ask the readers: let’s talk about unions

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

It looks like we’ll be setting up a union collective at our institute to help the overall union push for better conditions this bargaining cycle. On one level, I’m keen and I think it’s long overdue — for example, I’ve been in this industry (academia/research) for 20 years and I have never had a contract longer than one year. The only reason I have three years of funding now is because I have a PhD stipend. Researchers routinely spend literal months scrambling for next year’s funding, every year, and nothing is going to change if we don’t push for it.

On the other hand, I’m nervous about rocking the boat. I have no fears about my direct work group and supervisors, so I’m not sure why.

Could we have a thread about other people’s experiences of joining a union and especially becoming active in it?

Yes indeed. Readers, please share your experiences with joining a union, being active it, and/or watching how unionization played out in your workplace.

{ 405 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    This post is to share your experiences with joining a union, being active it, and/or watching how unionization played out in your workplace — not a place for general philosophical statements of opposition to unionization. It’s of course fine to oppose unions, but please include first-hand specifics from your own experience about why.

  2. Slinks*

    Ask me anything! I am in a newly formed union at a private university (not teaching, but the unit includes both non-exempt staff and non-tenure-track faculty). I was part of the organizing committee from the start.

    1. len*

      It sounds like you have a really valuable and relevant perspective, perhaps you could share some of your experiences. What were some of the challenges in organizing? What were the main motivators for forming the union, and has the union been able to address them or does it have plans to do so? Are people happy?

      1. Slinks*

        We are still in the bargaining stage but the main motivators for forming a union were to ensure protection for our jobs and a voice in the workplace, since many of us were furloughed in 2020 and all lost retirement benefits for a period of time. The announcement later that the university had a budget surplus that year and grew the endowment significantly was even more frustrating. We also wanted to have regular cost-of-living increases that weren’t tied to our completely broken performance evaluation system. We have no promotion plan and hope to build that into our contract too.

        Many people had to get past the fear, as mentioned in the post. Others felt that they were happy with what they had, and didn’t see the need for a union. I think it’s important to remember that unionizing doesn’t have to come from extremely dire workplace conditions. It can also come out of a place where people really enjoy their jobs and their benefits, but want to have legal protection and a say in how their workplace is run, especially when there is little transparency behind decisions or policies and we know as workers what we need or what would benefit us.

        1. len*

          Thanks so much for your many thoughtful responses on this thread, and congrats on the successful effort!

        2. Wolverine as an ESA*

          As someone who works in a public higher ed institution, if you work for the school I think you do, thanks for all of your work. Your persistence and tenacity was admirable and I’m so glad for you and your colleagues that it paid off. I hope that your leadership and admin learn to work with you and it works out for you.

          Where I work was formerly unionized but isn’t any longer thanks to a certain high profile law. There ‘s still vestiges of the old union HR policy around, but I’m not sure most supervisors or administrators would really welcome the revival of unions. Many in leadership roles at least where I work don’t have a background either working with or managing union workers. I wouldn’t put it past them to engage in union suppression tactics, which is such a responsible use of taxpayers’ money, if individual units decide to start the process. It’s already happening at the affiliated hospital where nurses and other staff are attempting to get their union recognized and the hospital administration is reacting in a very hostile and antagonistic manner.

          It’s also very telling that both campus and division leaderships are really pushing involvement in equity and diversity work, which seems well intentioned. However, that push seems more as diverting the effort away from unionization and improving workplace conditions. I finally stepped away from that in the last year because I didn’t feel that much was being accomplished other than talk and looking busy by being in meetings. I viewed labor equity and fairness as part of EDI work and I was very much in the minority. It’s also interesting how many supposedly liberal and progressive political leaning individuals, especially those in management and administration roles, are so reactionary and conservative when it comes to labor issues and workplace equity.

          The incoming chancellor is coming from a school that still has a union with some power, so it will be interesting to see how things shape up in the next couple years. I’m relieved that the internal candidate didn’t get the job because he had a reputation of being very anti-union, in addition to ignoring credible sexual harassment and discrimination allegations.

    2. Slinks*

      To give some more info specifically to the questions you asked, I understand the fear that you have. I think that’s a fear that your institution likely promotes by its lack of transparency and by forcing you to scramble for crumbs. They will likely tell you that you could lose benefits (or other things that you hold dear in your role) if you unionize (would you vote for a contract that reduced your benefits? I wouldn’t). The anti-union messaging they will disseminate is the same messaging everywhere and is designed to make you doubtful and fearful.

      If you’re in the US, I’m sure you’ve been subject to the increasing corporatization of higher ed. I believe that unions are a way to give voice to the workers in an industry that’s being increasingly run by boards of trustees who want to grow their endowment above all else.

      Regarding retaliation, of course it’s illegal, but we know that it does happen. It depends on your institution. We knew that the bad press that would come from direct retaliation like firing people was something my workplace really wants to avoid. There have been a couple of subtle “is this retaliation” things that have happened, but overall being part of a strong community of organizers will help you. It’s easier to retaliate against a few people who tried something and never got off the ground with it than it is to retaliate against the obvious organizers making it clear that unfair labor practice is at play.

      1. Academic Unionizer*

        Hopping onto Slinks’ thread here to second this–I am also a (non-faculty) academic employee in a department that just unionized (the state recognized our contract a little over a year ago). I was part of the organizing team, and we are still negotiating our contract, though I am not on the bargaining team. The union chapter we organized under has unionized other employees at my institution, and they warned us about the tactics the university labor relations would use, which is mostly just dragging their feet, not doing their jobs in a timely manner, and trying to wear us down. A lot of universities (including mine) trade their public reputation on a proud progressive platform, so it looks bad for them to do overt union busting, but they’ll still try to union bust because they don’t want to pay you more or cede power away from administration.

