines had been removed or disabled, we were required to pour bottles of unlabelled chemicals that burned your eyes and nose into machines without gloves, eye protection, or masks. And the shop floor doors were locked and no one was allowed to leave until all of the items that had been received at the start of the shift had been processed.

    I only lasted one day there. Everyone I talked to (including my aunt, who was a union rep) basically said no one wants to get involved because everyone working on the floor – except me! – was undocumented. (One quote that stuck in my mind was that ‘you can’t collect union dues from people working illegally’).

    It was my first big disillusionment – I kind of knew that there were people who were working ‘under the table’, but I didn’t realize how little recourse there is for them.

  116. Betsy*

    My mom is a state employee and is a member of their union. Her union negotiates contracts for all state employees, regardless of union membership. It seems awfully unfair to me that those who don’t join the union get to freeload off the union negotiation, but that’s how it works. The union will step in to advocate for members individually, for example to ensure that FMLA leave is processed correctly. You would think this wouldn’t be a problem with a state government, but it is. There are also supports available during workplace disputes. For example, my mom’s coworker who isn’t a union member was ordered to do something unethical by her boss. She is pushing back but the boss isn’t budging and she’s having trouble resolving the issue. If my mom were given the same order she would push back and if that didn’t work she would call in a union rep to back her up. It’s probably not a coincidence that the order was given to the non-union member.

  117. He-he-hello*

    I have been in a labor union for half of my life. When I was sixteen I joined retail clerks, then as a professional I was an operating engineer and now a public employee union. Both of my grandfathers were in unions, and both of my parents have been in unions their whole working lives. Unions negotiated for the health and dental plans that meant that my parents didn’t have to worry about taking me to the doctor or dentist as a child, and they were also able to take care of themselves. They were paid fair wages in industries that, these days, don’t allow most people to make ends meet. They both have pensions to fall back on in their retirement which gives me a ton of relief given our current political/economic climate. Even though as a teen I did not get *all* of the benefits of the union that full time, career employees did, I was thrilled to be paying union dues and to be part of this collective group. I was paid time and a third on Sundays, double time and a third on holidays, and if I had to work a closing shift immediately followed by an opening shift, I was paid shift differential. That level of protection for a part time, teenage employee would never have been possible without a strong labor union. Now, I am a shop steward for my union. We have an EXTREMELY combative HR department that is strongly anti-union. In order to simply maintain our current level of benefits, we have to bargain for several days with each contract. While I’m lucky to have a great manager, I have been part of the union representation at meetings between other members and their supervisors and I’ve seen what a difference it makes just to have a witness in the room to combat lying, bullying and retaliation. I am, obviously, strongly pro-union and would say that if your union does not seem to represent you, if you feel that your voice isn’t being heard or that your concerns aren’t being addressed, that you should get involved. The union reps don’t know what to ask for unless you tell them because they don’t work with you. We had a rejected contract before I started getting involved because I had no idea that our union representatives had basically been working blind without much input from actual workers. Clara Lemlich is a very interesting historical figure if you’re interested in the women’s unionization effort in the garment factories in New York in the early 20th century. There is an historical fiction book by Melanie Crowder, written in verse, based on her life called Audacity which I enjoyed.

    1. oaktree*

      I wrote a bit below about how I’m not in a unionized workplace. I’m wondering if you could give me your two cents- I realized just now that there is a union I could join (Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union) and I’m wondering whether I should pursue this. I don’t know how long I’ll be in my current job, for one thing, and I highly doubt my employer (a massive international professional firm) would be happy about any attempt to unionize. Is there an obligation (like, social expectation) to unionize one’s workplace if it isn’t unionized already? I know legally I have the right to join a union, but would I be subject to retaliation? I know unions are stronger just for having more members, but I’m wondering whether this is a good idea.

      1. He-he-hello*

        I’m not sure about the laws in Canada, since I’m in the US. But here, organizing a union is protected activity. Meaning, that once you start officially organizing (and here there’s also a time limit on that) your employer cannot retaliate against that activity (which is done not on work time). You can usually contact one of the unions and speak with one of the union organizers to ask about the process and they will generally be happy to tell you what the requirements would be. At least where I am, if you start to organize a labor union, you wouldn’t have to get the entire organization, but you do have to get an entire class of workers (like, in a teapot factory, you’d have to include all teapot manufacturers if that’s your job, but not necessarily the teapot salesforce, and definitely not teapot corp. regional managers). In short, contact the union and check on the requirements/see if it’s something you think others would be interested in, but probably keep it pretty quiet until you have more info.

      2. Chinookwind*

        Depending on the province you are living in, there are different attitudes towards unionization. I have come across more employers who actively try to stop unionization by treating their employees well and ensuring they have good benefits while still having flexibility around work that a union can hamper.

        Unions in the past have supported the NDP which, in turn, has created a positive environment for all employees with enhanced labour laws (compared to our neighbours to the south). As recently as this year, the Alberta NDP enacted a revision to the labour code that included reducing a waiting time for stat holiday pay and an increase in minimum wage. As a result, the need to unionize is less needed overall because the government does have legislation to protect us.

        That being said, it would depend on the workplace itself. Take a look around and see if they standards and procedures in place for managing employees that are fair and equitable. What are there health and safety practices like? If a union came in, what would/could be improved and what could potentially be lost? You are the only one who can really tell from the inside if it is worth it, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it for the sake of doing it as it can definitely harm the goodwill of a good employer because it does create an adversarial relationship.

  118. blargity blarg*

    State tried to reduce everyone’s hours massively during a downturn. Union-represented agencies ended up with two unpaid furlough days/year. One non-represented branch had their work days permanently cut to 4 days/week, along with their pay. They are at 32 hrs/week with more to do but no time to do it, and an annoyed public that doesn’t understand why they can’t get services on Friday.

    This is also the only job I’ve had where I feel physically safe (I work in health) and can speak up about any concerns I have with no fear of retaliation. While unions can lead to stagnation, they can also lead to progress: I’ve been able to implement far more broad and meaningful change within my programs because I can speak up and push back without worrying about my job. It’s kind of awesome.

    There are things I don’t love about my union (slacker employees get to stay forever), but overall, I am thankful.

  119. embers*

    From my limited experience with being in a teacher’s union (I’m not a classroom teacher, but my job still falls under the teacher contract, so that’s the union I’m in), a few pros and cons…

    – Collective bargaining. Other people have talked about it above in more detail, but I really appreciate that I don’t personally have to negotiate my salary/benefits package/etc. Overall, teaching is dominated by younger women and upper administration by older men, so collective bargaining helps balance out that power differential.
    – Someone by your side if something goes wrong. In my position, I’m often alone with students. Joining the union was, in part, a CYA thing. One of my close friends had to go through the process – a student made accusations about every single adult in his life, and she was one of them. Since his accusations were so outlandish and provably false (iirc, there turned out to be security video of the non-incident), the process wasn’t too terrible for her, but she said she wouldn’t have had the slightest clue where to start if she had to go through that investigation alone.
    – Someone to do “sanity checks” with. I work in multiple small schools, and each one has a union rep. I have, on several occasions, gone to my rep (who is also a co-worker) and said, hey, I think what I’m being asked to do is outside of the contract; what do you think? They have always gotten me an answer, and it’s allowed me to push back or hold my ground on things like, no, I won’t transport students in my personal vehicle. (It’s legal in my current state but such a terrible idea; don’t get me started.)
    – Power when things really go off the rails. In my first job, we had a truly awful superintendent, who bullied and physically threatened his subordinates and bulldozed everything in his path. The effect on working conditions and morale was… significant. The union documented incidents, informed the school board, organized a vote of no confidence, and was generally able to stand up to him in a way that individuals wouldn’t have been. I think it was all for naught in the end (I jumped ship for a much less stressful job before there was any sort of resolution), but I felt like, yes, this is what the union is here for.

    – The flip side of having someone in your corner is that there are people who should not still have a job who do. One teacher I worked with had previously been fired (justifiably, from the information I had), and, with the help of the union, got reinstated, where he continued to be just as terrible of an employee as before… maybe even more, since he expressed his resentment by passive-aggressively pushing every single rule (dress code, language, start and end times…) to the limit and complaining loudly about his unfair treatment to anyone stuck in a room with him for any length of time.
    – As with most (all?) entities, the larger the group, the more nuance just… disappears. The newsletter from our state-level teacher’s union reads like straight-up propaganda. “The school boards are out to get us!” “The taxpayers are out to get us!” “We have never done anything wrong, ever, and anyone who says otherwise is giving you fake news!” Come on, now.

    On the whole, though, the union has been a positive in my professional life and I appreciate its work.

  120. Dankar*

    I’ve not been in a union (I went from a non-unionized grad assistantship to a private university), but I have seen the good and the bad of them in academia.

    The good: the professors used their collective bargaining rights to push for better courseloads and greater funding for vulnerable student populations. They also advocated for their colleagues at other public universities in the state, and I saw a lot of collaborative walk-outs across campuses.

    The bad: Union protections for non-faculty could be really, really intractable and place bizarre restrictions on staff. For instance, we had to hide our department vacuum cleaner because it was forbidden for our staff to do any kind of maintenance work in the office. Which is totally fine if the maintenance people will actually vacuum the floors. I watched dropped grapes turn into raisins in our common area over a semester and couldn’t do anything about it.

  121. JustMe*

    My office was literally 50F all day, every day (it’s half underground). I was literally wrapping up in a snuggie and going through 4 Hot Hands (pocket warmers) a day for my feet. It was awful.

    I went up 2 levels of management, but no one cared. I brought in a portable heater and got written up for a safety violation.

    I went to my union rep. Within a week he had facilities come out to verify the temps, and the next day they brought an official electric heater for my office so I could stay warm without a safety violation.

    Three years later my coworkers voted to get rid of the union and I was livid.

  122. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    Back when I was still in academia I was part of an effort to unionize adjunct faculty, which has been moderately successful. Unions definitely still make sense in some contexts, and a place like academia is a great example as the adjunct staff (who do on average 75% of the teaching at a university) have little to no power.

    As an adjunct you have little say over pay, contract negotiation, what classes you’ll teach, how many, or any guarantees of reassignment in the case of cancellation due to low enrollment, etc. Adjuncts often work at multiple universities, meaning that they have hectic, travel-heavy schedules that are notorious for low pay and high workloads. Tenured and tenure-track faculty are paid a salary and benefits, adjuncts typically are paid per class, no benefits, and have no stability or guarantee of work from semester to semester. A union in this case was able to negotiate on behalf of the adjuncts both a better and consistent rate of pay, as well as minimum guarantees for work for the academic year. I left academia soon after the union got off the ground, but it was a great organizing experience and I found it really effective.

    1. Other Becky*

      I’m wondering if you used to work for my employer. Our relatively new union raised the starting salary for my position from about $17k/year to about $30k/year. We also now have standards that apply across all departments spelling out how and when adjunct/non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty go from being temps without benefits to full time employees with benefits (some of our members had been working full time for more than 5 years but were still on the books as semester-to-semester temps), how to go from 9-month status (no summer benefits) to 12-month status, etc. The university also has to provide full-time NTT faculty with offices and computers.

      Management is still really hostile and makes things as difficult as possible, but we make living wages and have health insurance now. I love my union.

  123. Everdene*

    I first joined a union when this happened:

    Wednesday, first day at new job.
    New coworker: “Hi, welcome to the team! Are you in the union?”
    Me: “Umm, no?”
    N c/w: “We’re striking on Friday. You better join or you’ll have to cross the picket line.”

    1. Chinookwind*

      The teacher’s union where I last taught was very close to having a mutiny in my school because they wanted us to call a strike vote 6 months after our school had burned down. We had struggled to get back in class within a week and, while we had support from the community and all sorts of teachers, the union never reached out to help us in anyway that we could see. We told our union rep (who openly said he was just repeating the request because he had to and was embarrassed to do so), that if the union called a strike vote in our district, not only would we vote against it but we would cross the picket line and teach because our community had bent over backwards to help us and there was no way we were going to thank them by going on strike.

      The strike vote was taken to another district, far from us. :)

  124. Lizard*

    I worked for a small supermarket chain for a few months after graduating college while job hunting. I complained about it at the time, but in hindsight it was a very good job. The union dues were annoying but I was paid well over minimum wage. I wasn’t there long enough for it to take effect, but even part time workers were eligible for benefits. One of the department managers, who had been there for about 20 years, started out like me – recent graduate just looking for a job in between graduating and moving to a career position. He ended up staying when he realized he’d make more and have better benefits than in his chosen career. I’m sure it depends on the union but this union seemed very well run and to take good care of its workers.

    1. eee*

      my boyfriend worked for a grocery store where all employees are members of a union–and a very common thread i’m seeing in certain comments is “I had to join a union for my part time job that I had for 3 months when I was 17. I didn’t like that they took money out of my paycheck.” And that’s a very legitimate opinion! But for most jobs if you’re only there for a month or two, you don’t get great benefits–why should a union be all that different? The union at the grocery store ensured that employees were paid for their breaks, even part-time workers got access to healthcare from their first day of hiring, ensured good accrual of paid vacation and sick leave, prevented members who were students from being fired when they were incorrectly scheduled during their classes, prevented members from being fired for being occasionally late by small margins, ensured that when a full-time job opened up a new worker got pushed from part-time to full time, negotiated higher pay on Sundays and holidays so that it was fairly rare for a worker to get scheduled on those days against their will (there were always people lining up to work on those holidays so they could get paid 2x what they usually did). Additionally there were built in raises given by time worked at the company. While there were many visible benefits (like pay raise) that seemed to only affect workers who had been there a long time, EVERYONE benefited from their more systematic, invisible benefits like higher paid holidays and paid breaks.
      Literally the only time the union affected us in a negative way was when he stopped working at the store and moved to full time work at a different, non-unionized chain (which did pay better–but health insurance didn’t kick in for 90 days, breaks were unpaid, less job security). He went a week or two without working at the union chain, and then worked two weekend shifts–and was shocked to open his paycheck and find he was paid $9 for his 16 hours of work. His union dues from previous weeks where he hadn’t been working had been automatically docked from his pay. But honestly–this was more of a “oh well if I’d known that was going to happen I wouldn’t have done that.”

      1. eee*

        all of which is to say–i think your point that it’s easy to see no benefits and only the downside of the dues is really easy when you’re a teen working part time for a short period of time is a very excellent one :)

  125. DCLimey*

    Very timely, as we just unionized! Go OPEIU!
    I think a very underrated benefit is how amazing it is to no longer be an “at will” employee, serving at the pleasure of often capricious management.

  126. CupcakeCounter*

    I an a non-union worker in an industry where pretty much all of the non-office, core labor workers are part of one of the largest unions in the country (US).
    From what I can see there are pros and cons. The union that 95% belong to does the negotiations for the entire industry, not specifically our region so the union will fight for something that isn’t very important to our workforce and as a trade-off will give up something that our workers really like (for example all vehicles used in the course of their work have X special plate so parking isn’t an issue but the cost is $250/plate/year and we have a fleet of 10,000 vehicles. In our region those plates are worthless because of where our fleet goes and in order to cover the cost of the plates we have to change the free snack program to vending machines and eliminate the company provided coffee).
    However they also have 100% of their health insurance paid for as well as a moderate pension plan as well as all of the benefits of the 401k plans offered to the non-union employees. Annual raises and the amount of the raise is guaranteed for the life of the agreement with the union so no wondering if a raise is coming. If you are a FTE you have guaranteed hours that will be paid per week even if you only get scheduled for 38 instead of 40 (assuming the employee doesn’t take any PTO). The downside of this is that if the company has a really good year and wants to push some back on then employees they have to be very careful because the union will use that in the next negotiation. We’ve done some cost/benefit analysis that we distribute to the employees so they can see where their money is going and how much it costs the company to work with the union on their contracts (our VP of Finance is really hoping for a vote against the union but it will never happen) because we get a lot of “people at X company make more per hour than we do!” Sure their $/hour is more but then they also have to pay for a portion of their health insurance and a few other things so we try to give them a fully loaded number to compare to. Never works though but as a finance brain I like seeing it.
    Having a unionized workforce also makes it hard to adjust to economic swings and (as someone else mentioned above) get rid of problem employees. We are currently fighting a lawsuit from a union employee that stemmed from a managers inability to fire said employee and the manager lost his shit after years of jumping through hoops with the union and this employee.
    My friend was a teacher and had a love/hate relationship with her union. She liked not having the stress of wondering about a lot of things but the $ that was taken out of her check and her reps lack of response to any issue really soured her on them for a long time but she had to join. Plus I think she has been forced to strike twice during her career for reasons that didn’t really apply to her school but did to other areas.

  127. Dill Pickle*

    I have a friend who is a member of Actor’s Equity (she is a stage manager not an actor). She has to work X number of weeks per year on Equity productions in order to get her health insurance through them (which she generally is able to do). Her health insurance provides better coverage at a lower rate than her husband’s (he is a nurse). I have friends in SAG, Equity, IATSE and a few others. Because cast and crew are essentially temp/contract employees, they get a lot of their benefits directly from the unions and not the employers so the membership works for them.

  128. Aunt Helen*

    I work in entertainment and my union has been invaluable. The fees to join were steep, but I made payments over my first year of work, which was at a much higher rate than I’d ever made at any non-union job. I got the best healthcare coverage of my life through the union – $5 copay, everything covered, specialized health centers! I lost my last union gig over a year and a half ago and sadly have not found work in a union studio since, and my freelance non-union rates have been dismal in comparison (half as much for the same work, no benefits).

    Unions are the workers’ best defense against predatory employers. I see no downside to joining one!

  129. Toastedcheese*

    I am a public librarian. At my first job I was in a public sector union, and since then have worked in jobs that are not unionized. At Job #1, we had excellent benefits (affordable health insurance with a $500 deductible, 20+ days of PTO, overtime pay for weekend hours, and a generous closure policy for inclement weather). The pay was very good for my field (if still relatively low) and we had guaranteed cost of living increases. At my current non-unionized job, I have barely acceptable pay, a nice state retirement system, and not much else.

    The union was maybe a bit skittish about things like cross-training, but I can tell you there was plenty of de facto cross-training going on, and a silo mentality is not endemic to unionized jobs in my field. And as far as discipline / firing, in my limited experience the process is similar in the public sector whether you’re unionized or non-unionized. But it was nice knowing the union was there to ensure management followed the rules and oversee a fair grievance process.

    I am sure there are good unions and lousy unions. But my feeling is that bad management causes more problems than bad unions, especially in the public sector. We don’t have a truly competitive job market so we are at the mercy of unions or government regulation to protect us.

    1. Toastedcheese*

      Hmm, a few more things: In terms of our day-to-day, the union had very little effect on our work. Most of our day to day work conditions were still set by management & supervisors, not the union. The monthly fee was not a lot. Our contract did not allow us to strike.