        Retaliation hasn’t been a huge concern for us overall, with the exception of a very specific director in a specific sub-department. That individual was a big part of the reason we unionized in the first place, frankly. Under a union contract we can hopefully better protect our colleagues who have to work under this person. (Ideally, HR would investigate and get rid of them, there are mountains of evidence of professional misconduct and, I also suspect, academic misconduct and mishandling of grant funds, but for some baffling reason, despite at least 6-7 years of problems, HR continues to do nothing.) Among their many bad habits, the director in question has a penchant for unilaterally entirely changing their employees’ job descriptions and duties shortly after they’re hired, which would be illegal under a union contract. A contract will also provide stipulations for a formal grievance process, which will at least provide some recourse for this directors’ employees.

        So, mostly just wanted to thumbs up and second a lot of what Slinks is saying here, it sounds like our experiences have a lot of similarities, and I’m hopeful our contract will be ratified by the end of the summer!

        1. Academic Unionizer*

          Argh of course I noticed an issue immediately after posting. The state recognized our UNION a little over a year ago, not our contract. We don’t have a contract yet.

        2. Slinks*

          Congrats on the contract process almost being done! We anticipate ours to take about a year but it’s suuuuuper slow so far!

    3. Excel Jedi*

      How did you manage your social capital when organizing? I think my school needs a union, but I’m already underpaid and have a job description which only covers about 20% of my actual duties. I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to be pushed aside if I so much as whisper the word.

      1. Slinks*

        It can take time. Who are the leaders in your workplace, the people that others listen to or gravitate towards? Would any of them be amenable to a union? If you have people involved who others trust, it will go a long way. We had someone specifically say that seeing a certain name on our public letter moved them to support the union. Your initial conversations can be general, without saying the U word, but can give you an idea of who might be on your side.

    4. MackM*

      I have been following the unionization efforts at the University of Pittsburgh and Point Park University. It’s been difficult for me to get the news of what’s happening internally, what is the best way for me to stay informed? I’ve seen news stories about Point Park’s two rounds of union-agreement-breaking ‘layoffs’ but I don’t know what the state of the union is, if legal recourse is underway, or even if the union still survives.

      Also, could you also please point me to some resources on academic labor organizing? From the outside, it seems the competitive, socially mobile, and relatively satisfying and well paid positions change the calculus from a union dealing with more ‘commodity’ labor.

      1. Slinks*

        Staying updated with unions that you’re not in can be difficult because there may be things they can’t share. Sometimes social media drops off and it’s hard to find more info. Regarding academic-specific organizing, I think the bare bones of organizing are the same no matter what the industry is. I have gotten really valuable advice from Jane McAlevey’s work, which is not industry-specific, and by reading materials on the Labor Notes website. Some of the specific issues people want to fix might be different but overall much is the same. People want a say in their workplace. Staying up to date on the state of higher ed is helpful – the increasing corporatization has many people unhappy and this can be an important talking point. Hope that’s helpful?

      2. My dear Wormwood*

        I’m the OP, so I might add something about academic conditions. The major one in research is that the grant system is completely broken. A major round just closed and there were 400 applications for funding that will cover 17-18 grants. These applications take months to prepare and it happens every year. No grant, no job, we’re all on year to year contracts, but our university consistently posts a huge surplus. Union wants to make year to year contracts convert to permanent after a certain number of years with soft funding. Or supply a local grant to cover, say, 1 year gaps between successful funding rounds so you don’t have to let your lab staff go then start over again a year later.

        Don’t get me started on the poverty level PhD student stipends.

        1. Gumby*

          I don’t work at a university, but the R&D company that I work for *is* largely funded by various government contracts. We are a company of under 50 people and if you look at hours spent on bid and proposal work, it’s about 3.5 FTEs year round. It’s a lot of work! And lots of things that we think are really exciting don’t get funded.

          No one here even has a 1-year contract. We have had layoffs when we couldn’t bring in enough funding to support the staff size. Though we also are able to move people between projects such that one contract falling through doesn’t lead to immediate layoffs (so it would be like ‘letting lab staff go’ but they just go to the lab down the hall rather than leave the university/company altogether; slightly easier to get them back but not guaranteed). I can see a union maybe negotiating small bridge funding here and there, but I honestly am not sure if covering one-year gaps is possible. I can’t imagine that any of our technical staff here would be kept on if they spent an entire year on overhead. But like I said, I don’t work in academia. Maybe it is possible and some other university has figured out how to do it.

      3. MentalEngineer*

        I’m a union organizer who came from and works with higher ed and definitely second both of Slinks’ recs! No Shortcuts and Labor Notes’ Secrets of a Successful Organizer are the go-tos and they work! If you’d like additional resources or just want to talk through your situation, shoot me an email and I can either talk with you myself or find someone more directly relevant to your own situation.

    5. MBK*

      I am also in a newly formed union at a private university! I’ve been very vocally supportive of the union and I’m happy we won the vote. Our bargaining unit includes a lot of people at very different stages of their lives and careers, so I have just the *tiniest* bit of concern that my primary concerns and priorities might not be shared by most of the others. But I’ve attended a bunch of the meetings and made my thoughts known to the bargaining committee, and I wouldn’t have voted yes if I weren’t willing to trust my peers enough to join with them. So I guess we’ll see how it goes!

    6. A professor*

      Unionized academic here. I strongly suggest that you do whatever you can to avoid mixing faculty and staff in the same bargaining unit.

      At my university, all faculty and staff are in one union. The non-teaching staff are generally much happier with the union than the teaching faculty. Unfortunately, =our interests are not necessarily aligned. For example, the relentless union push for increased “flexible” and remote work for staff means that those of us who teach have far less access to support staff, which makes our jobs harder (just one example: the copier in my department has been broken for weeks but there’s never anyone available to fix it; same for any kind of classroom issue).

      Separating faculty and staff would go a long way to making me happier with the union. But there is a problem with faculty unions in general that is hard to solve. Specifically, faculty have or seek to obtain tenure (which comes with its own job protections that have nothing to do with the union), and to achieve tenure, we need to spend a lot of time on research. But serving in a union leadership position is obviously extremely time consuming and therefore not at all compatible with having an active and productive research program. In effect, this means that to the extent that faculty are represented in the union leadership, they are generally people who got tenure long ago and have basically “retired” from research activity, or people who were never on the tenure track to begin with. So a large core constituency of the faculty (active researchers in the prime of their career) essentially do not have our interests represented in the union because there is nobody at the bargaining table who understands our needs.

      I could go on and on… our union leadership is also largely populated by people whose goal is to solve all the injustices of the world via the collective bargaining agreement, whereas I and most of my colleagues think it would make more sense for the union to bargain as large a salary increase as possible than to negotiate the details of step 13.C.2 of the grievance process.

      Despite all the above, I remain a member because I do think that unions have an important role in securing workplace rights and benefits (and I hope it gives me some credibility to air my complaints– I pay my dues, I’m not an anti-union hack). If I could design it from scratch, I would definitely create separate bargaining units, for support staff, professional staff, non-tenure-track faculty, and tenured/tenure-track faculty.

    1. Ariaflame*

      Well, since the question was from the point of view of someone wanting to be in one, rather than one wanting to oppose one because it’s more work for them. Not terribly useful.

      1. Gwen Soul*

        I think it is fair to give personal experience about the pitfalls, better to go in with your eyes open. There are pros and cons to everything

      2. Varthema*

        Unionization at my workplace was.. tough and stressful. Let me preface by saying that unions should be everywhere, everyday! BUT, our reality was hard.

        Part of it was of course, management. Lots of suspicion, they tried to toe the line on tamping down on it without being illegal, and they never formally recognized our union so it was kind of more theoretical than practical.

        The other issue – and this was huge – was the personalities organizing. The one guy was… so, so passionate about unionization, and there were a few others equally so. And that came off, frequently, as aggression and borderline (sometimes not borderline) bullying. It was useful when backs were to the wall, but during “quiet periods” it felt like he was constantly looking for fights to pick with management. Sometimes a few would pick up on an Issue which I vehement disagreed with, like when a temp reached the end of his temporary contract and it wasn’t renewed – they wanted to strike over that and it was like wtf? He was also pretty hardcore socialist (I guess?) and any scenario in which our for-profit company made a profit was unacceptable to him, which just seemed like a no-go starting position. A few newish employees ended up in tears when they expressed diffidence initially and then got hounded. Compromise was unacceptable. Disagreement was unacceptable. those of us who had differing opinions from the main bulldogs were quickly accused of backstabbing and lacking solidarity. It sucked, hard. And I think that’s why we never quiiiiite organized enough to make a real difference. And then the COVID axe fell and the office closed and that was that. I felt so much better for MONTHS afterwards that I no longer had to cringe at my phone buzzing with yet another impassioned WhatsApp.

        For it to work, you have to make sure that there are level-headed people amongst your organizers. And also, consider honey along with your vinegar.

        The final sticking point for me was that nobody ever seemed willing to walk away from these jobs, and that is, at the end of the day, an employee’s true power. If you cede that by ruling it out early, there’s only so much you can get done.

        Anyway, my two cents. I think it’s SO important, but oh man, it was miserable. I wish you better luck!

        1. MentalEngineer*

          Oof. These are the stories I hate to hear the most, because this is the story of a workplace that could’ve won a union and had a voice, but the people who thought they were being leaders screwed it up for everyone. There’s a lot of received wisdom in the movement because a lot of the same challenges come up, and I can’t stress enough how much of it is about listening rather than berating. Your “that guy” is a textbook of how not to do this, so please don’t give up on the idea if you’re ever in another workplace where there’s an opportunity. It’ll still be hard, but it should be hard because of the boss, not because of how you treat each other, and it’s both easier and more successful to do it right.

    2. len*

      What were your negative experiences? Did they impact the union members? Respectfully, I don’t consider it my problem to solve if protecting my rights as a worker inconveniences the corporate administrative system.

      1. Nom Nom Anon*

        Seriously. At my public university, HR is very anti-union. Unsurprisingly, HR is also useless when it comes to protecting workers from harassment and discrimination, unsafe working conditions, or much of anything. I’d still want to have the union even if they were competent, but we need them to get anything addressed.

    3. Kassie*

      HR is just a union for management. Your job is to protect management. The union’s job is to protect their members. Of course you don’t like unions, unions hold HR accountable.

      1. Lydia*

        Yep! See: The union at Oregon Health and Sciences University forcing the VP of HR to resign because he was violating all sorts of ethics in regard to the negotiation.

    4. Generic Name*

      Can you be specific as to the exact challenges? And how that’s a negative for a worker looking to unionize. If I’m a worker looking at collective bargaining via a union to improve my working conditions, I guess I don’t care all that much if it’s “harder” for payroll/benefits.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        “Harder” work for payroll/benefits translates to having to hire a better specialist or getting a better system, which will come out of your union dues and/or paycheck.

        Unions tend to result in having 3-4 layers of additional regulatory hoops to jump through for anyone on the admin side, especially if the people doing admin for the union don’t know what they’re doing. One way I saw this play out was a union where the original agreement stipulated that the union must be audited twice a year to make sure that all the funds are being spent correctly. Which is nice, except that a) the people handling the funds were not good at their jobs and b) auditors are expensive when the client is disorganized. What it translated to was nearly 80K/year coming out of the dues for the auditors while the administrative system steadily grew worse.