  130. OlympiasEpiriot*

    I have once had a union job — retail at a very old-fashioned haberdashery department store during the Holiday Shopping and Post-Holiday Sales period. Total of 3.5 months. (Remember when the sales happened after Christmas?) It was a good place to work, even as a temp. In talking with the full-timers there, it seemed that the union was helpful with conflict resolution, the health insurance and pension was portable as it was through the union, and they made good money. As a temp, I got some access to benefits, but no pension. It was straight 10% commission paid monthly with a minimum wage draw every week. The items sold were generally pricey. Even as a temp worker (so I didn’t have a “client list” who sought me out when they came in, or called from their swanky offices to have things delivered) who was mostly staffing accessories counters (shirts, suits and shoes were exclusively staffed by full-timers, although if one of my customers also wanted shirts, I was allowed to serve them at the shirt counter as well), it wasn’t unheard of for me to sell $1000 worth of goods in under half an hour. Or, even on a couple of truly exhausting days that I still remember, over $10,000 in a day. This was the mid-1980’s. It was the best pay rate in the city among retail clothing at the time.

    I also grew up in a union. Parent was — by the time I came around — pretty high up in the Admin of a large one. Was part of negotiating committees. Had started organizing when they were in their teens back in the 1940’s. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at the offices and learned young to sit someplace and stay quiet reading or whatever at meetings. Sometimes these were rank-an-file meetings where votes were being taken.

    A union should be a great thing. I absolutely think everyone needs a union. Collective bargaining is the best way for workers to get a decent deal…it is not a level playing field and individual negotiation is not the stuff of some Ayn Randian paradise.

    A union, though, is no better in a moral sense than the collection of people in it. It requires active involvement by everyone, including the general members. Like other forms of democracy, there is a duty to the union just as a union has a duty to you. I’ve seen some locals be cesspits of corruption. I’ve seen those same locals get turned around. When I was growing up, our home, the car and parent’s office were regularly swept for bugs and often bugs were found. It wasn’t always clear who planted them — law enforcement? crooked local officers? mob? Whole family got FBI files. Parent was called to appear before the Kefauver Committee.

    Only had open, heart-to-heart convos with said parent when we were backwoods camping. No one could be following with a parabolic antenna.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Just throwing in here that there has been a concerted, many-decades-long (now getting into the Century mark) effort of trying to keep unions down.

      So much was done to actively disrupt organizing and solidarity, both by government and private forces. I’m middle-aged now and my parents were older when they had me (SURPRISE!!) and had been associated with much older people when they were precocious in their political activity. I’ve heard so many stories, stretching back to the late 1800’s that are essentially family oral history.

      Remember, if you push for change, you’re going to get attacked. It is easier to deal with that in a group.

  131. it_guy*

    When I was in college, I spent several summers working at a grain elevator and it was a union shop, so I had to join the Grain Millers Union. In my opinion, it was a wash. They were needed because it was a very dusty, nasty, dangerous environment, but there were some people that kept their job only because the shop steward would stick up for them.

  132. That Would be a Good Band Name*

    I live in a huge blue collar union area. The union factories are paid better and have better benefits. Even those that aren’t in the union tend to get better pay (office staff). However, it does seem like it breeds a “not my job” mentality. I have a friend that is a skilled laborer and he talks about how much time he spends watching netflix at work because he’s required to work 12 hour shifts, but there isn’t always his specific work to do for 12 hours. My husband works for a non-union place and they cross train on everything. He says that anyone that had been in a union prior always struggles with the idea that they are expected to learn all the jobs and work on anything that needs done. Overall, I think it’s better to have than not.

  133. Not My Money*

    I worked 18 out of 20 years as non-affiliate (union benefits but didn’t have to join) because the major employers didn’t recognize my department as valid union members (they claimed we were “management”). Then I went to MA for a job and had to join. Now I pay dues for the same benefits but am still not recognized as union members by the major employers. But overall the union in this industry is strong and pretty effective when they want to be.

  134. anon this time*

    I was in a white-collar union, and my experience was… mixed. First and foremost, though I started at a wage that was about average for my position, I enjoyed regular (and predictable) salary increases that my peers at other companies did not receive. However, because my job was at the top of the union’s classification scale, I essentially couldn’t be promoted within my position (in my industry it’s common to be promoted from Junior Teapots Assistant to Senior Teapots Assistant after about a year or so.) The union didn’t allow that (and was able to prevent it) because it would have taken my position out of the union, which is a no-go.
    In general I found the union folks to be personally unpleasant and professionally incompetent. I didn’t get the sense that they were corrupt, though, for what that is worth.

  135. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

    My husband is in television engineering and has always worked at unionized stations. His current station, which he has been at for 15 years has been sold 3 times in the past and the current owner is looking to sell them again. In each case the union has been instrumental in keeping new buyers from cutting staff to the bone, retaining pay grades and benefits and assisting in negotiating early retirement packages to save as many jobs as possible. He’s been on the bargaining committee for the past two contracts and it’s really opened our eyes to how much effort goes into everything they do for their members. There are definitely crappy unions out there, but his is awesome and is absolutely one of the reasons we’re as financially stable as we are.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      “really opened our eyes to how much effort goes into everything they do for their members.”

      I think this is huge and not many people realize this.

    2. Aphrodite*

      I agree. In good unions, the work the reps do is so often unseen and therefore unappreciated. They really do work hard and it is for the most part thankless. (Except by me.) But even in not-so-good ones, there is a lot of unseen work.

  136. Union Gal*

    I love my union and I’m proud to be a part of it. At previous (non-union) jobs I’ve dealt with rampant homophobia and forced unpaid overtime (I was non-exempt) at companies where HR either didn’t exist or didn’t care. My bosses right now are great and I totally trust them to do right by me but my union ensures that I’m somewhat insulated even if there’s turnover in management. It also creates a great culture! We’re a union shop, and it’s a great feeling knowing that you’re all in it together and your co-workers have your back.

    This may be an unpopular opinion but I also really appreciate unions’ role as a political tool–see the recent article in the NYT on the effect of Janus on LGBT rights or the book THE FALL OF WISCONSIN. Unions have done a lot of work to protect rights and improve working conditions for a whole lot of people. They’re not perfect–or invulnerable to corruption–but as a rule we’re way better off with them than without them.

  137. Anon, Anon, Anon*

    My overall union experience has been positive. I’ve only worked in one industry with union aspects though. There’s pros/cons to them – just like everything else in the world. It’s very easy to get caught up in the whole “union hasn’t done anything for me”, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and usually any raises or additional benefits you receive are because of the work that the union has done.

    Our union was integral in getting pay raises, better benefits, protecting workers from unfair practices, etc. It also offered discounts for goods/services because it’s a sub group of a nationwide organization. I remember two particular “free” benefits for members: X time of legal assistance. – work or personal, and a liability insurance policy – which was a HUGE plus for some of the employees because of the type of work they do.

    The union made it harder to hire from outside. This was a plus for the union members as it allowed for the opportunity to “move-up” in the company – but I’m sure though that there could have been some very great employees that could have been hired for those positions as well. A fellow employee is currently dealing with a situation though, where she has been looking to get out of her very difficult (emotionally/physically) position. She is well liked and highly recommended by most in the company (even fought over by some departments). However, finding a qualified person to take her place will be extremely difficult – so they hire from the outside for the “easier” jobs and keep her where she is because there is no union so to speak to ensure that she’s given equal opportunity.

    I used to think our union also made it harder to get rid of people who weren’t good workers, however, after our union was “dissolved” thanks to the state government – those same workers were still employed, some for years after…so it wasn’t the union. Money out of your paychecks when it can sometimes take a year or more to see any benefit of the situation is tough – especially if you’re living on a single or limited income as it is.

    1. Anon, Anon, Anon*

      Wanted to add to the cons.

      It can be difficult dealing with your union if you are small portion of their bargaining unit. Like some of those that say they are part of the teachers union but not teachers. If your board is mostly made up of teachers then they are going to “fight” for the teacher issues. Where your needs/best interests might lie in different areas as an Aide (I don’t know if this is what position those are in).

  138. She's One Crazy Diamond*

    I love that I have great benefits, fair pay, cannot be forced to work overtime, and do not have to worry about losing my job for having chronic health conditions. I don’t like that there is little incentive for people to develop themselves professionally and that someone has to basically commit a crime to get fired, you can be a complete slacker and keep your job for 30 years.

  139. Quickbeam*

    I was in a union at 2 times in my career. First as a government worker in criminal justice where the union’s big accomplishment was saving Rocco’s job when he was sleeping at his desk. Then, as an RN, I was in a union that was very weak and did nothing for me in terms of salary or job protection. I’ve never had that strong union experience so my overall impression over almost 50 years of work has been negative. I now work in a uon-union shop with better salary and benefits than I ever had in a union setting.

  140. The Person from the Resume*

    I am a government employee and apparently my very broad Series (2210) is union/has people who are part of a union/ something.

    It affects things sometimes like I am salaried/non-exempt from overtime although my duties would normally be exempt. That’s different since I was used to more flexibility, but I’ve adapted to butt in seat for 8 hours and no more (without requesting comp time in advance (govt!!!)) /no less (without leave).

    It also delayed some reorganization my organization was doing because the union wasn’t onboard. But the reality is my job’s biggest influencer is the federal government and the union doesn’t really come into play as far as I can tell.

  141. Almost Academic*

    I’m a member of the graduate student union and I love it! In fact, when I was considering grad school offers, whether or not the school had a graduate student union was one of my considerations – there is a lot of research out there showing that schools with unions typically had higher stipends and better benefits than those without, and I wanted that safety net. Since we’re all graduate students, they set our dues pretty low – 1%, and they’ve managed to negotiate raises of 1.7-3% every year I’ve been here, so it’s basically paid for itself. I’m not sure how long our union is going to hold up (FL has attacked our ability to unionize pretty heavily over the past year) but so far so good.

    In environments such as academia, I think it really makes a big difference. Graduate students and adjuncts really form a lot of the workforce that gets things done for the prestige of the university, but have very little protection and are generally treated horribly. Having a unified body to push back is really valuable in this context. For instance, last year our university decided to strip dependent healthcare from all of the university plans for students – ignoring the fact that many graduate students, and even undergrads here, have children and families to support. The union was able to push back on that, to the point that the university found a stopgap healthcare insurer and are now looking at integrating it back into our benefits.

    Also, the number of emails I get from my department still that are along the lines of “If you hate this, complain to your union reps” (basically faculty trying to turn us against the union) when the policies they’re discussing are limits on hours a professor can make you work for stipends and pushes for increased living wages definitely doesn’t give me hope that the university would try to do the right thing (aka value graduate student labor) without a collective bargaining force pushing for it.

    1. another scientist*

      working at a large university with a strong postdoc-union, I can echo most of this post. Good pay, good benefits, important protections for a vulnerable part of academia.
      One thing I see a lot is the employer using the union as a convenient excuse for not treating their group members better. For example, our union contract has minimum pay scales, which many supervisors choose to interpret as mandated pay levels. There is nothing preventing a supervisor from paying a stellar employee more!

  142. I would faint if I ever even tried to cross a picket line*

    Working in academia as an adjunct, here is what I got:
    In a non-unionized workplace:
    1. Flat per-class rate that, when factoring in all of the time needed to actually prep classes, teach, hold office hours, and grade assignments, worked out to less than minimum wage.
    2. No raise in the rate over five years.
    3. Nothing else.

    In a unionized workplace:
    1. Pro-rata pay in line with compensation paid to full-time profs at the same level (e.g., if the normal load is four classes and you teach three, you earn 75%).
    2. Annual increases.
    3. Health care.
    4. Generous payments into an IRA.
    5. Free public transit pass.
    6. Dignity.

    There’s no question that unions are good for workers. Propaganda to the contrary is just that: propaganda. Are some unions sometimes mismanaged? Of course! Union members are people. People are fallible and sometimes vote for leaders who don’t make good choices. People are also… people, and therefore prone to drama. The answer to any problems associated with any particular union is to improve the structure and culture of that particular union, not to question the unquestionable benefits of collective bargaining or to undermine the ability of workers to join together into whatever sort of unions suit them.

  143. H.C.*

    I’m not union but I regularly work with them to develop/disseminate communications; in terms of my working relationship with them, I feel mixed – since the workflow is very “hurry up & stop” (I have 1-2 days to draft/edit stuff on my end, whereas they literally take weeks to review/approve things – and sometimes change their minds on already-finalized stuff.) I appreciate the role they play on behalf of employees (and some of the benefits that even I get) but I just wished they’re a bit more organized.

  144. oaktree*

    I’ve been unionized once (I worked part time in my university’s library system). I saw no benefits personally but am a big believer in unionization, so I was happy to contribute, especially since at this time I was also getting income from government student loans and bursaries (which, thank god, I have since paid off- it took me under a year, something I’m still proud of). I now work in a non-union private sector job. I have good benefits and as a Canadian I have more employment protections than Americans do, so I feel I’m in a good place personally. However, if I weren’t a full-time and permanent salaried employee, I would feel quite differently. If I ever work part-time or contract, I plan to try and join IWW or something.

    My partner is an apprentice millwright and as such he’s required to join a union, which pays benefits and connects him to employers. It’s a godsend for him, though work has been a little thin on the ground this year. I think that’s just the nature of being toward the end of an apprenticeship; your rates go up so you’re more expensive to hire, but you’re not yet a journeyman, so not as desirable. I hope he’s able to finish the apprenticeship soon…

  145. Josh*

    Was part of one for three years. Had a pending investigation and the union rep who was going to represent me forgot about the investigatory meeting the first time and had to reschedule two others. In the end I was let go but he managed to negotiate three weeks admin leave for me and on my record it would show voluntary resignation.

    Working in payroll now for a university now, I get mostly complaints from our employees about de-enrollment. A lot of the unions make themselves hard to get ahold of or hold off on submitting the de-enrollment forms to collect more dues. Right now I’m dealing with an employee who opted out of enrollment in April and the union enrolled her again without permission. This whole Janus ruling complicates things even more but in the end each individual union has its perks and downfalls.

  146. Mrs_Helm*

    I wasn’t in a union, and I work in IT. But I worked at a logistics company that hires both union and non-union drivers. A particular circumstance/quirk that gave me a bad taste for them: When the economy was good, we hired lots of drivers…but when it took a turn and we had to lay off drivers, we were required to lay off an equal percentage from other departments. We had a lean IT dept, with people who specialized in certain technology. after two rounds of layoffs, everyone with < 10yrs in our dept was gone, including the SMEs for some very important new technologies, which we were now without trained support.

    I understood the reasoning to not layoff only the low paying workers, but there needed to be a sanity check on that as well. We couldn't absorb the extra work + self-training for those techs with the people we had left. It was no way to run IT. I left for another job, and I wasn't the only one.

  147. Holy Carp*

    I wasn’t in a union until I began working in education. My take on unions is that if you have bad leaders at the helm, your union probably sucks, and that’s the impression that’s given to non-union outsiders. I’m fortunate to be a member of a union with strong leadership.
    Remember that unions gave us the middle class – with decent pay, safety rules, weekends, vacation, to name a few. The billionaires want unions to go away, so they can make more money on our backs. Don’t let them get away with it.

  148. mathymath*

    As a teacher, our union can feel unwieldy. But at the same time, our provincial union accomplished something incredibly significant in challenging the constitutionality of provincial legislation that blocked teachers from negotiating class size/composition. The union pushed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, and won – the ruling being that the provincial government’s legislation was unconstitutional. As a result, our classrooms are slowly returning to regular (i.e. 30 students per teacher) size, with actual guidelines around having Educational Assistants in the class to support those with specific needs. So, while being in the union can feel a little…overwhelming?…it’s also incredibly necessary for a field that tends to get the old ‘but why are you asking for MORE, don’t you care about THE CHILDREN?!’


  149. RegularPosterAnonForThis*

    I was an active member of the Screen Actors’ Guild and Actors’ Equity from the late 1990’s through about 2010. I never got much direct benefit from SAG, because I worked more in theater and didn’t meet the earnings threshold for pension or health insurance.

    I saw the value of both unions’ historical work, because it set minimum expectations for a professional production. Performers are often young, naive, and desperate when they start out, and many of them put up with all kinds of abusive or exploitative practices that people in other industries wouldn’t even think of. Two examples that stuck with me from the Equity handbook:

    1) If new shoes are not provided with the costume, the shoes must be cleaned and disinfected inside and out.
    2) Actors on tour must retain possession of their own passport, and they must be given a return ticket home before they leave.

    If you think about it, it’s pretty disturbing that those things had to be written down and enforced. So the protections were and are quite real.

    On the flip side, as the market is changing, a lot of performers want to produce shows and films for themselves. But the union assumes an adversarial relationship between management and labor, and the requirements are expensive — sometimes prohibitively so. I once produced a show for myself and had other friends involved. Some of them were union and some were not. Because of the number of seats in the house, we were forced into a contract that required payments to unemployment and the pension & health funds — for just two performances.

    If we hadn’t had to pay the required fees to the union, we could have given everyone a fair wage for their time spent in rehearsal and performing. Instead, the union ate up such a large portion of the budget that all we could offer them was $50 and transit expenses. And because it was only 2 shows, those fees added only a tiny amount into their annual earnings threshhold. So there was little or no chance they’d ever see that money back in benefits. Basically, the union forced its members to work for free to feed the bureaucracy. It’s not like they turned down a lucrative gig on some other show. The union has something like a 98% unemployment rate at all times. And that’s partly because there’s a huge pool of good-paying work their members can’t take. Many of them do, and just use a different stage name – because people gotta eat.

    I also knew some performers who made a very good living doing one-person shows on tour (at libraries, universities, etc.) They couldn’t join Equity because it would kill their margins or make it impossible to book shows in certain venues. So it seems really counter-productive to dis-incentivize membership for the most proactive and successful potential members!

    If actors can’t be trusted to negotiate WITH THEMSELVES in their own best interest, then they need a therapist, not a union.

    I was not involved with the union for a couple of years before I went officially inactive, so they may have created new options for members who want to self-produce. I believe they were working on this idea at the time. But while I was involved, the unions were both stuck in a model that was about 20 years out of date and disconnected from the best and most vibrant opportunities available in the market.

    1. AVP*

      I have to say – I’ve had my differences with SAG but as far as the film-related unions go, they’re my favorite to work with. They’ve gotten a lot more flexible in recent years about tiny self-produced projects, and most importantly to me they have phone lines available,and they answer them! Every time I call them after trying to get through to other people I feel like a miracle has occurred because they pick up the phone right away.

      I wish they would be even more flexible- I’ve seen barely-working actors lose roles that I would have loved to hire them for (basically free money for actors!) because I was tripping up some weird rule or other that made it so that person could not accept pay. But in general I do think they’re trying to fix things.