    5. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I’m a public accountant who’s worked with unions! I may know some of the issues Harried HR is referring to.

      The biggest problem, I’ve found, is that like many other small businesses, unionizing groups do not fully think through the administrative side of what they’re doing. Depending on the industry, scale of the union, and state you’re in, a number of regulations may apply to your unionization and once you unionize you may have to deal with a number of new responsibilities. Additionally, for larger unions in particular, you may have to actually hire people to handle the union work. You might need an accountant, an HR person, a legal aid or on-staff lawyer, an ombuds – etc, etc. And you might need a building for meetings, bookkeeping systems, accounts with software providers, etc.

      None of this is impossible, but if you unionize and begin operations without thinking through how your day to day is going to look like what will happen will be that on top of your existing dysfunctional workplace you will have an added layer of dysfunctional union bureaucracy to wade through. One I worked with had gotten to the point where they were being audited every six months because their system had gotten so dysfunctional – and the money for the auditors was coming out of union fees. That’s not really a good situation for anyone, including the auditors because working in a hot mess of an office is not a fun time.

      So when considering unionizing, take a few weeks and work through the logistics. Get someone experienced in from another union, or see if there are any legal aid or HR specialists you can talk to. Get comfortable with the regulations that may affect you.

      And for the sake of absolutely everyone’s sanity, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE use the appropriate software for what you want to do, because otherwise you will be working out of banker’s boxes of paper and terrible Quickbooks patches and some opportunistic person will be able to steal $10k before you can catch them.

      1. Mizzmarymack*

        I’m part of a professional union for a part of state government.

        It’s well established, several decades old, and we have the good fortune to include a good deal of contract admin and the general consul… so it’s s easy to pull from unction members to find union leadership :)

        There are some complaints that our salaries are lower than in private industry. This is true. However, prior to forming the union, none of the lawyers had gotten a raise (not even a cost of living increase!) in something like 7 years. I think the lower salary is well balanced by I can’t be acted against for my gender, age, sexual orientation, and gender presentation – all protected classes here – and I can’t be fired without cause.

        Also, the hourly rate – at least for my specialization – is actually higher because a) I only work my contracted/40 hours per week, and b) I can use my PTO without being fired. Seriously. Was fired at a previous job (with limited PTO) for taking time I was owed to care for a disabled kid.

        My union was also able to sort out an issue where my pay had been shorted by several thousand dollars in 3 days. I’d been working with admin and HR for almost a month! Next time I’m looping the union in first thing. We were also promised – in writing, state to union – a pandemic bonus, to be paid out some number of months back. It has not been paid and the union has filed a grievance.

        Basically, my union has my back, and I never want to work without one again.

    6. bookartist*

      I am almost finished with my first accounting class, — in fact, I just finished my payroll chapters, so I have an idea what payroll is like. What about the process for unions is so different? Is it just more deductions, or are there calculations, etc, that make the bookkeeping challenging?

      1. Siege*

        I’m speaking from the perspective of a unionized person with duties very tangential to payroll. (I’m a check-signer.) What I see that might make a difference is that of course we have union dues, so that’s an extra deduction, and we have political donations staff make to union causes through their paychecks, so that could be another one. We have both a pension and a 401k, so double work there (and the 401k is a wire transfer su there are extra steps there but I assume that’s normal?) I can’t see that as rising to the level of a challenge with a modern payroll system.

        Because we are a unionized state federation of a union, that’s where the finances go nuts. We handle per capitas (union dues for members) calculated on a specific formula and then divided up by another formula. We have a political arm that’s strictly separate. We are under really strict audit procedures, and we have more legally-required paperwork to manage and file with various regulatory agencies.

        I can’t think of anything I know is an unusual challenge because of the union, but I didn’t see the original comment, so it’s possible the poster meant things like accurately recording union-dues deductions, providing correct bargaining-unit information, and giving the union its mandated half hour with new employees to pitch the union is a pain. We often find our members’ employers don’t like doing those specific tasks. For some reason.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          At my old place people who chose not to join the union, still paid the equivalent of union dues. But it went into a special account. No one ever mentioned how much was in the account or how the money was used.
          (Things may have been proper but none of us had anyway of knowing.)

      2. Mid*

        I’m also confused by this. I haven’t done payroll for a union, but I have done payroll and benefits, and I’ve worked as part of a union. The only thing I could think of is that more people could qualify for benefits? Or maybe doing the withholding for union dues? But I am genuinely curious about what makes it difficult, because that’s something I hadn’t considered.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          I would think it would be easier to do payroll for a unionized environment, actually! Our pay scale, negotiated through the union, is a strict table of years of experience and education. So Jane, Fergus and Wakeen with a masters and 6 years experience get $X, while Bob, Raj and Willow with no masters and 8 years experience get $Y. There’s a fair amount of back and forth on whether it’s fait that Jane and Fergus get paid the same when Jane is a phenomenal teacher who also runs the basketball team, the school play and student council, while Fergus makes his students watch videos all day everyday and is gone by 3:10, but that debate doesn’t affect ease of completing payroll.
          Our union dues are also the same for all full time teachers (although they are pro-rated for part-timers), so that shouldn’t cause too many difficulties either.

    7. another_scientist*

      I remember one specific issue, although from the perspective of union organizers being exasperated with HR dropping the ball. State law required that employees would need to be given the option to join the union on day 1 with other onboarding paperwork. HR would take months to pass on the list of new members to the union, or lose the paperwork completely. Different departments had different levels of reliability. When we as union stewards would talk to new hires, we would just ask them to fill out the membership again, even if they thought they had previously filled it out, because that was the only way for us to know for sure (they would of course be charged only once).
      Another thing that was perhaps extra work for payroll, was that the postdoc union contract tied the minimum salary to the pay scale of the NIH. When the NIH announces a pay increase (while I was a postdoc, that meant a small bump every year), it would take the organization a good while to implement the new pay for those postdocs who were paid minimum, resulting in a few months’ worth of back pay on the pay check a few months after the change. If I recall correctly, this only affected around 15% of postdocs in our organization, the others were paid north of the minimum anyway.