    2. Guitar Lady*

      I work in theater as an actor, and the union debates are ALWAYS raging. Its such a funny thing, because in the acting world, its always the year 2010 – 300 applicants for every position, many willing to work for next to nothing (or even nothing) to get a foot in the door. It makes sense that everyone on Broadway or in other high profile gigs is unionized, because those endeavors make a lot of money and the actors should definitely be getting in on that. (And all the musicians and stagehands etc are also unionized) But further down the ladder, things are a lot murkier. Smaller regional theaters and even smaller tours have decided that its simply not worth it to deal with the union anymore and have cut contracts. And because it is also insanely difficult to get into the union in the first place, there are plenty of really talented actors that aren’t in it and can take non-union productions. (In case you don’t know, once you are a member of the theater actors union, you can never work on a non-union contract within their jurisdiction again without dropping your membership completely, and if you do you will likely never be allowed back in) So there isn’t a lot of that stepping-stone lower-level union work. And if you don’t work enough weeks in a year to get health insurance benefits, then all that money the theater paid into the insurance fund for you doesn’t help you at all. Its also incredibly difficult to earn enough to qualify for the pension. So you can manage to join the union, and then barely work and never get union insurance or pension, but not be allowed to accept any non-union work. This leads to a really 2-tier system, where Broadway people are really benefiting from the union, but lot of mid-level actors are not. A lot of this is not really the union’s fault though, theater is simply not as profitable or popular as it once was outside of Broadway, so they can’t really help it if theaters can no longer afford to pay for these benefits. One idea is to make it much easier to join so that every talented actor is in the union, meaning theaters would have to hire union in order to get quality, but that would probably just lead to a lot more unemployed union actors. There are simply too many of us for too few jobs, and all the union can do is try to protect some of us some of the time. Though it would really help for the union to be more flexible in working with smaller companies and recognize the new financial realities of the market, and it seems like they are taking some baby steps towards this. It would also really help if there were a government-based health insurance and retirement social safety net so the union could focus on wages and working conditions and not the extremely expensive fringe benefits that really burden small theaters.

      1. RegularPosterAnonForThis*

        Oh, I see plenty of local theaters that are extremely popular and operate in the black.

        But they don’t hire union. They often do improv or original material that doesn’t require them to pay royalties. And they use minimalist staging, alternative venues, or outdoor public spaces, so they don’t need traditional stagehands.

        The writers’ strike created reality TV. The lack of flexibility in the Union contract structure went a long way to creating YouTube series/stars as we know them. And it has also created a plethora of theater business models that came into being specifically to circumvent union rules.

        Because creativity = problem solving, and if you give creatives problems and obstacles, they will go around you instead of complying.

  150. JC*

    “a great thing that we don’t need anymore because employers aren’t like the robber barons of yesteryear”

    Many employers are EXACTLY like the robber barons of yesterday. How else do you think we end up with Jeff Bezos having a net worth of over a hundred billion dollars?! And Amazon employees in warehouses working in horrible conditions? Oh right: it’s exactly like

    “In a 2017 corporate filing, Amazon reported that the median salary of its employees is $28,446, or roughly $13.68 an hour for full-time employees. Jeff Bezos makes more than that every nine seconds.”

  151. Tara R.*

    When I TAed it was a unionized position– one of the profs made a point of saying that the department I was in would have paid us more if they had the option (the union negotiated salaries for TAs across the university), but I was happy with all the academic protections (couldn’t be asked to work within 48 hours of one of our own exams, etc).

  152. arcya*

    The thing unions is that it’s sort of like local government: when it works well you don’t really notice them and when they suck they’re terrible. Unless your employer is SUPER awful and you have to spend a lot of time agitating for like, occasional days off and protesting alongside your fellow union members, then the union is pretty invisible. In my last position at a university the postdocs were unionized, and as a result the postdoc pay was higher than the national average and there were strict rules about how long you could keep someone as a postdoc before promoting them (some places keep people as postdocs for 7-8 years, ugh). The union meetings could be a pain sometimes though, and there was a fee, so people sometimes complained that it was more trouble than it was worth without (IMO) considering the benefits.

    The main thing to remember about unions though is that they are a compromise. The options before unions? Well if the factory boss wasn’t paying and your kids were literally starving you could get some of your larger coworkers and go to his house to beat him in front of his family. Frankly the use of unions results in worker protections and overall less human suffering, including for the management.

  153. Adereterial*

    UK public sector here – and a union member with one of the recognised unions for the civil service. The sane one, not the rabid one that calls strikes every 3 seconds over things they should thank their lucky stars for.

    They’ve been helpful – they do negotiate over pay as well as pensions, leave etc. I’ve used them twice to deal with issues and I’ve dealt with them on the other side of the table as a manager in discipline cases etc.

    Unions in the UK don’t have the power they once did – rightly so. I get the impression unions are a very different beast in the US but I’m not sure exactly how!

  154. Kai Jones*

    The most valuable thing about being a union member was protection from being fired except for cause, or total business reduction. I was lucky to be in a union with relatively low dues, and mostly good benefits (e.g., excellent medical insurance including Rx, vision, etc. with no employee contribution to the premium). My bargaining unit chose not to participate in the union’s retirement plan because our employer plan was better.

  155. BeenThere*

    I was in a graphic arts union, and I loved it. I was a woman in a male-dominated industry, and in some non-union shops where I had worked, I routinely got paid less, had worse shifts, and had less opportunity.

    In the union shop, I got paid exactly what the men got paid; I got the same vacation time the men got; I was on the same shift rotation as the men.

    I was fortunate that my fellow union members were generally pretty nice guys. They treated me well and fairly (it was some management guys that did the sexual harassment, not my fellow union members). I realize that not all male-dominated union members operate this way.

    I have always been grateful for that experience, and I am sad that some unions have created a bad impression for all unions. I think workers in the US overall would be in better shape if more employers were unionized.

  156. Antiangie*

    When I was in graduate school at a large public university, I belonged to the union that represented graduate student employees. A lot of people don’t realize that GSEs do a huge amount of the teaching and admin work (grading, proctoring, etc.) for intro-level undergrad classes. As you can imagine, graduate students are a highly exploitable, highly underpaid group and my institution, I believe, was one of the first to form a union for GSEs. Thanks to our union we had limits put on our teaching FTEs (and rules about not, like, giving someone a 0.49 FTE position to avoid paying benefits), amazing healthcare and other bennies, etc. I was fortunately never in a situation where I had to go to them for help but I happily paid my dues.

  157. Ali G*

    On the other side of things, I’ve worked my entire career in an industry that has successfully avoided the need for our employees to unionize. This industry is also fairly regulation-averse (meaning they try really hard to avoid new regs by getting out in front of issues before the gov’t needs to step in), so you could say we like our autonomy and unions would hinder that.
    BUT – this is how we have done it:
    Good pay (typically above the average pay for industry jobs in that area)
    Good bonus, profit sharing structures
    Health insurance, disability, life insurance (employer provided)
    retirement savings with employer matches
    Merit pay increases in addition to COL increases
    Opportunity for training, advancement, etc.
    Also, my industry has a very mature, institutionalized and strong safety culture. Most companies track incidents, near misses, etc. and communicate these across the board, and are constantly striving to ensure the best working condition for their employees.
    If an industry sector is lacking in good pay/benefit structure and safety culture then I think unions are good for workers. However, if more employers would just recognize this as their duty to their employees, then unions may not be needed – unfortunately we are not there yet.

  158. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    My dad’s union has some amazing benefits, like hotel deals (holidays and anniversaries), summer camps, back to school kit (bag, lunchbox and an optional pair of shoes), reimbursements for some medical practices (dental, lab tests), diaper bags, and a free pair of glasses a year. When I was born they got diapers, milk bottles and a week off for my dad.

  159. Chinookwind*

    My experience with the teacher’s union in our province was negatively coloured by the fact that they bragged about giving the “young people” (their words in quotes) a pay raise that didn’t benefit “the grey haired” without acknowledging that said raise meant that many of us “young people” (i.e. on year-to-year contracts) would lose our jobs and class size increased because there was no money to cover said raise (I am still equally angry at the premier who vocally said the school boards could figure out how to pay for it as there would be no more money).

    That being said, DH works for the only police organization in N. America without a union and were just given the right to unionize last year. There is no one for them to go to about working conditions or safety despite the force not always implementing recommendations from the aftermath of major police shootings (think 3 or more cops shot at once by one gunman). the force has even been fined for this when another shooting happens. They have not received promised raises and their OT and expense claims can take 6 months to come through. (At least they aren’t paid via Phoenix!) Their hierarchy is nationally known for their toxic environment and outright bullying, so there really is no effective way for the people walking the beat to speak up effectively because their management is more interested in promotion. Oh, and they don’t fall under any legal workplace legislation, so technically nothing they are asked to do could ever be considered illegal (think working 24 hours straight and expected to show u for your next shift 2 hours later)

    An organized voice for your average cop could help them improve working conditions and, at the very least, give a central voice to a group that is literally spread throughout the country, sometimes in detachments with only 3 or 4 of them in a given town. So, unions do have an important purpose for the voiceless.

  160. MC*

    If you start a job with an established union it’s less obvious that you benefit from the union being there. Most benefits – including those for government employees – only exist because the union has negotiated for them over the years. Unions benefit the workers in a whole industry by setting higher standards for pay and benefits. If you bagged groceries in high school at a union shop, you undoubtedly had an easier time with more pay and actual breaks than you would have.

  161. GingerHR*

    I’ve only been a union member in my misspent youth as a trainee teacher. However, as an HR rep I’ve seen the good and bad from the other side. A couple of examples –
    The bad: the union rep (actually union-employed) who I think saw himself as one of the great TU leaders of old. He had to be asked to shut up in a disciplinary where he’d done 80% of the talking (we counted). Forgot he was meant to be representing his union member rather than making his mark as an orator.
    The good: the employee union rep who saw both sides sufficiently to tell someone who was going through a disciplinary to take their warning and count themselves lucky, but who was also brave enough to tell us, his employer, that we were taking the proverbial in some instances and should take a good look in the mirror.
    As lots of commenters have said, it’s so variable. A bad trade union / TU rep can make things worse for everyone. A good one can not only support the employee, but actually help the employer / employee relationship.

    TUs (in the UK, anyway) won’t support members come what may. They may refuse to support cases, especially when it gets to tribunal stage, if they believe that the member has behaved poorly enough that they won’t succeed, or if they have proceeded against union advice. I’ve seen this happen a few times. This is rare though, and mostly it can be a valuable resource for employees.

  162. JG Pioneer*

    I recently finished my MA, and I spent two years as a TA and a member of my school’s graduate employee union, which was excellent. The union worked very hard at getting benefits for members and their families—a health plan that included vision and dental, assistance with housing and food insecurity, etc. I didn’t end up using most of them, because I was still eligible for my parent’s insurance, but I know many of my friends and classmates were able to take advantage. The biggest benefit I felt was the pay; over the years, the union has negotiated for an hourly wage $10 over the national average, and when the administration dragged their feet on implementing a wage increase, the union insisted on making the increase retroactive. As a now currently-unemployed MA, I very much appreciated getting that unexpected check…

    The union has also done a lot to offer support to members and non-members who are undocumented or immigrants from countries targeted by the administration (like those names in the travel ban, for example). The legal resources they put together have been tremendously helpful, and they also worked closely with the administration to help a member who (iirc) was visiting family in Iran when the ban first went into effect. Again, not something I dealt with personally, but the union’s presence is definitely felt in my workplace and does a LOT for the relatively small dues we had to pay.

  163. halmsh*

    I’m not seeing a lot of input from folks who took part in a union campaign or were on the bargaining committee at their jobs, and I want to way in as someone who did both!

    At my old job, a medium sized non-profit, we unionized after a year of budget cuts, layoffs, and stagnant titles/pay. As with many non-profits, junior roles were designed to take in young people/people changing careers and have them burn out and move on to a different organization. There was little upward trajectory, and the work was intense and draining. Much of our staff traveled 75% of the time with a paltry per diem rate and pay barely above the living wage for our region, NYC. There was a lot of murkiness about PTO and comp time, and a lot of pressure to not take comp time from HR. There wasn’t any accountability for management or recourse for folks being overworked.

    We decided to unionize, and dealt with a prolonged fight at the National Labor Relations Board because management contested our unit (argued that the proposed members of the union didn’t qualify to be union members). We won that fight handily, and we won the election handily too a few months later. We staged a media campaign, speaking to press, tweeting, and generally freaking out management. Partners and the public reached out in support and helped in our cause.

    I was a part of the bargaining committee and fought with my union colleagues and really great union organizers (go CWA!). Some of our colleagues were laid off during bargaining, and we successfully negotiated for increased severance pay and longer insurance coverage. I left that job before we finished bargaining (I’d been there for four years and was really burned out at the point) but they’re still going strong and have already seen a lot of changes in the workplace in significant ways.

    To anyone interested in unionizing, I really recommend exploring that option – it is incredibly empowering to be in a position to advocate for yourself and your coworkers without fear of being fired for doing so. It is a HARD road, and takes a long time – at least a year from campaign to contract, if not a few years. The experience, though, is transformative – I am so much better informed about my workplace rights, and I know how to effectively organize in a workplace to push for change (even outside of unionizing, like when Allison talks about bringing up an issue as a group). I have a stronger sense of the value of my work, and a much better bullshit detector for when I’m being asked or expected to do things outside of my compensation.

    Know though that a union is often what you make of it – I’ve heard of many people being in unionized jobs where they are still underpaid and feel unprotected. If you are in a unionized workplace and want to make change, meet with your steward, your union rep, talk to people about changes you want to make, and start meeting. If you union rep isn’t working for you, you can go to their superior in the union and complain! Unions have very complex systems of accountability and appeal that you can access if need be.

    If you are joining a workplace and feeling miffed by your dues, talk to folks who bargained your last contract! Talk to your union rep or shop steward. Learn about what things were like before the union, or before you negotiated your last contract. You’d be surprised at the really reasonable things you’d think would be a given but that your union had to fight tooth and nail to get.

    If your workplace is involved in bargaining but you aren’t on the committee, talk to someone who is! Depending on strategy and process, you might be able to attend a bargaining session and see how it goes down, it will change your perspective. When I was on our committee, we worked incredibly hard to reach out to all of our colleagues in the unit and make sure their needs were being addressed and that we were advocating for everyone.

    If you feel like your union isn’t representing to you, you might need to reach out to your steward and express that! A union isn’t passive, you need to speak up a lot of times and be willing to put forth some effort, but you can usually make it work for you.

    1. halmsh*

      I’ll also add that I had to go through a harassment ‘investigation’ while we were in our campaign stage. An executive opening screamed at me using discriminatory language in an all staff meeting. He leveled a counter complaint against me to HR after I complained. Having to wade through that murky process, and having HR try to bury me, was horrifying. At that stage, we couldn’t yet have a union rep in the meetings, but I did receive union support and advice during that time. It was crucial to me making it through.

      When you’re unionized, if you are in any meeting that relates to discipline or firing, you have the right to have a union rep in the room with you. Having someone there to advocate for you and ask questions you might not be in the right head space to ask makes such an enormous difference. It also creates accountability if you’re offered conditions around your departure – I know of multiple instances where colleagues were offered certain things at departure that they then rescinded because they weren’t in writing.

    2. OlympiasEpiriot*

      All of this is so true and important.

      A union is only as good as you make it.

      Look at it this way: There is protection for the big guys and they pay people to have it taken care of. The little guys have to organize it themselves. To do that, we need to put in the time required for democracy. It is exhausting, but if everyone puts in the work, it is good.

  164. Properlike*

    Work at a small state-funded college with an academic union. You can be fair-share (not a member) and forego some of the full dues, but in doing so you miss out on some of the financial perks for full members such as discounts on insurance, etc.

    Just in the last two years, this union has been critical in pushing back when the college attempted to fire a group of people for filing for unemployment, and when a group of adjuncts was told they had to train without pay. In both cases, the union pushed back.

    And I say “the union” because the biggest problem with it is that the person in charge of it does not even meet the same employment criteria as its members and is a toadie for the college itself (another high five for Illinois politics). He spends all his time justifying why the college is correct to the members. Basic procedure is not followed. The contract that was negotiated is crap. The parent union we’re signatory to is excessively hands-off in helping remedy this. This could be a powerful force in negotiating for real benefits, but instead, it’s a big reason why I’ll be leaving this job.

  165. Argh!*

    Having been both a member & a supervisor in the same union (AFSCME), the best thing in my opinion is that it makes supervisors and administrators act right. There was better training for management in general.

    Where I am now, there’s no union, and our administrators have done outright illegal things to me and to others. They have gotten away with a lot, but HR will straighten them out if the wronged person takes them on…. alone…. risking not getting a promotion, being punished in subtle ways, or being bullied.

  166. Mimmy*

    I already wrote above but forgot to mention my husband’s experience.

    He’s worked for Major Telecommunications Company for many years. When he was a customer service rep in the late 80s/early 90s, he was part of a union. He found it to be very helpful when he filed a grievance.

    He’s been in management-level positions now for a number of years and thus is no longer part of a union. However, things get a little stressful when it comes time for contract renewal negotiations because there is always the possibility of major strikes. Hubby has had to go through “strike duty” training and always has to be prepared to cover striking employees until a new contract is eventually signed.

    Threat of strikes is partly why I’m somewhat against unions–I think they can be extremely disruptive, depending on the profession(s). There does seem to be an “us vs. them” mentally that other commenters have noted; it always feels adversarial. Yet, from what many other commenters are saying, I wonder if this is a common misconception. Just like everything else, experience with unions probably vary.

    1. Czhorat*

      A strike is, at best, a last-resort action in a negotiation which isn’t otherwise successful. Most unions don’t want to strike, management doesn’t want them to.

      I was in management for a major telecom provider during a strike once; it was very short (only a few days) and yes, we had managers working around the clock and pretending to be technicians. Fortunately, we had a good working relationship with local craft; as my boss at the time said, they’d picket and yell, “scab” as we walked in, but they’d say it with love.

    2. halmsh*

      Strikes are interesting though, because they are supposed to be a last resort – it’s what you do when absolutely nothing else is working and management won’t budge. So you assume that workers aren’t striking unless they have exhausted every other option. They’re also forgoing pay! So it’s not a decision made lightly.

      I think there are probably places that strike more than average, due to internal politics that are pro-strike, but generally, that’s not the case.

  167. Czhorat*

    I was in the CWA (Communication Workers of America) when I worked for NYNEX/Bell Atlantic/Verizon.

    What did I like?

    1) You knew that your pay was fair for your time in the job; nobody got a better rate because the hiring manager liked them better or they were a better negotiator.

    2) Basic work protections were more fair. If you had to do evening work, for example, you’d be paid a night differential, and needed to be shifted for a full week at a time.

    3) Raises and such were based on seniority. You wouldn’t get a promotion because of popularity.

    What I didn’t like? IN some ways the same thing; pay and promotion are based on seniority, so if you do an exceptional job the only possible reward is a promotion to management. Overall, the union experience was positive; I’ve seen people in similar jobs without union protection get worse treatment.

  168. Jennifer*

    On the one hand: our union is literally the only way we can ever get raises.

    On the other hand: they are mostly very difficult and won’t do much, if anything at all, for you otherwise. I needed union help and the official rep was my best friend for an hour on the phone and then bailed on me and never spoke to me again the next day. My most pro-union friend is fed up with them.

  169. Union anon*

    I’ve been in a number of unions during my life, and it’s generally been a positive experience. It’s never been mandatory as part of my job.
    I’m based in the UK – one of my previous unions was instrumental in ensuring that temps/agency staff accrue paid leave (paid by the agency, not the employer).
    My current union (healthcare) has been fighting, in conjunction with others, to get us a reasonable payrise, and finally succeeded this year. I’ve had to contact my union reps a couple times regarding issues with my management; they’ve always been helpful.
    At my previous employer, our union rep managed to protect us when they were threatening redundancies, and again when they wanted to impose a shift system that would not have worked (we did not have enough people to staff it).
    So my experience has been positive, and I always encourage people to join unions if the topic comes up.

  170. View from the UK*

    Occasional poster, but anon for this.

    I was the lay chairperson of the branch of one of the unions on our site for a while (about 100 members).
    In the UK no-one is obliged to join a union, but normally enjoy whatever benefits we negotiate for them.

    I work in a traditional heavy industry in the UK. All the consultation mechanisms (Health & Safety, pay talks, quarterly informal meetings with management etc.) are through the unions, and the unions will guard those rights VERY jealously, I cannot emphasize enough what CaptainCopier has stated above: “You only get out of a union how much the members put in”. Most members view us as an insurance so that they can get representation should they need it in a disciplinary case. Attendance at meetings, or any other form of engagement is very low. This means that the democratic union structures are controlled by a startlingly small number of people. The higher levels of the union are all strong Labour Party activists and cannot understand the “meh” response this brings out in many members.

    If both sides are sensible, 90% of the work is informal: We have quarterly informal meetings with management at which they outline the business performance and issues facing them, and we can present generalized concerns of members, e.g. “My manager does not understand how much delay the SAP ordering system is causing”. This then gives us standing to raise concerns outside the meeting, for instance if a member wants to know what the maternity provisions are, without disclosing to anyone in the company that they are contemplating parenthood. I can then approach HR and ask the question on behalf of the member.

    In pay talks, we often cannot move the headline amounts by very much, if at all, unless the membership is very militant. However there may be many small points of detail around bonuses and benefits where our arguments carry weight. Sometimes you have to speak truth to power: “If you only allow plain time-off-in-lieu for weekend working, you will not get the numbers you need”.

    The other area of involvement is in disciplinary hearings, where we have to make sure management follow the process, advise the member, and keep notes on the members behalf, because they will be unlikely to be able to pay attention to what is being said and write at the same time.

    In summary, union representatives may be working very hard, but their activity only becomes visible when something major goes wrong. Of course this is no different from pretty much every corporate endeavor.

  171. Elaine*

    I worked in a union job (benefits administration) for about 15 years. Like everything, there were advantages and disadvantages. It was difficult to fire anyone, even when we all knew a person needed to be fired. It was none too pleasant to have dues deducted when our union was often aligned with the employer rather than the people they were supposed to represent. I’ll never forget when we were voting on a proposed contract with a lousy increase in wages and pension. Our union rep wanted us to accept it without argument and actually said, “I told them you would accept it. My reputation is at stake!” True, her reputation was at stake but she seemed to have forgotten with whom. We voted to strike and within 2 hours the company came back with a much better offer. I found out later when I moved into management that the company never had any expectation we would accept their offer. They just low balled us as a starting position and expected that we would negotiate more.

    On the other hand, the union had our back when there was any question of mistreatment. So if you have a good employer, you probably don’t need the expense of a union. From the kinds of letters we see here every day, how many people really think that all employers are good ones who wouldn’t dream of mistreating their employees or underpaying them? A union can be a lifesaver in those situations.

  172. anon for this time*

    I get 23% employer contribution to my retirement, I pay $0 in premiums for a low-deductible family health care plan, and I get 50 days of PTO (in separate sick, vacation, holiday, and personal pools) per year, so.

  173. gmg22*

    Many newspapers still have unionized workforces, so I belonged to a couple different unions early on my career. Contract negotiations at this time of financially difficulty in the industry (late 1990s through the 200os) were a pretty tough sell, unfortunately. Still, the bargaining power to me is the main reason why unions are so important. That’s playing out now in my current hometown in a very public, very ugly battle between our local hospital network and its nurses’ union. Without the union to shed light on how unequal the pay is and how understaffed the main hospital campus is, no one would really know or care, I don’t think. But because of the union, they do know and care, and public opinion is pretty firmly on the nurses’ side.

    I co-sign those who have questions about transparency re how your union dues are spent. That’s important. I also experienced a situation at one of my newspaper gigs that was fairly idiosyncratic, but demonstrated how, if union bargaining were carried all the way to its logical end, you might get a “careful what you wish for” situation. The newsroom was the most toxic of any I ever worked in, but it wasn’t until after I left that I figured out one of the big reasons why: I never thought to ask this (because who would?) but it turned out that prior to my being hired, in the course of the paper being sold by the family that once owned it, the union managed to negotiate LIFETIME JOB GUARANTEES for everyone working there at the time of the sale. Suffice to say, folks, that a guarantee that you can never, ever be laid off, no matter what, is a double-edged sword both for the financial health of your organization and the mental health of everyone working there. (It was never meant to bar people from being fired for cause, but in practice somehow it did that too. I’ll just throw in one example for flavor: I had a colleague at this time who came to work the majority of days drunk, and I could never figure out why there were absolutely no repercussions for that.)

  174. anonning today*

    I had never given any thought to unions or known anyone who worked in a union context (my family of origin is a mix of relatively recent immigrants/migrants to U.S.). Then I opted to join a union when I started working in my current higher ed workplace when I learned about the long list of benefits and protections they secure both for members and non-members: small but regular raises, low-cost access to healthcare, reasonable limits on working hours, training on how to actually teach for people in teaching jobs, certain types of support for people who are on international visas. I’ve not loved the process of participating in actual meetings of the union membership–they’re big on democratic participation, which gets super unwieldy and messy, of course–and a lot of these dynamics touch on what other commenters have highlighted about what type of person has historically been in a union and/or in leadership roles in a union. But this is a tiny thing in the bigger picture. The security of having low-cost healthcare was a large factor for me and my partner in choosing to have our child. This minor life adventure started with an unplanned pregnancy that was very shocking and scary at first, but less scary once we realized that we could make it work financially.

  175. Mockingjay*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet (I will tonight), but I was wondering what size companies are unionized readers working for? While ensuring good benefits and wages for members, I would imagine that unions can cost employers more. (yes, no?) Is there a threshold for company size? Can you unionize a small business?

    I’ve always wondered about this. I have never been a union member and live in a state where unions are not prevalent.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Yes, you can unionize a small business. In fact, some owner-operators in trucking were (are? this was a while ago) part of the Teamsters because as being part of the union means they can pay into a Health and Welfare Fund and get to benefit from being part of a bigger, professionally-maintained fund.

    2. halmsh*

      The unionization can have an upfront cost for companies/orgs, in paying a lawyer if they go that route, maybe paying management or hiring folks to work with the union from the management side. However, we argued during bargaining that by raising wages they’d have much higher retention and save money in the long run. We were losing about a staff member per month because of low morale, and they were spending a fortune recruiting and training every year.

  176. Kate*

    I’m not in a union now, but when I was a teacher I was. And…look. I think unions are important–particularly for teachers, because any time you’re dealing with someone else’s kids you are also dealing with a level of personal risk that is higher than that of your average office worker. In my district in particular, the teachers tended to be good and the the administrators tended to be terrible, so I was glad for the contract because it laid out things that the administrators could not do.

    And also…the people who ran my union were not qualified to run a bake sale. So I am a fervent supporter of unions in the abstract, while also thinking that my union was pretty terrible. I have a friend who is going through a grievance process that appears to have been designed by Rube Goldberg. But the fact that we had a contract governed whether or not I got a planning period, how long I had to eat lunch and whether I got supply money every year, and that was very helpful.

  177. HR Expat*

    I’ve been on both sides: union and management. I was forced to join the union automatically when I worked at a grocery store when I was younger, although I later learned that I could opt out. I got really frustrated because people kept their jobs on technicalities. As an example, a forklift driver was caught using drugs (not marijuana) on the premises, was given a drug test, failed it and was fired. The union appealed because the company used security camera footage to verify a witness’ statement. At arbitration, it was ruled that the employee be reinstated because there’s not a clause in the CBA saying that the company can verify statements with video footage. But there wasn’t anything saying they couldn’t use it either.

    As an HR person, I have a really good relationship with my union reps and the workforce. But I see really good employees who can’t get promoted to higher level jobs only because they don’t have seniority and we have a long-tenured workforce. I feel really bad for them. I personally am not a fan of seniority-based systems and think people should be promoted for their skills and results. I get that this might be controversial, but your reward for seniority should be that you still have a job (unless you’ve worked to develop the skills needed for other roles/promotions, in which case you should be promoted). But I have to work within my CBA, which values seniority over performance.

  178. Art3mis (fmrly Bad Candidate)*

    My dad was in IBEW and got good benefits and retirement. My MIL is in the postal workers union and I swear they only exist to collect dues because there’s no means of real grievance resolution.

  179. J.*

    I’ve been a union organizer in the past and have worked in a couple of jobs where I have a union and LOT of jobs where I did not have a union. I’d never work another job without a union if I could avoid it (although, obviously, that’s easier said than done).

    The biggest benefit to being in a union that I think about constantly when I’m reading AAM is that that dance about salary negotiation is so much easier. When I applied for my last job, I knew exactly how much the starting salary would be. There was no, “Well, what do you think your range would be?” Yeah, there’s some room for discussion about what position level you come on or what step you might start on, but you can usually get a copy of the contract and see exactly what the salary range is for that type of position and when and how raises are given. More importantly, you can know with some confidence that everyone at your same level is making the same thing you are regardless of whether they’re a man or “negotiated better” or whatever else. It relieves a whole lot of stress about the process of trying to apply for a new job.

    1. Cordoba*

      Why do you want to make the same as everybody else at your level?

      I consider myself to be well above-average at my job, and as a result I want to make more than the average amount for my position – even within a given title and pay band.

      I would find it to be very frustrating to be told that I was doing an excellent job but could only make as much as Johnny Halfass because we’re at the same step and that’s what title/seniority matrix says it pays.

      1. Argh!*

        It’s also frustrating to do a better job than someone else and get paid less because they suck up to the boss or look like the boss.

        1. Cordoba*

          I agree, and recommend that people look for jobs that actually compensate based on performance rather than things such as “seniority” or “looking like the boss” or “being any live human being with title XYZ at level 123”.

  180. Cordoba*

    I’ve worked as an exempt technical professional in several union and non-union manufacturing operations.

    Based on my prior experiences, one of my first questions in a job interview is “Is this a union shop?”

    If the answer is “Yes” my interest in the job goes down by about 50%.

      1. Cordoba*

        My main objection is the byzantine work rules and additional layers of bureaucracy that often come with industrial unions. These are not rules that are there for reasons of promoting some worthwhile end such as safety or quality. They largely appear to be there to make sure the people with seniority have to do as little work as possible.

        Here are a few specific examples that I have encountered:

        1) Shops where I (a non-union engineer) was notionally not allowed to touch any tools or even the machines I was working with. Instead, I had to verbally direct a union employee to do every single step while I stood there and watched. “Could you please turn this screw one-quarter turn?” “Could you please press this green button?” etc. This makes my job much more difficult and frustrating than it needs to be, and opens up the possibility for problems because I’m essentially operating machinery by way of a game of telephone. Please note, this arrangement was absolutely not for reasons of safety – the union person implementing my instructions did not have any special skills or unique experience that was relevant to this task. It was just somebody who had been around long enough that they had sufficient seniority to get into an easier job than line work.

        2) Shops where simple no-skill tasks required requisitioning “skilled” trades folks to do them. Want to run an extension cord from A to B? Too bad, you need a union electrician to do that. Want to shut off the water valve to the equipment you’re about to work on? Too bad, you need a union plumber to do that. Want to open a wooden crate with your supplies inside? Too bad, you need a union carpenter to do that. Want to *roll up a piece of carpet* so that you can push some wheeled equipment around and not have it get hung up on the rug? Too bad, that’a s union job. Again, none of this was actually related to safety or special skills. It was just a way to make work for people who had been there forever. Oh, and if the person who could do that job was sick or busy or on vacation? Too bad, try again tomorrow.

        3) Shops were people knew they were essentially un-fireable because of their place in the union and would use this fact to get away with all sorts of terrible behavior. Come back from lunch buzzed and brag about it? Defeat safety interlocks to make your job easier? Openly read pornography during break time? Routinely use racial slurs in casual conversation? Sexually harass a college intern? You can seemingly only lose your job if you kill somebody, so why not! I’ve seen people do all of these things with effectively no consequences specifically because the union stood up for them.

        I also have a fundamental problem with the concept of “seniority” as a primary determining factor in who gets rewarded and promoted. In general, in the non-union shops the supervisors and skilled trades leads were the people who had the best knowledge and work ethic and track record of success. In the union shops these roles were just filled by whoever had been on payroll the longest. I observed that the quality of people in manufacturing leadership roles was significantly higher in the non-union shops.

        I’m willing to put up with all of the above if the money and opportunity is right, but in an otherwise apples:apples comparison I’ll go non-union every time.

  181. Me*

    I worked a union job at a grocery store and saw many benefits and the biggest drawbacks clearly came from corporate/being in the south.

    Every new contract chipped a bit away – on one old one, full timers could work 6 days a week with hours 41-48 overtime but good for management/the individual store, it didn’t count on the store’s OT budget.

    Things I saw that my sister did not see at a big box store (the red one) – cross-training throughout the store, minus the pharmacy; no one ever got sent home or even offered that possibility if business was low; health insurance for part timers that was decent – no dependents part time $9/week; and most important when compared to the big box stores were 2 things. Store credit card? We were offered incentives but we could not be reprimanded because one big sticking point was the separation between warehouse and store duties. Selling cards fell into that so they couldn’t require it. I asked this when we had to watch some stupid video. Oh well a chance to sit. Being a fast cashier? Rewards – if management remembered – but no real punishment for low numbers. No creepy stuff like what they propose at big blue store and no firing for low speed. This made the crazy days much easier to deal with. Management really really cared but they couldn’t make us do it and also didn’t want us angering customers by rushing them.

    And the can’t be fired thing – i saw a few people get fired past probation for stealing and getting high in the parking lot on their break. But I also worked in the south. Yeah a lot of the country is right to work but it’s dicier there. Never saw any of my gay or trans coworkers in danger of losing their jobs so the company benefits from that image.

    The negatives were management stretching union rules and requirements and just the obvious toothlessness of a southern union that can’t get agency fees but has to negotiate for everyone.

    The biggest contract issue before I left was raising starting pay to match big blue box and corporate offered it to new employees but current ones wouldn’t see a corresponding bump in pay. So the union had to reject that.

    My sister has a negative view of teachers unions – they just protect bad teachers! – but she’s transferring to a school with a principal that hated her on sight and hates special ed. So she’s joining. My mom relied on her teachers union against retaliation for reporting wage theft.

    I hope to god i end up in an industry/field that is unionized.

    1. Me*

      Oh yeah nobody had to “clopen” except salaried non union management. You could have less than 10 hours between a shift if you traded with someone, you had to explicitly choose it.

      Ooh the one time I got asked to come in early, the phone woke me up and I was like yeah sure, make that money, and woke up more as I was riding my bike to work hey it’s been less than 10 hours what does this mean? It meant OT for the entire shift as well as 8 or 9 $2 coupons the supervisor who called me in gave me to beg not to take the OT because he screwed up. Whoever sent off our pay that week didn’t uncheck it and I got some sweet sweet OT.

      We also got more breaks than our state requires (which isn’t hard as the state requires none beyond the federal mandates).

      I made fulltime within 9 months and kept it until I went back to school. Full time came as promised based on seniority/availability/someone quitting.

      The minimum weekly hours were 18, I worked that few less than 4 weeks over 4 years.

      I’m a southern lesbian with chronic health issues, I trust no corporation to have my back.

  182. Jessica*

    My mother was in a union for her second job (bartending at the symphony). One season the symphony was on strike (I can’t remember if it were the restaurant workers or the musicians, but either way, they supported each other.) Surprisingly, we woke up Christmas morning to a bunch of presents that had been delivered by the union to make sure we’d have a happy holiday, even if folks weren’t getting their normal pay. My mother would have made Christmas special either way (as I said, it was her second job), but it was such an incredibly kind gesture; I always tear up a bit thinking about it.

    I think Unions have their pros and cons, but I admire a system set up to protect workers, particularly in a time of staggering wealth inequality. And if you REALLY want a good cry, I recommend Pride, which is a very sweet movie about the support from the LGBT community for the UK miners’ union strike with Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, and Andrew Scott. The union meeting where they sing Bread and Roses is a total tearjerker.

  183. Dave*

    I am in a union and it has done me a world of good… for example, one employer refused to pay my outstanding salary within seven days as required by law (Japanese managers are often a law unto themselves). I told the union, they contacted HQ who said that I’d get paid (the possibility of legal action probably helped). So a few days before I leave a memo got sent round the whole company informing employees of their right to be paid within seven days of leaving!

  184. Elmyra Duff*

    My very first job was as a bagger/cashier at a grocery store with a union. I was pretty annoyed at paying my dues, especially when I was only making ~$60 every week. However, when my boss tried to fire me for dyeing my hair blue (after it had already been purple, orange, pink, you name it), the union basically told him to stfu because there was nothing in the dress code about hair color. I liked the union after that.

  185. Luis Rodriguez*

    I’m a member of the Progressive Workers’ Union and I hate all this representation they give me.
    I hate all these pay raises I’ve gotten because of Union contract negotiations. Gah, this is like, the 3rd time in two years I’ve had to adjust my house budget. Thanks PWU . . . for the extra work!
    And I hate going into conflict resolution with management and having knowledgeable, caring people on my side of the table. Mind ya damned business PWU!
    Oh, and don’t even get me started on all the support and camaraderie, informative updates, inside information on company goings-on, and all these people volunteering to help me whenever I ask. Who has time for all that??

    I’d much rather go back to my non-Union days of fearing I’d be fired for no damned reason (hey, managers have bad days too ya know!) and constantly in the dark about the company I work for.

    Yeah, this Union thing . . . who needs it, right?

  186. Bea*

    My mom has the best union perks. Benefits and pay were increased 10 fold when they unionized. Sadly their HQ is staffed by people the versed in the CBA. That’s struggle. Accessing the benefits.

    My dad had good benefits. They didn’t protect his or anyone’s jobs though.

    My partner’s was a joke. But retail is it’s own kettle of fish.

    I’m lukewarm on the whole thing.

  187. AVP*

    I work in a union-adjacent industry and have to admit that most people (even the members!) complain about them and find them a PITA to work with – but I do appreciate that they’ve developed safety practices and other best-practices that are useful to everyone overall. And some are much better to work with then other, which in my (very freelance-heavy) industry can really be the difference between whether you hire U or non-U. It seems like it all comes from the head of the union and some are notoriously awful to deal with and some I look forward to calling. In the end, many of the aspects of my industry that are safe and pro-worker are because organized labor had a hand in planning them, but I’m glad I have the choice on whether to work with them on a per-project basis.

    not a real union per se, but for awhile I was getting health insurance from the Freelancers Union and I LOVED them and was very sad to see their functional demise.

  188. Random Thought*

    Last Job was state/regional government, and the employees were part of several different unions, based on the department you were in. The unions were largely effective at negotiating guaranteed raises (as long as you met your performance objectives), keeping the cost of benefits low (i.e. employer wanted to increase cost of health insurance from 5% EE paid to 1% EE paid in 1 year, union negotiated 1% annual increases with a provision that said if the other unions’ didn’t also increase, ours wouldn’t either), and guiding EEs through discipline/preventing people from getting fired. The union did lobby at the State level for funding for State government (to keep people employed) and to protect retirement benefits (all unions were on the same retirement plan). They also took on random job-related issues, like when the employer started using GPS trackers on company vehicles, the Union fought (a losing battle) to ensure the GPS records wouldn’t be used as discipline, and when they lost, at least making sure employees knew about it since the employer wasn’t planning to announce this change.