  3. anon for this*

    My previous job unionized right before I joined (literally, it was in the news the week I had my job interview) and then the negotiations for the first contract lasted for the entire two years I was there, haha. They signed it about two weeks after I left.

    The head of the company took it somewhat personally when the workers organized, because the company had been his baby for 20+ years and he felt it was a good place to work. And it was! (And is! I left not because of it, but because someone offered me an irresistible new kind of opportunity.) For the most part, the union was pushing for codifying benefits and processes that largely already existed, to protect workers in the future and to make sure everything was applied equitably. (The company was about 85% male and 95% white, so increasing diversity and protecting all workers equally were top priorities for the bargaining committee.) We also work in a highly unstable industry and so certain layoff protections — how much notice, how much severance, that you have to talk to the union first to try to come up with alternatives before issuing pink slips — were also part of the contract.

    I actually secretly wish the employees at my current workplace would also organize, to codify the benefits and protections our current company leader offers, so after leadership turns over new employees are guaranteed the same, but I am a senior manager now and can’t be a part of any of it.

    1. bamcheeks*

      The head of the company took it somewhat personally when the workers organized, because the company had been his baby for 20+ years and he felt it was a good place to work

      Why do you need a union when we’re faaaaaamily?

      1. anon for this*


        He got somewhat less cool to the process when it was framed as “yes, but what if you get hit by a bus, and our parent company tries to change things,” because that wasn’t personal. And once bargaining was done and over with and the first contract was signed I heard the hostility mostly evaporated. So I’m glad it worked out for them.

    2. Lesley McCullough*

      I have always been exempt from the union at my workplace as first my job title, lawyer, and then the actual work that I did, upper management, fell outside of the bargaining unit. But I have always told everyone in the workplace that I supported the collective bargaining process and thought that it was a benefit for all employees whether or not they fell within the bargaining unit. When the workplace is organized I look primarily to the Collective Agreement and I don’t have to let my own feeling of what is the right or the kind thing to do in a situation take precedence when I make a decision – and in a non-unionized situation they would and I don’t think that’s wrong. But in a unionized workplace the rules are set out clearly and I look at the work the employee is doing within that context. And there is often legal precedent when I have to look at a situation and determine whether it is something that warrants a reprimand or more serious discipline. So I am a management employee who is a big advocate for unionization. And Anon for This, you can be a part of it just by telling your manager colleagues that unionization can be a win-win situation for all employees.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah this idea of unionizing being a slight against the company needs to die. When I was working for an on-fire, hellishly disorganized company, we had a strong union so I spoke to my dad, who was a big union guy about why I felt so blah about using the union to improve things. He said: “Because you need a new job. Don’t bother trying to improve something you don’t even want. Unions are about buying in to the company because you believe there’s potential to do something great.”

      1. Anonomon*

        I think people forget that the union’s existence is dependent on the financial viability and ability of the company to stay in business competitively. Without the companies, there can’t be a union. With that being said, I don’t think unions are the trump card that they used to be when it comes to protecting employees.

  4. AC*

    Unionization is still playing out in my workplace. My employer is very large and there are three groups unionizing. We are in bargaining now. I’ve heard it can take a year or more to agree on a contract. It’s been a very confusing journey for me. I’ve seen co-workers who pushed hard for the union and end up leaving for better opportunities. I’m a remote worker so I don’t witness a lot of the day to day struggles that spurred unionization, but I do understand the problems within our industry. I try to participate by attending union updates on Zoom and reading the email updates. I do feel a little worthless for the union efforts since I can’t go to any in-person events.

  5. Wilton Businessman*

    Removed. Please stick to the question at the top, not your personal philosophical feelings on unions. – Alison

    1. Union for researchers*

      It really depends on the union. Our union has spent a lot of effort to request clear criteria for promotion so that rewards are based on quality of work and not friendship with management. We are also asking managers to address problem employees as soon as problems are recognized, whereas the C-suite prefers that everything get deferred and employees are surprised when they don’t get a promotion. They were recently upset when we suggested that employees should be given constructive feedback yearly, and not every few years.

      Our union has traditionally had less of a focus on wages, although I’m sure that will be a big topic now for everyone because of the increased cost of living, but I am thankful for my union because they often advocate for practices that Alison recommends here.

    2. H. Landry*

      Had a contract dispute with a boss who dragged their heels rectifying the low all mistake. After 8 weeks of waiting I told them I was going to contact the union attorney, the problem was fixed within 3 business days.

  6. Lilo*

    I’m a member of a union and it’s absolutely terrific. Our union is the interface from everything from contract negotiations, to testing new software, to managing COVID leave. Highly recommend. When we renegotiated our contract a few years back, the union was crucial. The initial contract management came out with would have been completely unmanageable and multiple people threatened to quit if it wasn’t changed. The final product ended up much, much better.

    1. Lilo*

      I will not I also worked at a theme park with a strong union presence and it was hugely different from other similar jobs I have worked. We got OT for anything over 8 in a day, they rotated us off outside shifts regularly and we always got our breaks on time.

    2. Matt S*

      I’m willing to bet that initial contract only sucked so much because they expected negotiation and bargaining.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      There are multiple unions where I work and also a large contingent of “unclassified” people whose jobs aren’t part of the union. It’s very obvious what management would do to union employees if there weren’t unions because they do it to the unclassified people, and none of it is good.