    What I didn’t like: EEs participating in union activities were elected, and their skills (or lack thereof) didn’t always translate to the union jobs they were doing. They also tried to get people fired up over issues that weren’t (imo) a big deal, which I found mildly annoying. And their involvement in employee discipline made it very hard for bad employees to get fired – which is nice when you’re That Employee, but not so nice when you’re the employee who has to deal with That Employee’s incompetence.

    1. Argh!*

      I was the hearing official for a horrible employee who contested being fired. I studied all the documents *AND* the union manual, and it was rather easy to support management on this one. If management does things right and has balls, then bad people can be fired, and good people don’t get bullied. If there’s no union, good people get fired for looking at the boss wrong. Which is worse?

  189. Hobbert*

    This is a really interesting topic for me right now! I recruit and hire law enforcement officers (and am sworn, myself) in an area that adjoins several other states. My state can’t form LE unions but my agency is near the top of the pack locally so we recruit and hire officers from unionized states pretty regularly. I have no union experience and don’t know how to answer their concerns about not having a union here. Who bargains for your health insurance? Uh, the county provides it and if it was crappy, we’d all quit? How do you have protection from firing? …Don’t do a bad job and you won’t get fired?

    The whole thing puzzles me.

  190. Zombeyonce*

    I’ve been a member of a union through work for about 8 years now. I never cared much either way (though having to pay dues was always annoying) until recently. I have a great employer (a hospital) but they’re feeling the sting of changes to healthcare policies in the budget. One way they’re dealing with it is changing employees from a vacation/sick time setup to a PTO setup. They’ve touted it as a great benefit and said that it’ll give us maternity leave and it sounded so great until we found out all the details.

    They implemented it with all the unclassified (non-union) employees immediately and we got to see what it really was: gaining a mere 3 weeks of maternity (NOT paternity or caregiver) leave in exchange for losing 50% of your saved vacation time that would be cashed out if you quit (which is many thousands of dollars for hundreds of people) and a change to the way you get to use PTO where you have to be out for 40 hours before you can use their version of sick time in the PTO system (it’s a weird “extended illness bank that would take too long to explain), so you’re way more likely to end up having to take unpaid time off if you have under a week’s worth of PTO saved up.

    It’s a change to the system that barely benefits employees and greatly benefits the company, and it was forced on everyone that isn’t part of the union because of their particular positions at the hospital. I didn’t care about unions until my union protected me from this and rejected it outright (after a town hall w/members) and now if the company wants us to accept it, they’re going to have to offer some really amazing things in the next contract negotiation.

    1. Scott M.*

      Just a side note, we have only PTO with no separate sick time, and also an extended illness bank (EIB). In case they haven’t explained it very well, here’s how ours works.
      -You get a certain amount of PTO every year to use however you see fit: vacation, illness, whatever. No limit on how long you have to be sick or anything. PTO is just that : paid time off for anything.
      -At the end of the year, you can carry over 40 hours. Anything more than that goes into your extended illness bank which accumulates until you leave the company.
      -If you are sick for an extended amount of time, and use up all your PTO, then you can use what is in your extended illness bank and get 100% of your salary for that time. I suspect that’s the ’40 hours’ you mentioned.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Yeah, I understand all that, but it’s not great compared to the current system, and it’s especially terrible that it means losing out on 50% of your accumulated vacation payout if you resign.

  191. Chronic Lurker*

    I’m in a unionized newsroom that’s 1.5 years in to negotiating our first contract (management is dragging its feet). I’m not involved in union leadership at all, but I absolutely love my union. Even though negotiations aren’t complete and the company wasn’t obligated to make changes yet, just having the union come in prompted them to relax our daily output requirements and make some editorial staff changes, all of which made everyone’s daily work lives MUCH better.

    In an era where a lot of newsrooms are moving away from having staff writers and towards a just-farm-it-out-to-freelancers model, having a union also means job security. Not in a “we can’t get fired” way (which hasn’t come up) but in a “we want it in the contract that they can’t farm out our work to freelancers” way. The contract will also mean we finally do away with their frankly illegal overtime policy.

    Plus, union committees have done some cool stuff, from sustainability initiatives to proposals for diverse hiring to social events.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m in an industry that’s undergoing some scary times, but being part of a unionized newsroom for the first time has been a great experience for me and brings a lot of peace of mind. (Though it probably helps that I have a pretty high opinion of all the people in leadership positions in the union; if it were being headed by people who didn’t seem as good at their jobs I might feel differently.)

  192. Scott M.*

    My mom is a retired school teacher. She moved from a non-union state to an union state. She loved the teachers union. She often commented about how it was great that the school principal couldn’t load all these extra tasks on her anymore because the union didn’t allow it. She got to go home every day by 4:30. The union contract limited the number of after school events they had to be present for every month. And so on.
    On the other hand, I have a lot of friends in a community that does a lot of conventions (haunted attractions). They get annoyed that they aren’t allowed to personally transport their own booth materials from the truck to the convention floor – union employees have to do it. This results in delays, broken materials, and even theft. I understand that it’s to prevent the venue from bringing in outside labor. But Sometimes it seems the union goes too far and contributes to their poor perception in the public eye.
    So it’s a mixed bag.

  193. Not Australian*

    A long time ago I worked at a ‘closed shop’ where union membership was compulsory. The one time I needed them, they were totally useless. Since then, I’ve never been remotely tempted to join another.

  194. Beaded Librarian*

    I’m in a state that doesn’t require people to join a union but I still have the benefits of the negotiations. I’ve been meaning to but when I first started the job the monthly due was more than I could afford.
    Currently the issue I have with the union is that they allowed very vague language into the contract that was negotiated last year. I work for a city and this particular union covers the department of utilities and most “office jobs” including many at the library.
    One of my coworker at the library is a union member and participated in the negotiations and told me that the utilities guys were so concerned about being reimbursed for boats every year that they were fine with the vague language that the city administrator has now been able to use to enact policies that are seriously pissing people off about.
    Otherwise I’ve been pretty happy as my pay is good and so are my benefits, although I’d admittedly be happier if we got a pay out for sick leave is we get a job somewhere else not just vacation time.

  195. Hired Wrist*

    I’ve belonged to a union of professional artists for just over twenty years.

    The best aspects have been the pension, investment and health insurance benefits. Those follow me from job to job ( I work on a project-to-project basis), which is incredibly necessary in my field. The union is part of a larger union, but the larger union pretty much ignores our little branch (“little” has around one thousand members) overall.

    That being said, I know that people who do the type of thing I do would absolutely be exploited to the hilt without a union presence. Things aren’t perfect, but I know it would be a LOT worse if I wasn’t part of this union.

  196. YayUnions!*

    I work for a union and am so so grateful I do. My pay, time off, and other benefits are excellent and I know my institution wouldn’t be at that level without our bargaining team. I also come from a big union family and have seen first hand the amount of time that (good) union officers put in to making sure everyone is safe and getting the things they need.

  197. Darcy*

    When I worked for a school district I was a unionized employee managing unionized employees. There were some difficulties around performance management and pay. I had an employee tell me once during her review that she wasn’t going to work any harder, because she knew I couldn’t give her a bigger raise than someone who had been there longer who did just enough work not to get fired. I was pretty frustrated with both of them, but had limited ability to address due to union rules. The only time I was able to fire someone was for very egregious behavior. Otherwise, I didn’t find it to be a very different environment than non-union environments I’ve worked in, and I was able to get promoted by working hard and meeting the position requirements even in that environment.

  198. DianeinTexas*

    I have a number of different perspectives on it.
    First, when I was handling risk management for a large manufacturer, we had plants that had unions and plants that didn’t. Pay and benefits were higher at the non union plants, because the company would roll out improvements in number of vacation days, or pay scale adjustments, etc that were in keeping with ordinary things that an employer looks at, like comparable wages elsewhere, or things that were needed to improve retention. The union plants got what they negotiated for, and over time it had worked out that the company’s voluntary improvements outpaced what the union negotiated for, by a large margin.
    Second, my husband worked a production job in a union plant and ultimately left because to a union plant there’s no difference between a great worker and a mediocre worker – unless someone did something unbelievably bad, no discipline ever came about. So working hard wouldn’t get you anywhere that working badly wouldn’t also. And promotions only go by seniority, not competence. That’s a work environment that discourages good employees.

    1. gmg22*

      I wonder about the assumption that pay and benefits will always be higher at a non-union shop. I can definitely see the argument for that in a robustly competitive market with lots of employers vying for labor — wages get too low, employees will leave, productivity will fall, eventually that will cut into profits, and you have to get back to the right balance to attract the people you want. But what if you are talking about an employer that is by design a monopoly in its market, regulated to some degree, and yet refuses to increase salaries and benefits? One of the major things our local nurses’ union is fighting for in their contract dispute is safe levels of staffing. Because the hospital’s wage scale is so low in our relatively high-cost-of-living area, 15% or more of existing staff positions are unfilled at any given time. How the management handles this is they incessantly call nurses on their days off, as much as 10 or 12 times a day, to harass them into working OT shifts. They have no real incentive to fix this, because most patients have at best one other decent option within several hours’ drive if they want care from a high-quality teaching hospital. Besides the union, the only other possible force acting on them is the state healthcare board, and by all appearances that entity has been captured by the interests of the management of the hospital (which is the flagship of what is by far the largest hospital network in the state and is attached to our state university) and spends most of its time doing things like warning a smaller, more innovative hospital not owned by Monster State Hospital Network that it’s doing too good a job and needs to stop admitting so many patients. O_o The union in this case is, indeed, the advocate of last resort.

  199. Notthebossofme*

    My experience of modern unions is from my personal experiences and those of friends working for the railroad, auto makers, etc. Overall, I can’t/don’t forget that unions were responsible for much of the benefits we enjoy today in the past however I think now they often now are ineffectual and worshipers of mediocrity, protecting workers that would be fired long ago in other settings and stifling productivity and potential of other workers so inclined. To me when I was a part of a union, it felt forced…I didn’t have a choice and I didn’t get benefits or paid leave so I didn’t reap much benefit from having to join. Friends have been thrown under the bus for union politics despite severe injuries or valid complaints. A friend was able to get their union job because their dad (who was retiring in the same industry) took a higher up union official out for a steak dinner, not because they were remotely qualified. Several other friends have reported being told to slow down their work processes because they were skewing production numbers and making more seasoned employees look bad. Those friends who do much better and faster work can’t be compensated any more than those who work at a snails pace and get blocked for promotions for seniority/longevity, despite more experience/better work/more productivity. I know unions have done great work in the past for workers but I have a hard time finding what good they do overall for workers today. I think unions fail to be proactive about job growth/direction, future job prospects with automation and cheaper labor overseas, and to evolve with technology/culture/norms. As a young(ish) worker in my 30s, I just see them as one more hurdle in a job seeking/promotion process.

  200. Det. Charles Boyle*

    Years ago (maybe 15 years?) when I worked as an adjunct faculty member in Wisconsin, the community college instructors were all union members (I don’t know if this is the case now). Our pay was very good. I didn’t get benefits through the college because I didn’t need them, but the pay was so much over and beyond what I had been paid previously as an adjunct, it was wonderful.
    Unions are terrific, when they are well organized. They can champion the needs of regular workers, and that’s how we gained things like the 40-hour work week and child labor laws. I’ll always be in favor of unions.

  201. My experience*

    In the old place- not so great… I opted in to full membership, eyes wide in anticipation of how they’d help me… and the one time I had a legit concern, I basically got a too bad, so sad in return. Was a PT worker, and to opt-in to the health insurance would’ve cost more than I was making. Did the math, presented it, and was told that most ppl working there got benes from their spouses. Super fun to hear as a 30-something single woman.

    In this place, I feel like it’s protecting me from certain infringements on my work/life balance- ppl doing work without being paid & such (as in working through lunch and checking emails w/o extra comp). In a larger context, I see from the updates the huge difference between what the employer is proposing for comp versus the union, & I’m glad I’m throwing a little money in for that.

  202. stitchinthyme*

    I haven’t been in a union, but I remember an indirect interaction with one years ago: I got reprimanded by my boss for swapping out my monitor and mouse when I got new ones, because anything involving computer hardware was supposed to be done by union employees. I thought that was the stupidest thing ever — why should I have to put in a request and wait for someone else to come and do something I could do in about 30 seconds?

    That said, I support unions in general, as of course I’m well aware that I wouldn’t have decent pay and working conditions, health insurance, or other benefits without them. I just think that some of them — not all, but some — seem to have gone too far in the other direction, abusing their power and doing ridiculous things. (I’m also reminded of the letter I read on here a while back about the guy who didn’t call a coworker to tell him his wife was in the hospital and the union defended him.)

  203. Jill*

    I work in public education in Wisconson where our governor pushed for legislation that eliminated many of the union provisions for government workers. The only requirement of government entities is to “meet and cofer” with unions with respect to wages. No more ability to negotiate working conditions, benefits, etc. and no more union contracts. His rationale was that unions have too great a stranglehold on the taxpayers and now government employers will have more flexibility. That was in 2013, so it’s still pretty early to tell if this will have a positive or negative effect on working conditions in government sectors over the long run.

    Private employers, however, are not subject to this legislation and I have never belonged to the union in the private sector.

  204. Crystal*

    I’m in a Union and have been for 13 years and I highly recommend it. There is definitely power in numbers in negotiating COLA increases, salary levels and benefits. 1000% during the recession if I wasn’t in a Union our benefits would’ve been killed. I’m pretty young and never thought I’d be in one but now I’m basically Norma Rae.

  205. Special Ed Teacher/Inclusion Specialist*

    I worked in non-union charter schools the first 10+ years of my career, then a few years in non-profits. I left probably over $100,000 on the table by working at a charter and not the local, unionized district. I was young, idealistic, and brainwashed about how horrible district schools were. Now older and wiser, I wish I had spent 1-3 years in the charter (because the support for new teachers was amazing (because their financial model was to recruit young, cheap teachers then move them (too) quickly up the ladder)), then moved on.

    This past year, I worked in a small suburban school district outside of a major city and was a part of the teacher union. The union in this town was weak. Next year, I will be working in an urban district with a very strong union.

    In small town district, pay is very good. This is less from the union than the district who wants to lure good teachers. However, the district is very, very dysfunctional. The union had no power to do anything about it. The district had a habit of moving teachers to less desired positions if the teachers did something that displeased the administration. Like you are called into your principal’s office Friday and are told Monday you’re taking on a new teaching role. Or you get a letter out of the blue saying you’re being moved to a new school the following year. Older teachers just sighed at these events. I felt they were being complicit in a toxic environment. Teachers could file a complaint with the union. But I never heard of a person getting their old job back even when the charges were something made up.

    I have a lot of friends in the district I’m moving too. It’s interesting because the older white male leadership is being replaced a younger, more diverse leadership in elections. The union and the district are partnering closer to provide really awesome professional development for teachers and opportunities for teacher leadership. The union in general is really stepping up to make sure teachers feel like they are getting something from the union besides benefits (dues are super high). But the biggest issue I have with this union (that I’m not yet a member of) is their continued protection of teachers who are horrible but tenured. Like the teacher who runs a business out of his classroom instead of teaching. There is a multi-million dollar pool of teachers that schools don’t want to hire, but they are still on the books because of tenure. They sometimes get placed in assistant-type positions because principals don’t want them leading classrooms. The union made the point that some good teachers who are at the top of the payscale may be lost if they change the tenure rules. Schools manage their own budgets and one teacher with years of experience is the same cost as two new teachers. I see the point, but they need to do some more thinking about this issue. The tenure system also protects teachers who want to keep the status quo. There is a lot of change happening in education right now–an increased focus on using data, project based learning, and inclusion (my field)–and there is a clear divide between who is on board (younger teachers) and who is not (older teachers). At my charter, there was too much change. Leadership was responding to quickly to new ideas and not letting new strategies settle. But that was also something that was great about the charter. I could get a new program off the ground quickly. At my new school, if there is anything I need to ask teachers to do, I need to run it by the union rep first. However, I do know the union rep is on board with my work, so, at this point, I’m hopeful the conversation will be a back and forth, not an automatic “no”.

    I’ve come around to teaching unions. At the charter, I was told that if I tried to negotiate my salary higher (which I did, to some extent), I’d be taking money away from the students. There is an insidious belief that teachers teach because of the goodness of their hearts and thus don’t require to be paid commensurate with education and experience. It’s especially bad because most teachers are female. I was certainly taken advantage of. When I told my charter I was going to leave, I was offered a 20% higher salary to get my pay more in line with market rate. 20% isn’t that much when you are paid beans to begin with.

  206. halmsh*

    I just want to throw out that I’m really happy you posed this question, Alison!

    I’ve used AAM as a resource for everything, but I was really at a loss when we first started unionizing at old job. I’m glad you’re pulling together a space for this – I hope you can do a round up of the best responses, and I’m curious to hear your opinions too.

  207. roisin54*

    I work at a unionized public library, and I love our union. Without them we would be working extra hours without overtime, have no weekends, no regular scheduling, have our schedules changed without notice, be yanked from one position to another without notice, have our duties changed without notice, work absurdly long hours, and would probably never get any time to go to conferences or off-site training. They’re constantly trying to do to all of that anyway and the only thing stopping them are our wonderful stubborn-ass union reps. Our contract negotiations routinely take 1-2 years mostly because they always want to increase our hours without paying us more, and they want to strip benefits from us.

    And I find it tremendously irritating when certain segments of the public declare that we’re all overpaid and lazy when the exact opposite is true. We’re understaffed, underpaid, and overworked as it is. This place would basically be a sweatshop with books without our union.

  208. Opal*

    I belonged to a union in a big northeastern city. There was to be a strike vote. We were informed not to bother to come vote because the decision had already been made by the union execs. The next day on the news they talked about the “overwhelming percentage” that voted to strike. The slow-downs and other actions to “stick it to the bosses” soured me.

    I now work for a non-union company in a southern state. The management goes out of its way to make life good for us. Recently they opted to increase the percentage paid for our health care, added another personal day (separate from vacation and sick days), and clarified sick & bereavement policies. It’s not just family members (which includes aunts, uncles, cousins), but we can name non-family to HR. So, if my best friend who is like my sister, is hospitalized I can take sick time to help care for her. They just ask that we notify them before something happens. “This is my person.” None of it came from the employees. We’re not irreplaceable. When there’s an opening we generally have 50 qualified applicants.

  209. SittingDuck*

    My husband is in a union – it has its ups and downs.

    On one hand he gets regular raises without having to fight for them (as I do) they are automatic based on time spent with the company.

    On the other hand, we had a pretty bad experience with his union last year – where he had aposition at a level 5 – another employee with more seniority than him who was also at level 5 in the company had her job eliminated, so she was offered his job and he was ‘bumped’ out of his job. She was previously a llama record keeper – and the job she ‘bumped’ my husband out of was llama meal prep – not even remotely related, she had none of the skills required – but because she had seniority she got to take his job.

    He was then offered the ability to ‘bump’ someone else, at his level or below, and the ONLY position available was llama pen cleaner, which is at a level 1a. So it was a pay cut, a huge job change out of his chosen/mastered field into one he knew nothing about. It was either that or have no job at all though.

    He cleaned llama pens for 8 months and then applied to a different job within the company (which is a level 8!) and got it. So we are much better off now (although he is still not working in his chosen field) but it was a huge disruption to our lives.

    Who knew that out of the blue someone else could just ‘take’ your job out from under you?

  210. Bacon Pancakes*

    When I worked in retail during college, we were required as supervisors to report any talk of union whereever we heard it. That always left a bad taste in my mouth…
    In my professional setting, I am proud to be a union member because it gives me the right to vote and choose what my bargaining unit is trying to achieve. I know many people who are upset by the political stances that unions can take, but the only way to make changes within the union is by actually being a union member.
    There is an employee at my boyfriends office who now belongs to the same union as I do for a very specific reason. He is allowed laundry reimbursement up to $100 every year. His boss authorized him to request the full $100 from his first year of employment, even though he only worked six months that year. HQ found out, and as punishment he was required to to take a month off work without pay! He offered to re-pay the $100 and HR told him “that wasn’t the point”. If he had been a member of the union, the union would have fought this for him and probably won.

  211. Susana*

    Alison, I’m honestly a little surprised at your earlier impression! I grew up in a union household – public school teachers. And in that case – and also, enjoys where I was in a union – definitely the salary, benefits and protections we had came from the union advocating for us. It doesn’t mean there can;t be bad union leaders (please, let’s stop with the phrase “union boss”) or corruption – but somehow that gets cast as a reason to get rid of unions, whereas when some company exec embezzles or insider trades or depletes the pension fund, that isn’t held up as a reason to get rid of management.
    The simple answer is in a bumper sticker I see: “Unions. The people who brought you the weekend.” because even if you’re not in a union, those workplace standards are there because someone organized and fought for them. I’m not in a union shop now, but we are treated very well. And part of it comes from meeting (and exceeding) standards unions made, well, standard.
    Also, the relationship between management and the union doesn’t have to be inherently contentious or bitter. The Culinary Workers Union in Vegas is very strong, and seems to get along pretty well with casino management (and yes, of course they have their conflicts, which is natural). The union includes everyone from showgirls to housekeepers to poker dealers. And if you are in the union, you can train for any other job in the union – I believe for free. So if you are a housekeeper, you can train to be a pastry chef. If you have your green card, the casino mgt. helps you get your citizenship – paying for classes and such. The union itself does amazing stuff for members, including helping them with down payments for first homes.
    The results is that workers are really happy, which makes them very good at their jobs, which makes management happy. I’m not saying it’s the model that must be everywhere but it’s a greta example of how workers and management can each stand up for themselves, and yet achieve a common goal that serves both.
    Oh – and can we all also stop with “Big Labor” as a term? Something like 11 or 12 percent of the workforce is unionized, and if you take out government workers, it’s much lower.

  212. AliceBG*

    I’m a state employee and a union member. At my institution, there are 6 or 7 different unions representing the variety of employees here.

    All of the good points of being in a union have been thoroughly covered by the commenters already, but I didn’t see anyone mention this one downside we run into a lot here at my job (unless I missed it!): there is so much basic sh-t you’re not allowed to do for yourself, because it overlaps with someone else’s job.

    For example, I couldn’t move my desk across my office by myself, I had to put in a work order for someone in Building Facilities to move it for me. No lie, it took 5 months for that work order to be filled, when I could have done it myself in less than a minute. I’m not supposed to dust my furniture, because that’s Custodial’s responsibility (which they don’t do).

    When my department wanted to have some wooden shelving moved from one area of the floor to another, that was three work orders — one for Carpentry to disassemble the shelves, one for Facilities to move the shelving pieces to the new area, and one for Carpentry to reassemble the shelves. It took four months, with the delay being from Facilities (during which time the shelving was just lying in pieces in the middle of the floor in the room), because although there are 3,000 employees here, there are only two people in the Facilities department who do the moving for the entire institution. We were a very low priority for them, which is a fair point, but my two coworkers and I could have brought in a drill from home and had the shelving moved and reassembled in an afternoon.

    I mean, I’m really glad no one is allowed to take work away from me and render my job obsolete, but there’s a ridiculous flipside to this that leads to things like having a dusty, dirty office cluttered with broken-down furniture for months.

    1. De Minimis*

      I had this problem at my one union job too….we had two unions, for different employee categories, and one of the big grievances was when employees from one of the categories were told to do work that wasn’t technically theirs.

      This was fine but we were dependent on that other work being done in order to do our jobs, and if it wasn’t getting done [they had a deliberate work slowdown at one point] we would be pressured to do it. We often felt stuck in the middle between our union, the other union, and management. The deliberate slowdown was basically a symbolic protest because they were upset about a major change in work hours, but we were the ones that had to bear the brunt of it.

  213. De Minimis*

    My first job had a union, and I was a dues paying member. I always felt like it was the right thing to do, since the main reason I was able to have a full-time permanent position was due to a union grievance–our jobs had originally been “perma-temp” positions, but they had argued that we should be converted to regular positions.

    The stewards were kind of like public defenders, they had to protect the rights of all the workers, even those that quite frankly, shouldn’t have been allowed to remain there–harassers, bullies, etc. They were great as far as representing you when you had problems with management, but not much help when the problem was your co-worker.

    Also, the grievance process usually only resulted in monetary compensation, with no real change in conditions. Sometimes if enough money was paid out, management would stop the practice that was in violation, but that often didn’t happen, at least not permanently.

    Still feel that the good that unions do and have done outweigh any negatives.

  214. The Other CC*

    Not a union member, but I worked for four years in a shop where our contracts were negotiated by the local union and opted to pay my 4% fair-share deduction out of my paycheck because I’m pro-union (and wanted to show my support for them going into contract negotiations). I never joined because by the time someone got around to explaining to me the process, I was already pretty disillusioned with my local chapter.

    The good:
    – There is a steward at all work calls who you can call in to mediate if you are having an issue with management, and you can also escalate any issues to the local or national union leadership.
    – I didn’t have to go in and negotiate my own wage or benefits or the grievance process by myself – it was all laid out on the contract hanging on the wall.
    – Our wages were on average a few dollars an hour higher than the going rate at non-unionized places in town, and we had yearly raises built into the contract (only a few cents an hour, but that’s something).
    – Even if you didn’t work enough hours to be eligible for health insurance, the company did contribute 11% of your wages on top of each paycheck to an HSA you can use to get reimbursed for out-of-pocket medical expenses. The money banked from the first 18 months I worked there without insurance will come in handy when they kick me off the plan next June since I’ve been laid off so much this year that I’ve dropped below the threshold to be insured.
    – The union leadership were all volunteers who generously gave up their free time to deal with our shitty management. No corruption there, as far as I can tell.

    The bad:
    – I *couldn’t* negotiate any of my own wages or benefits, despite being a top performer in my department. In fact, that’s why I’m leaving – I’m at the top of the hourly pay scale and literally cannot make any more money or get benefits like PTO or access to a 401k unless a staff position opens up (which they rarely do). Because of the nature of the union contract, my boss can’t create a staff position for me either.
    – The union members in charge of negotiating our contract viewed our positions very differently than we do. We wanted to have our positions recognized as the full-time professional jobs that they are, while they wanted to stick with the status quo of us all being “part-time seasonal” employees who can be hired and laid off week to week. Some of that is because they were more teapot-delivery-wranglers while we were teapot-painters, and they had to negotiate contracts for both the wranglers and the painters at the same time. So the wranglers’ needs tended to win out over the painters’ needs. Basically, the union might negotiate something for you that you don’t like, and there’s not much you can do about it.
    – In my local chapter, there are one or two loud and entrenched toxic people who dominate the conversation and dismiss the concerns of the younger, newer people in the field. These people (and the less-annoying, but still more senior ones) got the pick of the calls they wanted to work, while those of us who were newer (but maybe better at doing the job…) were lucky to get called at all. Then when we would bring up that we were paying all this money to be on the call list, we would be told that it had taken them 25 years to be able to pick and choose calls, and so we were going to have to wait for our turn.

    So basically, mixed bag. I am 100% pro-union on principle, and am confident that without our shop getting organized twenty years ago they would still be trying to get away with awful wages and work practices by taking advantage of people who love the work too much to negotiate for themselves. I just wish that my union leadership took the concerns of the young people working in the shop seriously, because now most of us are seeking other work that has more opportunity and is less bound by tradition and bureaucracy, and taking our fair-share payments and dues with us.

  215. Lora*

    Been in a few unions. Brother has been a Teamster since the 80s.

    The actual work union was good: employer didn’t want to pay for some very basic safety protection and had a great many other shady things going on. When they closed the place we all got some money as severance, and that particular employer wouldn’t have pissed on us if we were on fire (literally – that’s what I mean about safety issues, they had a manager who would actually start chemical fires, flames shooting up to the ceiling, and expect you to come over and put the fire out like no big deal with no safety equipment or anything).

    When I was in grad school many graduate student unions were just starting out. I am in a STEM field so we weren’t as affected by bad working conditions as other departments, but the liberal arts folks really needed the representation and help. It really was a case of, your union is as good as the people in it: some things the steward was frustrated with but when the grad students in our department asked, okay what do you need from us though? He just sighed and shrugged and said he didn’t know what we could do to help. Uh… okay? The schools that were going through more difficulty in organizing, like UMich, were scary – I turned down a really prestigious lab position there after I saw how poorly the faculty treated the nonunion grad students. It was just abusive and nasty, you could see immediately why they were unionizing.

    My brother’s union varies by location. His is just okay. They have a pension but haven’t been able to do anything about layoffs. I had a temp job in a warehouse in college that was also Teamsters but a different local – the deal was, you temp for six months and then had to take a test to demonstrate that you could complete certain tasks in one hour, and you had to do everything neatly and correctly. Then you were allowed to join. I only worked there one summer, but the pay was good for union folks, they had decent benefits and PTO, and almost nobody else in the whole county was paid as well for similar work. At the time the warehouse paid $15/hour for union folks, while similar jobs paid $12/hour or less with no benefits.

    In exactly zero situations have I seen unionizing inspire a manager to think, “in what ways can I change my management techniques so this wouldn’t have happened?” If the management was self aware enough to have that thought, they wouldn’t have treated people poorly enough to make them want to unionize in the first place.

  216. AnotherLibrarian*

    I really valued being part of a union (white collar, state employee) when I was in one. The benefits were excellent and I was happy to have an organization negotiating on behalf of the state employees. I also worked for a great manager who made sure I got my mandated 15 minute breaks and my hour lunch. I never felt guilty making a personal phone call during my 15 minute break or running across the street for the ATM, because I knew it was my time.

    I also really appreciated that a few years ago (even after I left) my friends who were still there were protected during a threat to shut down the state government and the Union was instrumental in getting the state legislature to realize they couldn’t actually shut down state government. Well, they could have, but would have been required by union contract to pay out all of the benefits and accrued leave to everyone. That would have bankrupted the state.

    While I realize there are corrupt unions out there and they can make firing people tough, I found being in a union super helpful to me and I support them very strongly. I also think if you don’t like your Union than you should get involved. It’s an organization that is meant to help you.

  217. froodle*

    I worked in the customer service call centre for a major UK energy supplier and I was part of the union there. They negotiated starting salaries, pay rises, holiday entitlement, etc, that everyone there benefited from whether they were union or not.

    From my point of view the big benefit to me was in checking the petty tyranny a lot of the call centre supervisors would otherwise indulge in.

    One supervisor tried to deny a new mum time off the phones to pump breast milk.

    Another one wouldn’t let people observing Ramadan shift their break times so they could eat or drink after sundown.f

    A colleague on my team had Crohns and our supervisor said he had to mark down the start and end time whenever he left his seat to use the toilets, and report it to her and make it up throughout his shift, using his breaks and lunch hours and dark g time to the end of his shift/start of the next one

    In all of these instances (and these are just the ones I know about first hand, no doubt there were more) a meeting with the union rep and occasionally on-site HR shut that nonsense down right quick.

    My current workplace “does not recognise any unions” (bully for you, mate) but I’m a member because there are supervisors of a similar ilk there and I want that support in my pocket for when that kind of power tripping inevitably rears its ugly incompetent head.

  218. TeacherLady*

    I’m a teacher in a province with a teacher’s union – joining is a requirement when you are hired to teach in any public school.

    I was raised in a household where “union” was a dirty word (dad was a small business owner/seems to really believe that most businesses pay people what they’re worth, rather than as little as they can get away with/seems also to believe that government should be run like a for-profit business), so having to join a union wasn’t something I was super keen on. But I have mostly come around on it for several reasons.

    -union dues are not small
    -they don’t help themselves (or us) out when it comes to presenting a positive public image (“lazy, entitled teachers” is a common refrain here, which is really demoralizing, but due in part to some of the things our union has advocated for)
    -it is really extremely difficult to fire a teacher who has a continuing contract, which does us all a disservice, keeping the few bad apples in positions where they are loud and visible, and obscuring the good work of everyone else
    -positions are offered based on seniority (thanks to the union), which is a questionable practice at best
    -the expectation that everyone is a comrade in arms against the lying, cheating overlords (there is a lot of “in solidarity” and “support our brothers and sisters in X union”, etc.)

    -actually having a living wage and decent working conditions (this one kind of makes up for all the cons, in and of itself)
    -of our two main political parties, one seems to harbour a particular level of vitriol for teachers, and when they were last in power (for 10 years), the union protected us from a lot of that (including taking them to court for illegally stripping us of our contract, advocating for our first pay increase in a decade, etc.)
    -I have a health issue, and my union rep is helping me to navigate that with HR, which would be a minefield otherwise.

  219. JS#2*

    When I was a student teacher, my mentor teacher took the small honorarium my district gave him for being a mentor and bought my union membership for me. He was very involved in the teacher’s union. I had never thought about whether I would want to belong to a union at all and it never really seemed important while I was teaching. I went to a few meetings and it was kind of interesting.

    But I realized how important the union was when my mentor got into hot water while proctoring a Big Important Standardized Test. He was immediately suspended with pay and wasn’t allowed to contact me or speak to me. I had no supervisor for a few days while the investigation took place. No one spoke to me about what was happening, what I was supposed to do, or how long he might be gone. (Student teachers are not allowed to teach unsupervised.) When I spoke to our union rep at the school, he was kind and reassuring. I was really worried about my mentor teacher, but I was relieved that the union was looking out for him.

    So for me, it was a positive experience, because I knew that I could count on the union to have my back when my administrators did not.

  220. Anon for this*

    This is a copy/paste of a comment I made in a previous post where someone asked the same question…

    My department unionized at a previous job. There were other departments at the company that were already unionized, but my department wasn’t part of it, so we formed a new bargaining unit along with two other departments.

    I was totally against it at first because I had a lot of negative impressions of unions and union employees. The company brought in some union-busting consultants to try to persuade us to vote against the union, and they were very ineffective. The union had warned us that the company would start being extra nice to us to make us think that we didn’t need a union, but that was not the case. Pretty much the only compelling argument the company presented was that, if we unionized, we could end up with a contract that was worse than our original conditions, and we would be forced to pay exorbitant union dues on top of it. I was concerned about this and I voted against the union, but the union won the vote, and my fears turned out to be unfounded. We all ended up with higher pay when the contract went into effect, and we had guaranteed 3% cost of living raises every year, in addition to step raises for moving up the pay scale. That, alone, more than made up for the union dues (which were about $65/month).

    One year, the company froze cost of living raises for non-union employees, but they couldn’t get out of giving raises to union employees because it was in our contract. I was glad to be in the union that year! I also had a pay dispute for over $2,000 at one point, and I filed a grievance and won. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had any recourse if the same thing had happened before we unionized, because it would have been up to management’s interpretation of their own pay policies.

    Management’s attitude towards pay and PTO policies generally shifted more favorably towards employees after we unionized because they did not like to deal with grievances. Before we unionized, they tried to get away with some questionable interpretations, but once we had the option to file grievances, they mostly stopped trying to pull things over on us.

    I was also concerned about unionizing because I was afraid people would stop working hard, since everything in the union is based on seniority, not job performance. That turned out to be not exactly true, at least where I worked. Honestly, there was not a noticeable change in the day-to-day after we unionized. The hard workers still worked hard and the lazy people were still lazy. People still got disciplined or fired for misconduct, maybe just with a little more paperwork. Management still had discretion over promotions and could go by qualifications and not necessarily seniority.

    The contract did tie their hands in terms of giving special treatment or perks to some employees but not others. In a way, this was negative because it made it harder to reward good employees, but it was also a good thing because it reduced favoritism for the people managers personally liked for non-performance-based reasons.

    I don’t know if my experience is at all typical for unionizing, but at least where I worked, it turned out to be very positive for the employees who unionized. On the other hand, there is a union at my current job, and they are completely useless; I am in a right-to-work state now, which weakens unions here. Also, my current union is bigger and represents a larger range of departments, and the bigger departments get more attention from the union while the small departments like mine get neglected.

  221. PNW Jenn*

    I went from an exempt/professional staff position at a state university to a union (classified) position. My experience:
    1. The pay stunk. I took a lower level job and 19% pay cut during the recession. Pay raises were frozen during the recession and for a few years afterwards. Faculty continued to get pay raises. Once pay raises started up again, there was no possibility of a merit increase. I was already at the top of my scale, so my raises were even smaller than others’.
    2. I stayed with the same university because I’d just gotten married and had been saving up leave for when we started a family. We had excellent health care coverage and I was able to take a long maternity leave. My retirement account far outpaces many of my friends’ accounts, despite never having made more than $48k at the uni.
    3. Moving from an exempt position to a classified one meant not only a demotion, but a loss of “rank” at the university. Faculty treated me differently because my title wasn’t as good as it had been previously. The dean, who’d called me for advice when I was in my pro-staff position, treated me like dirt in my new job. Honestly, I’m not even sure he realized I was the same person.
    4. My boss really, really wanted to promote me to a higher level position. We steadily increased my responsibilities to make a case for an exempt/professional position. The union was highly reluctant to “lose” a dues-paying member and it was not possible to get my job classified to an exempt/professional level.
    5. Over my 7 years of employment in a union job, I paid over $7000 in dues. I only ever asked for assistance when I wanted to reclassify to an exempt position, and that was never resolved. The union rep was supportive but ultimately didn’t do anything.
    6. I worked 4×10 for a while until my boss’ boss decided to take it away. The letter he gave me indicated that I had to return to a 5×8 workweek on the 1st day of a month, a Friday. Fine. So I worked 48 hours that week and watched him fume when I submitted a timesheet for 8 hrs of 1.5 OT he’d decreed in writing that I must work.
    7. My position was unbumpable. It was the only one of its kind on our campus, on private funding, and therefore unbumpable. It was extremely secure, and a big part of the reason I stayed for 7 years.

    Yes, unions have their place. But I’m not convinced that the modern working world needs to have large unions representing people in desk jobs.

  222. angrytreespirit*

    I have worked in non-profit, for-profit, and unionized government, in that order. I made quite a bit more money at the non unionized jobs but also had no limitation on work hours, so I worked a lot of non-typical hours that I didn’t get paid for (16 hour days lasting into 2 AM, for instance). Here at my unionized job, I can bug out at my 7.5 hours and I have to log overtime or comp time which is nice. But our paychecks are about 30% lower than comps, cost of living raises don’t even near keep up with inflation, and raises for good performance don’t exist, same with any chance of advancement. The only benefit of the union I see on a daily basis is it’s stable and I am basically guaranteed to have a job. Which is a great thing if you absolutely can’t lose your job and your expectations of living wage are low. I live in the Bay Area with my partner and his 2 kids, which means my entire salary essentially covers our rent.