  7. Janeric*

    I think my union experience is pretty standard for a state employee — our union negotiates for our contracts every three years, provides advice on disputes or issues, and steps in during disciplinary actions. I joined soon after starting my job and pay about $500 a year in dues. I’ve called them twice — once for issues around processing forms for my newborn’s health care, and once for issues where the department Covid protocols meant certain aspects of our contract weren’t being met. In both cases, they provided me with language specific to my circumstances to go to my HR/management and gave me a timeline in which they would follow up if certain conditions weren’t met. In both circumstances it… lit a fire under the other party, and things were resolved within the work day.*

    *This was great because when my newborn’s health care lapsed because the forms were in an envelope that was “smaller than HR thought it would be”, I just. It was great for ALL INVOLVED to have someone informed providing options for resolution.

    I have complaints — for instance, a parent who gives birth has GREAT parental leave but a parent who does not has to rely on their accrued vacation time. By and large I like the options I have in the public center a lot more than my time in the private center, and I know that unions are a big part of that.

    1. Kassie*

      Just a note about parental leave… I’m also in a State Government union. We were able to bargain equal Paid Parental Leave for both parents. So each parent gets six weeks parental leave and they have a variety of ways they can take it (delayed, part time, a week here and a week there). If your union wants a model for bargaining this, they can look at Minnesota as an example.

  8. Essentially Cheesy*

    I work at a manufacturing plant location, in the office (non-union), and the plant employees are union. I am not in the union.

    I have noticed that the union here is utilized for:
    -Stable pay and scheduled raises during the course of the union contract
    -Yet pay seems to be lagging behind – the local job market is very hot/competitive right now and there’s no negotiating those established pay rates so they seem to be a little lower than average (a negative)
    -Clear job descriptions
    -Clear and established company policies that the Union members must adhere to
    -Clear attendance requirements with established discipline (some really dislike this)
    -Union stewards are available but are not the advocates that employees probably need (a negative)

    From my vantage point of working in the office – it doesn’t seem all that advantageous to be a Union member. I get higher pay then they do and my manager is great at being an advocate. It doesn’t make Unions seem all that wonderful.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      One thing about stable pay – non-union members may be getting a higher rate of pay for a time but don’t underestimate the benefit of having a more stable rate. A stable rate is one that won’t swing down when the job market slumps too.

      1. Loulou*

        Yup, this. I would definitely be making more money doing my job in some non-union environments (I don’t mean this as a general statement, just referring to the specific institutions near me that do the same type and level of work), and non union jobs at my own institution also typically pay a higher wage, but I really strongly value being a union worker. Peers say the same thing when they’re considering promotions, etc. They don’t want to leave the union.

      2. Wolverine as an ESA*

        I work at a public university that formerly was mostly all union, but is now less than 20% unionized. Union employees got lower automatic raises than non-union workers and seemed to have a higher percentage of people laid off in the last two years due to pandemic related budget cuts. Both campus administration and the state legislature are very anti-union, so that outcome shouldn’t be a surprise.

        I did my undergrad at another public university in the region that had very active unions with some influence and pull. I think that that grad student union struck at least twice during my time. It wasn’t the first time that I got some unexpected time off due to strikes, because the teachers in the K to 12 district I went to had to strike for at least a couple days every time they had contract negotiations. My mother taught so she’d take us out to picket with her instead of getting a couple days to do nothing around the house.

    2. Lew*

      I work for a company and I’m on the other side- I’m one of the people in the shop in a union vs the people in the office. I don’t think you can blame the lower pay on the union. In our contract, we get a union raise to our pay every year, but there’s nothing stopping that from being the only pay increase, it’s there to make sure we DO get any pay increase. During covid they cut all cost of living raises and any other pay increase, but because of the union contract I still got my union raise these past two years while the office workers got nothing. And that’s exactly what a union is for- it can’t help if this is a place willing to pay plant employees less than what they’re worth, but it can hold the company accountable to a contract that means you will always get these things.

      Same with the established discipline- it’s there to make sure that the company can’t get too harsh or retalitive with discipline and punishments. Unions are there to protect you from the worst, and try to make things better and fair, but overall if you work for a bad company there’s only so much you can do. It’s great that your manager is a great advocate, but if they quit tomorrow and you got a new boss who wasn’t that’s when it would be good to have a union at your back.

      1. My dear Wormwood*

        I think this is a key too – I have an awesome, awesome boss but we’re well aware that he shields us from a lot of the politics in the levels above us. He’s due to retire in a couple of years, and what happens then?

      2. Migraine Month*

        My union* pushed to have a percentage raise converted into a flat dollars-per-hour raise for all employees. This was framed as an equity-and-fairness issue, since our lower-paid employees wouldn’t benefit as much as their higher-paid colleagues. I wrote in support of this suggestion, even though it didn’t benefit me personally.

        Management decided that they still needed to give the higher-paid employees a percentage increase for retention reasons, so they gave every employee the percentage or dollar-per-hour increase, whichever was larger.

        *Technically not a union anymore, since the state banned those in my sector.

      1. Lydia*

        Yep. My manager is actually who connected me to our steward and she is incredibly supportive, but I know it’s not the case for every person where I work and there’s always a chance she’ll get promoted or decide to move on.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I am (I hope!) a good manager who advocates for my employees, and I have a team member in a tough spot at the moment and have advised him to contact the union if he’s a member. Because as sympathetic as I am to my employee and as much as I want advocate for him, I have to balance that with the impact of his problems on the wider team and on the service to our clients. I would like him to have someone on his side whose only responsibility is to advocate for his interests!

    3. Greg*

      Our warehouse team is unionized, and it’s normally pretty solid to deal with them. There was recently a change in our business unit rep and they took a much harder tack than the previous rep. We recognized that our wages were lower than the median rates in the area so we went to accelerate the raise schedule…but were told if we wanted to do that it would open the whole contract up for renegotiation. Like I said, it’s usually very simple to deal with our local chapter, but that was a WTF moment for sure.