  223. Could be Anyone*

    I hated it.

    I worked for county level government and my job was union. Most (but not all) county employees were union, but there were a few different unions covering them, so different contracts. In my experience, the union prevented lousy employees from being fired, or even reprimanded in most cases. (This was helped by rampant nepotism.) It also prevented me, a comparatively great employee, from ever getting a raise or promotion not based solely on seniority. Each position paid the same, regardless of qualifications or years of service. There were a few years in a row where our contract expired and a new one couldn’t be agreed on, so we didn’t even get a cost of living raise 3 years straight.

    The union “provided” vision, dental and prescription insurance, although non-union positions had this through the county so I never quite understood that part. There’s another issue – the union stewards were terrible and unhelpful so it was impossible to ever get any information. No one even provided copies of the new contract once it was finally negotiated. I left a year ago and I still get political mail from AFSCME.

  224. Bibliovore*

    What I liked about being in a Union.
    I felt assured that all workers would be treated fairly (consistently ) with regards to benefits and pay.

    What I disliked
    Bullshit seniority- Vacations were scheduled so that last hired had to work all weekends and holidays.

    I couldn’t negotiate my own salary because of “Union contract”

    As a manager- I am not kidding or exaggerating, the union employee who did not do her job, made my life a misery was on a PIP progressive discipline for a year and half and by the end had filed three grievances against me. The documentation, meetings with HR, meetings with her and the union stewards was a part-time job.

  225. LCL*

    Pay and benefits are much better with my union job. Our union is very strong and will back us up if we have issues with management. I could go on for paragraphs, but when I compare my life working a skilled craft in a strong union vs my nonunion jobs, there is no comparison. My union jobs have all been much better than comparable nonunion jobs. If you want to have a good union, you have to put in the work. I spent more than 3 years being heavily involved in a union committee, and it was time well spent.

  226. TheQ*

    My sentiment is that if you’re a good worker, you don’t need unions to protect you. However if you’re lazy, twisted and read collective agreement like a bible, then unions are for you!! I’ve seen first hand how employees use collective agreement to their advantage.

    1. lamuella*

      “My sentiment is that if you’re a good worker, you don’t need unions to protect you.”

      I think that presumes a lot of goodwill on behalf of employers. Do you think that good workers don’t ever get bullied or exploited in the workplace?

  227. Union Wife*

    My husband has been a union member for over 20 years. To me, the greatest benefit is job security, especially as he earned seniority. Knowing that we have to worry less about his job has allowed me to take more risks with my career (freelancing and then working for a start-up with no benefits). He’s also up to five weeks of vacation now, which is wonderful. Vacation for him is similar to what was described above. Those with seniority do get the first pick of vacations (although nobody takes them over the holidays because that’s busy season). But when he didn’t have seniority, we had last pick, so it seems fair enough to reward those who have stuck around long enough to earn it. Those with seniority are usually very considerate and just put in a couple weeks before letting others pick theirs.

    His benefits seem pretty much the average of what a lot of our friends are getting in non-union jobs–better than some, worse than others. We’ve had our frustrations with how the health insurance works (it’s not traditional insurance but a fund) but I think that describes nearly everybody in America these days. He does have both a pension and a 401k. We know we can’t count on the pension necessarily, so are happy to have both. He’s eligible to retire with full benefits after putting in 30 years, which will be really nice (even though he’s most likely going to continue working well beyond that).

    The downside, of course, is that his coworkers are hard to fire as well. So there have been times he’s been stuck picking up the slack of someone who really shouldn’t be there. And no matter how hard he works or how much money he brings in for the company, his salary is determined strictly by his position and seniority. He’s got a great work ethic, but not everybody does–and that setup isn’t super motivating. (On the other hand, it’s nice to know that a raise is coming no matter what.) Also, the union is gradually losing power, and seems to lose more than they gain on nearly every negotiation. I think it worked out for us, but I do worry about the future of unions.

  228. Jenny Jack*

    Might be different in Oz but my work union did nothing except direct debit money I realised would be better spent on bills, so I cancelled my membership. I never got any benefit being part of a union and not being part of it.

  229. catMintCat*

    I am 59 years old and have worked full time since I was 15. I have never worked without the protection of a union, and would never consider doing so. They negotiate pay and conditions in a way individuals could never dream of (I’m a teacher and the salary and conditions of US teachers are horrific compared to what we have in Australia), they protect me and my employment legally, and provide support for those who need it.

    Employers are, and always will be, robber barons, and workers need that protection. A living wage and decent conditions are just part of it.

    The USA is very backward in the area of worker rights and the lack of strong unions is a big part of that.

  230. Union_meh*

    I worked in city government for close to 10 years and have mixed feelings about being in a union during that time. While I was incredibly grateful for the benefits and consistent salary bumps they afforded me, the amount it protected truly horrible employees soured me on unions in general. During my time working there we had one employee who made threats of physical harm on several employees, called our org head a nazi, and consistently yelled at the public over anything and everything. Despite all these occurrences, our union reps continued to defend him and it took over 5 years to fire him, the whole time the rest of the staff being terrified for their personal safety. While also working there I regularly saw staff utilize union protection and obscure bylaws to take extra hours away from non-unionized seasonal workers, and also it was an ongoing joke that our offices rep’s “Union Meetings” where she was afforded the whole day off to attend, were actually never attended and she would go to the beach.

  231. Girl friday*

    I am not a liberal, but I love unions. I don’t think this country would be the same without them, and I’ve traveled extensively. Not just because of them, although obviously I’m pro-union, but because of the checks and balances the government has to put in place to offset them. It’s a beautiful system.

  232. Anonymous For This One*

    I work in higher ed as a non-tenure-track faculty member. Universities are notorious for paying adjuncts poverty wages and skipping out on benefits.

    I love my union. It negotiated an almost 50% percent raise to bring the minimum full-time salary up to a real adult wage. It also ensured that part-time instructors get paid proportionally instead of being treated like cheap temps and that they still get access to health insurance. Every cent of my dues has been worth the payoff.

  233. Em*

    I’m a unionized public employee in an administrative role. My union’s local has about 9,000 members.
    Pros: Once you get your foot in the door at the organization, it is easy to move up/around. The area I previously worked in was pretty toxic (I’ll get to that in a minute), but as an “internal candidate” I got priority consideration in other roles I applied to and was qualified for. This allowed me to to leave that role and move into a new area where I am so much happier. Our last collective agreement had several annual pay increases included, which was nice. We’re currently undergoing bargaining, which will hopefully wrap up soon. It’s hopeful that this new agreement will have some pay increases (although, they will likely be less than our last ones were) and/or some additional paid personal days. It’s nice to have the union to negotiate “perks” like that for us. It’s also nice to know that you are very unlikely to be blindsided by a job loss – if it is performance related, you will have had tons of opportunities to fix it, and if your position is eliminated, we have a “redistribution pool”, where you will have the option of taking a similar position at the same pay scale.

    Cons: As I mentioned, the toxic office I was in prior. The downside to the union is that they protect *all* workers, even ones who don’t always deserve it. I left my last job due to bullying, and I know others who have complained that very difficult/lazy coworkers are kept because it is very challenging to get rid of people in a unionized workplace. I could have filed a grievance, but I think it would have made things worse, rather than better. The other issue with protecting all workers is that we have people who have been doing the same jobs for 20+ years, and the technology has changed but they haven’t adapted. As such, they’re no longer effective in that role, but have so much seniority that they are impossible to get rid of.

  234. HR in the city*

    I work in HR and deal with collective bargaining agreements (union contracts), pay matrices, and negotiations all the time. Almost on a daily basis because I have to write employment letters and am always looking at everything to make sure I have everything correct. I have seen employees get out of write-ups by filing grievances with their unions so I would say that’s a downside since as a non-union employee I don’t have the same protection. Also I work for local government so the union people get better pay for things like longevity and certifications and better raises than non- union employees. Don’t get me wrong I am well compensated for my area but there are others that just because they have jobs that the union covers they get better pay. I would say the biggest downfall are the union representative (those that actually work for the union) because they can be adversarial just for the fact that they are the union reps and want all these benefits for their employees. We have 10 different unions and we have one union that always comes to negotiations with very grand demands. It seems like most of the time is spent talking them down from their very high hopes. I would say overall unions are good but like everything there are good & bad things.

    1. lamuella*

      “I have seen employees get out of write-ups by filing grievances with their unions so I would say that’s a downside since as a non-union employee I don’t have the same protection”

      that doesn’t seem like a downside so much as it seems like an upside of joining the union.

  235. Been around the union block*

    I’ve a) worked union jobs b) worked for unions c) worked tangentially with anti-union companies (unwittingly and unwillingly, I should note) and d) been a (non-union) manager in a company with a unionized workforce. I can see why people critique unions but my union job meant I had health benefits, a predictable schedule (in a typically unpredictable, non-benfited field), and one of my Black co-workers told me the union helped him against a racist boss – which would be much harder to fight against in a non-union workplace. I think there are many unions out there that aren’t as good as they could be, but I would much rather be unionized than non-union. And great thing is that there are usually ways for people to become active in their union and push internally for change.

    As a (non union) manger in a company with a unionized workforce, I can understand why some managers don’t like unions, but honestly it just means you have to run a much tighter ship as a manager. If I want to write someone up, I can; but I have to have a tight case and documentation (which you should have anyway as a manager). I would say that if you are in a situation where you feel like you “can’t” fire an actually bad employee because of the union, that’s a cultural problem of the organization (other employees accepting and enabling shitty colleagues) and the management culture as well.

    As a funny note, the anti-union company I had to work with was having trouble in Europe because their European legal department kept telling them, “you can’t do that, you have to respect our workforce” and the American managers were like, “what the hell are you talking about?” So it’s a matter of perspective. What many brainwashed Americans see as “protecting lazy workers”, other countries see as due process.

    1. B*

      I think my main objection to US unions is that you HAVE to join and pay dues if end up at a unionized employer? It makes more sense to me if the unions are optional everywhere; I think it would keep things more nimble too, if places were terrible suddenly there’d be a large percentage of union members, etc. Or so it seems to me.
      Mostly I find it annoying when, for example, if I want to set up a booth at a convention in philly, the union prohibits me from taking more than a little rolly thing and insist they handle more. Rumors are that’s a set up for stuff getting “lost” too. But IDK.

  236. The Outsider*

    I’ve been married to a union tradesman for over 25 years. Although being in the union has not been perfect, its been pretty much a God send for our family. The union has made sure that my hard working husband is paid a fair wage which is much higher than his non union counterparts. He has consistently had great insurance and other benefits. Because of all of this when I wanted to quit work to raise our child, I could. Now as he is looking at 30 years in he’ll be able to retire with full pension. (He’s really looking forward to this since he works outside year round in all sorts of crazy weather). I can definitively say that if it wasn’t for his union we would not enjoy the standard of living we do nor will into our retirement.

  237. Bunny*

    Oh, Man.

    I belong to a union. I’m a broadcaster. Our station was recently sold. The new company decided it did not want to honor the contract and said we were all fired and we could apply for our jobs.

    We are a 100 year old historic newsroom that makes a LOT of money and is beloved in our city.

    No other union darkened the door. We are on air. There’s an engineer’s Union, etc. Other stations and our own cluster were informed cables would not be laid by union telecom workers.

    No pro union politician went on the air.

    There were editorials, stories, and, um, leaked memos in all the papers and OTHER stations.

    The issue was fixed in a week with a temporary contract.

    I’ll take the Union.

  238. Liz*

    I joined the union for white collar private sector workers in my state a couple of jobs back. My job was in the middle of renegotiating our remuneration, and I had a strong sense that the current offer was deeply flawed. So I joined the union and they gave us a lot of help in terms of industry norms and what we could reasonably expect.

    (None of which we actually got in the end, and I left that job not long after.)

    There were just a couple of union members in that office, and we kept it very much on the down low, because our company had a history of finding reasons to let union members go. Which is illegal in Australia, but hey. I didn’t want to lose my job with nothing else lined up.

    I’ve stayed a member since, and even though I haven’t needed their services again, I enjoy reading the newsletters. This union represents call centre staff, admin workers, that sort of thing. Their publications have become more political in the last couple of years, but that’s mostly due to external issues, ie, the current government.

  239. Ren*

    The union I was in for my Teaching Assistant position got us: better pay, benefits (dental! for grad students!), and hours than TAs in non-unionized universities and a clear chain of reporting if you were being mistreated in any way. I appreciated it.
    I worked for a symphony orchestra for a couple of years and am a musician. The musician’s union does occasionally protect the “old guard” – including those who have stopped really doing their jobs very well – but it also ensured working conditions were safe for musicians and their instruments (limits for weather conditions for outdoor performances, tools to balance sound so no one would go deaf due to trumpet proximity, etc) AND made sure that freelance musicians were paid scale. This both ensures that orchestras don’t hire *all* freelancers for their shows (it’s relatively cost effective to pay salaries and provide full-time-ish work) and means subbing can contribute in a significant way to a freelancer’s income. There’s hierarchy bullshit, but there would be anyway (and at least it’s mostly based on something quantifiable like seniority rather than nepotism or charm or whatever).
    These days I work in payroll for a subcontractor that supplies and installs reinforcing steel. Our installers are all union ironworkers and there are a *tonne* of benefits -set in stark relief as compared to our yard labourers (who do some of the same work, just not on construction sites). Think: health insurance, pension, welfare fund contributions, travel allowances, mandated annual raises, 10% vacation pay, double time after 40 hours (or 8 hours in a day), and a hefty hourly rate; the total union compensation package is around 3-4 times what the non-union labourers make. There’s also a union-established apprenticeship>journeyman>foreman path with classes, and safety standards are God. Employing union trades is an industry standard in Ontario (required on government contracts and by most reputable general contractors), and the supervisors are also union; we seem to deal with a comparatively low amount of drama and the reps are quite willing to work with us if there is a dispute.

    My experiences with unions have principally been positive, but I’m a person who loves process and unions tend to be All About It. You can fire union members if you document, build a file, and apprise the union and the employee according to the established procedure. If an employee complains to the union about something on his paycheque, the union rep will act as the go-between so you can come to an agreement. They are always happy to send us documentation or help us figure out territorial minutiae. When I was in a union they would send, like, a numbered list of steps for how to appeal something. It’s so….reassuring.

  240. Feral Academic*

    I was a grad student at a unionized state school and then at one of the very prestigious private Us that’s trying to unionize.

    At State School, there were limits to how much grading TAs could be made to do–a professor of mine once complained that “two very large intimidating graduate students” came to talk to her on behalf of the union because she was working her TAs so hard that they weren’t able to do any of their own work. (It’s been a decade and I’m still tickled by the mental image of burly union thug grad students. We’re not the most physically intimidating bunch.) We had a very good health insurance plan with no deductible, though to be fair State School had its own med school and hospitals so it was probably cheaper for them to do this sort of thing in-house. But the really striking thing to me is that I never saw any serious exploitation of my friends. Some people had better relationships with their advisors, and some worse; and some people had enough conflict with their advisors that they chose to leave the program, but everything was done in a reasonably polite and professional manner.

    At Private U, this was not the case. Every few years, a grad student would get turned down for renewal, or told that although they passed their quals, they were not being allowed to continue (an outcome that was not even mentioned in our handbooks). This always happened without warning, often leaving international students only a week or two to make arrangements to leave the country before their visa unexpectedly ran out.

    I wrote up some examples but couldn’t anonymize them to my satisfaction, so let’s just say that I saw some pretty appalling treatment of students based on race, gender, and disability status, including one student being kicked out explicitly because they had a documented disability (not for any performance issues related to it! Just, that they had one!)

    The department had absolute control over whether or not to keep a student, and never had to show any cause for dropping them from the program. Advisors could just decide that they didn’t like you, and instead of telling you that you needed to find a new advisor, you’d just learn that you were about to no longer be a student. Oh, and the grading workload was heavy enough that profs tried to avoid asking their own students to TA for them, because they preferred not to slow down their own advisees’ progress.

    As graduate students, we were being paid to stay there and do our research! It’s much more like a job than like college or even an MA program. Except that we weren’t eligible for a lot of employment protections: no unemployment, and tenured professors can be pretty cavalier about discrimination based on age, sex, race, religion, etc. From reading AAM, I know that plenty of bosses can be too! But a company the size of a university would likely have HR (our university did in fact have HR, it just didn’t deal with grad students). If your advisor acts inappropriately, there’s nowhere to turn except other faculty, who’ve known the advisor for years and are inclined to side with him.

    By the time I defended (my advisor was amazingly supportive, btw, I was one of the lucky ones), some students were trying to organize a union so that we’d have people with actual negotiating experience and clout standing up for students. The U responded by saying a lot of things about the special relationship between mentor and student and how a union would come between that, and by noting that it was possible that we’d have to pay union dues even in semesters we weren’t teaching (but still had other funding)! Personally I think that “special bond” is like when the owner says “we’re all a big family here at Teapot Corp” and if the union replaces that with actual documented procedures and negotiation than I’m all for it.

    1. B*

      Interesting to read this; I went to grad school that was unionized but ultimately, the phd process was still so miserable I ended up calling it a masters and just focusing on the MD (I was in an MD-PhD program). Honestly now that I’m a physician I don’t know WTF is going on with higher academia, it doesn’t make any sense. Profs are supposed to do research, teach, and manage a lab, and my sense is really only one of the three things matters (reseach, or should I say, funding?).

  241. B*

    In graduate school, we had a union. I disliked that I automatically had to belong and pay dues without really any choice in the matter; it was not something I was obviously aware of when I enrolled. The dues weren’t a lot (like $20 a month or something? Maybe a year? I can’t remember!).
    I guess they advocated for some stuff but I couldn’t get a great sense of whether they were really very useful at all.
    My husband was a teacher and some places had unions; he knew some people who (my understanding, 2nd or 3rd hand info) were great teachers but the system can be pretty harsh on math teachers in underserved areas (a lot of pressure to make kids pass when they just don’t know the material) and it seemed like the union really helped keep him from being fired unjustly; ultimately though my husband is no longer working for public schools because of these issues, it’s just not pleasant to keep doing even if you are not fired, one tends to burn out and find some other opportunity

  242. commentatorer*

    Having worked a federal white collar union shop job (which means anyone can be hired, but once hired you gotta join the union)… Pros… the pay was really good, much better rates negotiated by the union than the private sector. The benefits even better… near unlimited sick days, a lot of vacation and time off, a lot of breaks, not very hard work. No one got fired, even when people were found to be stealing (one guy was fired for stealing at least, but then the tribunal ordered him reinstated, with back pay for all the months he’d been “inappropriately” fired, and he was owed an apology).

    Cons… demotivating when everything comes via seniority, sorta a pain when someone’s too lazy to do their own job and you know he won’t be fired for it, I felt we weren’t efficient at using tax-payer dollars.

  243. Commentsaurus*

    I’ve been at my job for a year and it’s the first time I’ve been part of a union, or even been in a unionized environment. I’m a postal worker, so it’s a nationwide union that’s job and company specific and fairly visible in the media. (I’m not in the US, in case anyone was wondering.)