  9. migrating coconuts*

    Union member here for library system. If you are going to go union, make sure you include something that rewards people for years of service/acquired knowledge etc. I have been here 17 years and can pretty much fill in any position, I have vast quantities of institutional knowledge. But if I were to leave, they would fill my position, and that person would make the same pay rate that I do. I oversee a staff of 10. One of my staff has been here 8 years and is my go to for her area. I cannot pay her more because of the union. There is no reward for her essentially being my right hand person. And there is only one level in her area, so she can’t even go higher where she is. I also can’t stand that we pay the union itself. We pay dues to our union, and get very little in return from our union rep. She is lacking in knowledge and is snarky at best. Unions used to serve a purpose, and still can, but I don’t like them.

    1. Lizzo*

      Do you think this is an issue with your union rep not being good at her job, or the union in general?
      If the former, do you have recourse to provide feedback to the union rep’s boss?

      1. Loulou*

        At least in my library, the pay issue has nothing to do with the union rep but with the contract. I cannot get a pay increase that is not collectively bargained, period.

        1. migrating coconuts*

          Yes, the contract spells things out, but our union rep does the negotiating with a ‘steward’ and the union rep has a history of not even putting things on the table that we want her to.

    2. Rain's Small Hands*

      I did not accept a union job that was temp to hire for this reason. Frankly, they wanted to underpay me for my experience and knowledge because the agreement really didn’t have that sort of scaling in it. Now, the union did have good benefits and a good pension. I was in IT and it was a state position where IT was classed with AFSME. And it WAS a long time ago, I have no idea whether the AFSME/the State ever figured out that IT professionals shouldn’t be classed with Administrative Assistants on the payscale.

    3. Colinrobinson*

      How does the union stop the library system from paying you and your staff more? After the media company I worked for unionized and created wage floors and levels, HR and some supervisors told a few people they couldn’t give raises because of the union. When we told our union reps about this they said it was not true and it stopped happening and people were able to negotiate raises. I was never sure if HR said this because they truly didn’t understand the contract or because some unions do use wage ceilings.

      1. Loulou*

        My union negotiates rates of pay for each title. It wouldn’t be allowed under my contract for me to be compensated more or less than someone else with my title who has worked here for the same length of time.

        And to me that’s the “collective” part of collective bargaining. Each individual union member is not necessarily deriving the maximum individual benefit that they could under a non-union system, but there is power in a union that doesn’t just have a monetary value.

      2. migrating coconuts*

        The contract stops us. Every job position has a pay rate. Period. We get raises, usually crappy ones, but nothing for longevity or better performers. It gives absolutely no incentive to do anything but the minimum. Our union rep who handled the negotiations isn’t great.

    4. Mid*

      Is your union part of a larger organization? Even if not, if your rep isn’t fulfilling her duties, you can replace her. At least in my union, the election for rep was every two years, and there were processes in place to remove someone sooner if they were severely failing in their duties. If you’re part of a larger organization, reach out to someone above her in the region and see if there is a way to get a more supportive union rep.

      Also! It sounds like it’s time for your union to re-evaluate how it does payscale! I got more raises and there was more reward for seniority in my union retail job than any of the many non-union jobs I was in. Every year of seniority got a small increase with larger ones at 5 year marks (so 5, 10, 15, etc years.) Cross training was also encouraged and could offer extra pay.

      I’ll give an example of how it worked, without using the real info for privacy.

      If you were an entry level Widget 1, you got $10/hour. Each year you worked got you $0.10/hour increase and priority on scheduling and picking shifts. After 5 years, you could be a Widget 2 and get a $1.50/hour raise. If you decided to cross train in the Ticker department, you could get an extra $0.10/hour for that, assuming you also did X shifts a month/quarter in their department. So if you were a Widget 2 and making $12.00 an hour, and trained in the Ticker department, if you did 1 shift a month with the Tickers and the rest of your shifts as a Widget 2, you got $12.10 an hour for every shift. You could also fully transfer to the Ticker department without losing your seniority for shifts and other things. Especially during the holidays, where there was a ton of OT available, this was great because you had twice the opportunities to get OT pay.

      This encouraged people to be trained to work in multiple areas, made it easier for people to transfer departments or pick up extra work if they wanted it.

      The union also made it so internal people had to be considered for promotions before hiring outside the company. This made it so people who had 10 years of experience and who knew the store, all the regulars, all the suppliers, and all the workers, but didn’t have the opportunity to attend college actually had the chance at a corporate role, if they wanted it. And, from my experience, the internal promotions were way better managers than people from outside.

      Another thing our union dues did is covered our strike pay, which is probably the biggest pro of paying union dues. Most people can’t afford to not be paid for 2 months while on strike, but the union made it so some people actually made *more* money picketing than they were regularly getting paid (until the new contract was signed and our pay was adjusted.) The union also offered more assistance for people who needed it, including support for rent, utilities, food, etc. Our union dues also covered lawyers, which is important when the company is trying to fight your workers comp claims, or unfairly cutting hours to try and avoid paying benefits, or trying to force someone to transfer to a store 150 miles from their current location as a way to make them quit instead of paying out their pension in 2 years.

      Our union makes it so part-time employees can qualify for benefits after working there for a certain time, because the store loved to keep people at just under full time as a way to prevent people from getting access to health insurance. You can also get PTO as a part time employee. You can take a leave of absence without losing your seniority (after you work there for 2 years, I believe, you can qualify for a 6 month LOA that allows you to keep your position and benefits upon returning.) They also made the company tell you what hours you were going to get, instead of having people scheduled for 4 hours one week, 20 the next, 6 the following, and 30 the week after. Your contract had you at a certain number of hours each week, and unless you specifically agreed otherwise, you would always get that number of hours, or more. That made it so people could actually plan their finances instead of hoping a manager wouldn’t short change them that week.