    In my experience, it’s a very contentious environment between the rank and file and management. My first career was in the sciences and I very much had the background of, I have a problem, I’ll talk to my boss and we’ll work something out. That approach doesn’t translate at all. Most of the time, If you approach a supervisor about a problem without framing things in a union-specific way (ie. “The collective agreements says X”) or without an actual steward with you, they will absolutely push you around and try to intimidate you into doing what they want. I had a supervisor that I had a good working relationship with lie to my face when I asked him about something; to him, if I didn’t know my rights as a union member it wasn’t his problem. So I do find in a sense it makes it harder to get along with your managers. However, there’s also recourse for when you’re getting treated unfairly, which I have been, and once you start talking about filing grievances supervisors back right the heck off. Essentially it’s a situation where the supervisors have a culture of trying to bully employees (not ideal to say the least!) and I find the union to be very helpful in that regard.

    The union is negotiating a new collective agreement and I wholeheartedly support almost all of their demands. My first career was very different in that my worth to a company was intellectual and as an individual, but in my postal job I’m essentially a meat robot. I love my job so much more! But I am a meat robot. The postal company doesn’t care if I hurt my back or my knees or if I have to work overtime every day, they are not looking out for their employees. So while there are some negatives, in terms of it being a contentious environment, I’m so glad I have a union to fall back on. I’ve used their services and the stewards are usually very helpful and committed. I definitely feel like I’m getting my money’s worth for the dues I’m paying. I’m also a millenial and I know most of my friends would kill to have a job with a union, pension and benefits. Most of the people at work who really complain about the union are older and I think they take it for granted. I’m over here like, you can take my union membership out of my cold, dead hands, Linda!

  244. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    I’ve worked union and non-union jobs. My personal experience is that the union jobs pay more with standard work hours, breaks and pay. But the worst boss I had was with in a union workplace. When you received a write-up for any reason you had the right to have the union rep with you. People were written up for not smiling enough, calling the manager a derogatory name (someone overheard and told the manager) and using their cell phone while working. More serious issues like drug use, unexplained absences, chronic sloppy work were ignored.
    The non union jobs offered more flexibility and the chance to advance without regard to seniority. If I had to choose, I’d go with non union though I do support unions.

  245. lamuella*

    I belong to a union in the UK (I work for the National Health Service). Belonging to a union means that I automatically have an advocate available if I find myself in a conflict between myself and my employer. it means that there is someone pushing for the rights and conditions of staff at an executive level in the organisation. It means that younger people within the organisation have more training and development opportunities available to them. Long may unions continue.

  246. Bager*

    I’m under the impression that there’s a huge difference between the attitude towards unions in the US and in Europe. In the US, the general sentiment towards unions seem to be that they’re just lazy, loud complainers who take your money and then strike for months when the work cafeteria lacks their preferred kind of snacks. In Europe, they’re viewed far more positively, to the point where it’s not uncommon for people to ask if you’re crazy if you’re not in a union.

    I’m from Europe and have a STEM background. The unions I’ve been in contact with literally start recruiting when you set foot on university campus (student memberships are obviously really cheap), and arrange courses, talks and debates in addition to giving job hunting advice (the not-actually-bad kind for the most part), help with reviewing contracts and provide salary expectations and other legal counsel for free. I’ve used several of these perks, and I’m really glad they’re available. It’s also literally heightened my salary as a public employee, as the pay for members of my particular union is higher than those of several others.
    I’m very early in my career, so I haven’t been taken out in a strike yet, though I’ve been on standby in case of an escalation. On that particular case, the strike was based on an issue the union was strongly for, but where I personally disagreed that the issue was worth going on strike for. This is probably the biggest potential problem with being unionized: you might be forced to go on strike for issues you disagree with.

    All in all, over here I’m glad I’m unionized. At least for now, before the aforementioned cantina-snack-strike has happened. I’ll post an angry rant here again if that strike does happen.

  247. The Principal of the Thing*

    (Late, I know!)

    I’m a union member in Australia and I can’t stress how important it is to me. We have campaigned for a better understanding of our sector (early education) and the importance of what we do, for better wages, and for professional support. We work to ensure that not only are we recognised, but national changes in our sector which improve quality are maintained. If I wasn’t lucky enough to work for a great organisation, I’d have support through Fair Work as well as the union.

  248. MentalEngineer*

    I’m a graduate student and teaching assistant in the humanities. I did my master’s degree in Wisconsin, just a few years after Scott Walker (may an elephant step on his toe) decertified all the public employee unions in the state. I’ve seen what higher ed is like with no union, especially for graduate students. The pay is absolutely criminal, there are no benefits, and your treatment as a worker is entirely at the whim of your supervisor and your department. Plus the decertification and constant budget cuts have driven younger, mobile faculty out of the state in droves, so my education suffered. All this to say that when I was looking at PhD programs, having a fully empowered union for graduate assistants was a mandatory criterion.

    My current university hates that we have a union and does everything it can to screw us. The mindset of “you’re students, you should feel lucky we even pay you to do this” is extremely strong. But the union is still an absolutely critical part of graduate assistant’s lives here – even for those that don’t know we exist. In its 10 years of existence, the union has secured a minimum stipend and gotten it raised several times, gotten most of our exorbitant health insurance premiums to be covered by the university, and enforced a ton of basic workplace protections that were routinely being ignored. The university doesn’t respect us, but it has to work with us, and that makes things so, so, so much better than they would be otherwise.

  249. LaWraa_with_a_W*

    Not being in a union is like driving a car without insurance. When my employer decided to royally screw me over and make me a scapegoat, my union stepped in and saved the day. Having a representative with me in meetings and backing me up (with the power of the whole union behind them) made all the difference. I’m still in the same job, but I’m much wiser now about how easy it is for an employer to go for their staff. And now I’m a union rep (will be doing my training in a few weeks time) so I can pay it forward!

  250. Dawn*

    I’m a teacher, so I’m in a union.

    I honestly find it a little astounding that anyone could believe that “employers aren’t like the robber barons of yesteryear, and don’t we have it so much better now” given how we’ve seen employers behave in the U.S. in the past decade or so and given how we fare as workers in the U.S. compared to other developed nations. No, we are not falling into vats and being rendered into Pure Leaf Lard, but our workers are expected to work far harder for much less than workers in other developed nations. (Many of whom have much stronger unions than we do; not the only factor but certainly part of the equation!)

    I like being in a union because our collective bargaining ensures that, when belts tighten, employee pay and benefits are not the first things on the chopping block. It forces our employer to treat our working conditions as a priority, when otherwise it is often easiest to shift costs onto us because employees are often in the position of not being able to leave a job (especially since I live in an impoverished rural area where professional jobs are scarce to begin with) and so end up putting with all kinds of cuts and abuses because they have little or no choice.

    I also like that my union guarantees me due process if my employer would want to fire me. Contrary to popular belief, teachers unions do not prevent tenured teachers from being fired; they simply require that our employers provide evidence for why we are being terminated: due process. Again, this prevents the kinds of abuses where senior, higher-paid teachers are let go in order to save costs by hiring lower-paid rookies, a strategy that benefits absolutely no one except the wallets of school districts.

  251. Rock Lobster*

    I was part of a union while working for an extremely large statewide organization, and had a frustrating time with it. The union seemed to prioritize antagonizing the organization over the welfare of union members. My job was reclassified and I was accidentally reclassified into a lower position with lower pay – when I asked my union rep about it, they insisted that it was “favoritism” on part of my manager (in other words, she liked my coworkers more than me) and offered me no steps on solving the problem. (When I discussed with my manager, she stated it was a clerical error and fixed the mistake with in the week.) Union policy also made it incredibly difficult to fire anyone for performance based issues, so half of the office was staffed with people literally napping at their desks (!!), being beyond rude to patients, and passing the buck when it came to any sort of responsibility. (The other half of the office staff never lasted more than two years, myself included.) Union policy also made it impossible for harassers to be held accountable for their actions – after a sexual harassment complaint made by a coworker, the harasser was placed on paid administrative leave for two months despite multiple witnesses to the harassment (including myself), and was then allowed to return to work with no record of the incident in his file. So, you know, not a great experience with a union.

  252. C. C. McNally*

    Working my first union job, I’m a city scientist for NYC. Working with the union is great. I get good benefits, I’m paying into a pension, and my union just negotiated paid family leave and a pay raise for everyone. Also, this is the best job I’ve ever had- people stay here longer, and generally don’t seem as abused.

    Lastly, and this would have been lovely at my last job, if your job description is changed or your hours fluctuate, after a year, your union will represent you in these complaints. Problems with something at work? Contact your union representative. The unions are like HR reps who represent you rather than the company.

    I’m sure eventually I’ll get annoyed at something, but it’s been wonderful so far.

  253. Union Gal*

    I work for an entertainment union and belong to another union as a white coller worker and I feel so lucky! Our staff gets great benefits (health insurance with no premiums or deductibles, lots of PTO, an annual bonus of a week’s pay). The union dues are a small price to pay for the sense of security. My last job, in an anti-union setting, was known for putting long time employees on PIPs for ridiculous reasons to squeeze them out of their job for making too much money.

  254. GreyNerdShark*

    Late as ever but hey…

    Been in 2 unions in my time. One was for retail workers and was useless. Did nothing, cared about nothing. These days they are infamous for being happy for companies to shaft workers.

    One was for council workers and they were great! They had lots of useful information, and more importantly they went in to bat for people. They advised us and when push came to shove they showed up with their paperwork done and sharp capable people to do the heavy lifting. The council knew it too because they kept backing down at the very last minute, enough so that the employment tribunal got quite shirty by the 3rd cancelled meeting due to “agreement reached” and told the council to reach full agreement on all by date X or face fines.

    One thing I do recall… the union rep at the first meeting with management said “funny, usually it’s just me at these things” as we had all joined when it looked like excrement was going to encounter airconditioning. I note that everyone who joined at that point stayed members afterwards.

    In my country unions gained a hell of a lot for people and most protections that it seems US people need unions for are enshrined in legislation for workers. Which is why “contracting” is the new frontier for employers who want to screw workers. They like hiring people without any protections.

  255. boop the first*

    I had a retail job that was union. But it was also the first time I worked in a huge company (rather than a franchise or small business) so I don’t know what was union-doing or general corporate policy.

    What I loved about it:
    There were policies! On paper and everything!
    There was some kind of pension,
    They made sure I either booked vacation or got the money
    I wasn’t automatically paid less than the men for once

    What I didn’t love about it:
    The constant bickering between union/corporate (well okay, maybe it was just amusing)
    How lousy the union was at bargaining… They divided the workforce so that some people got a living wage, and the rest of us got less than half of that. In order to get that, the union agreed to add a non-strike clause so they would never have leverage again.
    As a result, the store got shut down to get rid of the highest paid workers, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

  256. Carol*

    I am in a union now, I was required to join for my job (it is an office job). I graduated with a degree in accounting, so I really never saw myself in a union until now, but it turns out its pretty awesome. We work with a lot of other unions, so the whole atmosphere, up to the CEO is very pro union. I have a pension, obscenely cheap healthcare and more PTO than I know what to do with. I am expected to take a vacation every year, and if I need to leave early to take care of family, it’s not an issue. I’ve gotten a small raise every year I’ve been there, and a little bit more because I’m pretty good at what I do. The company also prioritizes promoting from within, so it is actually possible to work your way up from the mail room. I’ve also come to really appreciate the equality it provides. Our executive team is about 50% female (along with the rest of the company), so discrimination and harassment really don’t exist here. Any manager who thought they could misbehave would be gone overnight.

    There may be a few downsides. The pay is not so great for this area, and it is pretty equal across all levels, so the really skilled people don’t make much more then the not as skilled. I can see where this would irritate some people, but as a shy person whose terrible at interviewing and even worse at negotiating, I’m ok with the trade off. One example, I applied for a higher position and was turned down, simply because the other person who applied had been with the company a little longer. But I got a different promotion, so it wasn’t all bad. And I know exactly why I didn’t get the position, as opposed to some unexplained, ‘we decided to go with this person instead, good luck next time’ excuse (was it because the boss was playing favorites? was I a terrible interviewee? was it because I’m female? was it because the other person’s father is a VIP?, etc).

    Not all unions are the same, and having support from management is certainly helpful. But its been a great experience for me.

  257. Reliquary*

    I know I am late to commenting, but I really wanted to express my gratitude to the AMCBW (Amalgamated Meat Packers) and the RCIU Retail Clerks), which merged in the late 70s/early 80s into the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers. Because of those unions, when my dad was injured on the job and his employer tried to jerk him around w/r/t workers comp, the union advocated for him, secured additional benefits for him while he was out of work, and helped him get a good lawyer and a good settlement. Because of those unions, my mother’s pay rate rose along with her seniority, and when a crappy manager tried to temporarily reclassify her as part time in order to cut her pay, her union rep advocated for her and made sure she didn’t lose seniority or her pay rate. Because of those unions, I grew up in a family with excellent health insurance, and we never did without health and dental care; even when our needs were extreme (cancer, traumatic brain injury and blindness, orthopedic and other surgeries), we were covered, and we were never nickeled-and-dimed to death by co-pays. Union strong!

  258. Mary*

    Oh, this is an interesting question for me. I worked under a pretty ok union for 10 years, before switching to my current job of about a year that is non-union.

    – There was never a concern of being fired for bullshit reasons, and any time you came across a manager who was the type to lead based on who was the best ass-kisser or who deliberately forged documentation (happened to me once!) you could have the Union represent you in the dispute, and have a union rep join you for all meetings with that manager from that point on. It felt very secure in that respect.
    – The benefits with the union I was in were fairly good for a pretty long time. My starting pay was above the industry average in my area, and I got guaranteed raises every year – though they were just cost-of-living. We also got a yearly guaranteed bonus. In contrast, the company I moved to started me off at lower pay than the union job, and I have no guarantee of raises, there’s no bonus, and I pay more for healthcare.
    – I got a pension with the union. I believe they stopped giving that to new hires shortly after I was hired on, I got in just under the wire. But it gives me a lot of comfort knowing I’m going to have that little bit extra at retirement (or my husband will, if I die before I retire).
    – Because of the contract, managers couldn’t give privileges to one person that they wouldn’t give to another. This cut out a lot of favoritism behavior among management.
    – All holidays were paid. If you worked a holiday, you got paid the holiday pay, plus time and a half for the hours you worked. 8 hours of work equaled 20 hrs of pay on holidays. The same applied for Sundays, but I rarely got to work those due to lack of seniority.

    – Universal application of the contract ALSO meant that people who could do more than others didn’t get that chance sometimes – although as with all things, management could skirt around the rules if they knew how.
    – Some people would only do the bare minimum knowing that they wouldn’t be fired regardless. Usually that was among the much older folks who had been with the company 20+ years.
    – Seniority was everything, and because of the department I was in I never achieved “real” seniority because everyone else they had hired for that dept. had been there longer than me and they never hired new people there. I could never get Christmas eve off, or any days around the holidays.
    – I live in a right-to-work state, so the Union was often powerless against the lowering of our benefits. The main thing that kept us up was the fact that we were partially tied to the union in the north east, and the north east DID have the power to strike.
    – The Union cared more about the majority than the minority, so most of the time “lesser” concerns were ignored.

    All told, the experience taught me that yes, robber barons still exist, and unions need to be strengthened and made universal again. The good highly outweighed the bad.

  259. Jane*

    A few days late to this, but thought I’d share an additional perspective for anyone still reading!

    I’m in the United Kingdom, where union regulations are different to the US (e.g. “closed shops” are completely illegal.)

    I work as university lecturer. Probably more than 60% of my colleagues are union members, and our pay is negotiated nationally between the recognised unions and the national body for universities. (This means that most universities pay the same rates for the same job – sounds fair, but it also means there’s fewer vacancies as people aren’t motivated to change job.)

    Things I like:
    – The availability of a trained person to act as a “trusted friend”. These people can come and sit in on any disciplinary hearing or difficult meeting with your manager/HR.
    – The unions and the university have a joint committee that reviews any decisions that affect employees, such as departmental restructuring.
    – The reassurance that someone “has my back”

    Things I don’t like:
    – Striking. When the union calls a strike, you are expected to go out. We had a lengthy strike earlier this year.
    – Over the top responses from the union. It can feel like they ballot for industrial action over very minor matters.
    – The assumption from union management that we’re socialists/left-wing.

  260. hscounselor*

    I have experience as part of a teachers union and as the daughter of a 35 year UAW member. I can tell you that for factory workers, the union protects them from unsafe conditions. My dad has a dangerous job and has had to refuse unsafe requests from management before and his job is protected because of the union. At my school, many complain about the cost because they don’t bother to come to meetings and understand what the union does for us. As others have said, it’s protection to ensure that due process is always followed. If a crappy employee is protected by the union, it’s the management’s fault. The union must represent its members but if due process is followed in discipline, there is nothing the union can or will do to protect that worker. I’ve seen it at my school where a horrible employee took forever to be fired because the admin was lazy and wouldn’t document all the complaints from everyone including his fellow union members. We wanted him gone.

  261. Scandinavian in Scandinavia*

    I am immensely grateful for the work and struggle of the unions in my country in the last more than 100 years – as well as the cooperation they created in the last many decades with their employer counterparts. They collaborate more than they fight. Without unions, we wouldn’t have the many great features of the Scandinavian welfare.
    Like the Swedish commenter upthread I am member of my union because I want to support them – not because I expect to need their help (unemployment insurance is independent from union memership here)

  262. HR Adjacent*

    I have just joined a union for the first time; I’ve been in public sector HR for a long time, and a promotion to a particular role has landed me in a union position. I recently attended my first meeting, mostly to observe and absorb information, and having done my research beforehand, I was appalled. The officers of the local repeatedly lied to their members and foster discontent with misleading statements, and I really do not understand why. This is the kind of behavior that’s very damaging to the overall reputation of unions. It was all very disappointing.

  263. Rachel*

    I used to work as an office assistant in a public school. In my state, most public school employees were split into 2 unions within each school district: professional staff and support staff (actually, a third category for administrators as well….but not nearly as many of them). It caused a lot of “us vs. them” division. Luckily, in my district, support and professional staff were all members of one merged union, which created a much more cohesive atmosphere. Of course, every few years when contracts were up for negotiation, everyone got a bit on edge (typical admin/school board against workers scenario). And, any employee who opted not to be a union member still had to pay “fair share” dues since they would still be represented if ever needed. I got to go to a few trainings and seminars which were interesting and became a building rep. Especially after having heard many of the negative aspects through the media/culture, I was glad to see that, at least in this context, the union had a positive impact.

  264. Bread and Roses*

    I come from a long line of unionized workers ( I live in a country that didn’t absolutely destroy our labour movement in the 70s and 80s, although they certainly tried they’re hardest to do so) and I love it. I have worked non-union jobs that have been fine, and I have worked union jobs where I hated the work, but can say categorically that I would rather work a union job than a non-union, any day of the week.
    Obviously the biggest benefits are the things everyone knows about — collective bargaining, the ability to have someone at your back if you are in a conflict with management — but to me at least, the camaraderie and community are as valuable. My grandfather passed away recently in his late eighties, and even though he’s been retired for a deca