      Basically, what I’m saying is that your union needs to do better! It doesn’t have to keep people stuck at below-market pay, it shouldn’t not reward seniority, it should reward it and cross training and everything else.

      1. migrating coconuts*

        Your union sounds great. We are a small group and fall under our township, so taxpayer funded. Always some excuse for crap increases. We have no choice of our union rep. We elect our own executives (president, vp, secretary, treasurer) but our rep comes from our local district union. They wouldn’t remove her unless she did something egregious. She would never bring most of what you get to our bargaining table. Her idea of getting us something is a small raise. This is the only job I ever had where it was union. My other jobs I got better increases, increases for knowledge/experience etc. I realize not every work place is great, but my point was to be careful about going union, and what you get in your contract.

    5. Eat My Squirrel*

      This is a great point. At my daughter’s first elementary school, the state cut the school’s funding such that they had to eliminate two teachers. The union required that those with the least tenure were the ones let go. One of them had just won the state’s teacher of the year award. Didn’t matter that she was awesome at her job, she got the axe because she was there the least amount of time. I heard she got a job at one of the most sought after districts shortly after that.

      1. Scooter34*

        @Eat My Squirrel – while I feel your point, using seniority as an objective for layoffs ensures fairness. If the spectre of job cuts is hovering at a non-union workplace, it can become a competition of kissing up, suppression of legitimate concerns, and regret of expressing dislike of the decision makers to avoid that bony finger of doom pointing at you. Someone will always push back at how the choice would be made, and it undermines cohesiveness and creates suspicion.

        While it stinks when a great team member is gone, at least everyone understands the process up front and there are no other motivations poisoning the well.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          As my husband has also been the subject of seniority-based layoffs, I can say that they are certainly not “fair”. He was let go (the day he returned from paternity leave to boot) rather than people with attendance issues, performance problems, and efficiency challenges. It all turned out okay because he got a more secure job with better pay and benefits, but it was a real slap in the face when it happened.

          Years of service is not equivalent to quality of work. Some days, it just means you’re good enough at your job not to get fired. Basing pay, promotions, layoffs, and similar entirely on years of service or seniority rather than on job performance disincentivizes doing more than the bare minimum and, based on direct personal experience of both me and my spouse, creates a culture of mediocrity because strong performers are not rewarded (or not rewarded much) for being excellent versus okay.

          I left my first job because I was outperforming people with more experience, and I was ineligible for a merit-based promotion or more pay until I had more butt-in-seat years. Shocker, the most productive people all left because it’s incredibly demoralizing to have a lesser title and lesser pay than someone you’re objectively outworking on multiple, measurable aspects.

          1. MV Teacher*

            Seniority-based layoffs are defined in the contract and negotiated, you might say its democratic, for better or worse.

            As for performance issues, that is a management issue, not strictly (if at all) a union issue. Not sure how people manage to conflate the two. If the union contributes to it, guess what, the workers are the union!

            1. Not So NewReader*

              “The workers are the union..”

              This assumes the union is playing a clean game.

              The union I was last involved with said, “if you don’t walk picket lines when we ask, then if you have a problem at work we may or may not help you.” It was possible to report someone and get ignored.

              If you got a good union, that is most fortunate.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              I have yet to work at an organization where an entirely seniority-based system produced high-quality results results. At best, it collections people who do enough not to get fired and do the bare minimum; at worst, the inmates are running the asylum.

              Performance issues are a management issue, but, if someone has not been through the full process, which tends to be bureaucratic and onerous to avoid grievances, then a poor performer on a PIP who’d worked a week longer than someone doing a good job was still spared a layoff. That’s not a system I endorse perpetuating and certainly not one I’d pay good money to be a part of.

              1. Alternative Person*

                Yep. This has been a problem at my brother’s union. Fortunately it does have a mechanism for allowing people to take voluntary redundancy when that kind of thing comes around, but it’s far from ideal.

    6. TRC*

      My sister works for a state agency where the office staff are unionized. They have pay bands for each class of worker. It’s nice at first to get timed raises…until you max out to the top of your class band. Then that’s the rate of pay you get forever.

      Getting reclassified to a higher level is almost impossible even though they sent her to graphic design classes and she’s in charge of all branding for the agency. Shockingly, this is all “out of class” work because the last person who did it was one class above her. The union agreement says you get paid the higher rate when working out of class. What a joke. She’s been doing it for two or three years with no extra pay. Recently they told everyone to stop any out of class work immediately. So she had nothing to do. Within a couple days, they had to roll that back when it meant no one could be on call over the weekend for a rather important situation. And graphics were needed for posting on Twitter and stuff.

      This year, in secret, the agency used an outside consultant wage compensation report from 2018 to figure out pay increases for each classification. That report included job descriptions for each class. The work my sister was doing then is totally different than now. No one, not just her, was able to look at the old job descriptions and point out the extra things they are doing now that they were not doing four years ago.

      She does have support from people higher up but it’s insane how complicated it is. After months and months of going back and forth to get her reclassified, the latest angle they are trying is to do is redefine her job or possibly create a new job in the higher classification that includes all her graphic design duties.

      And there is NOTHING the union has been able to help do through this all. The only benefit in the collective bargaining agreement that I don’t get at a private employer is COLA, which is over 8% this year.

      Her 10 year anniversary is in a few months and that’s a big milestone for when state pensions are vested. Unless there is some miracle, she’ll be looking for another job after that happens.

  10. Academic Librarian too*

    In a previous position of one-year contracts and under paid salaries, I became one of the union negotiating reps for my department. I did this for 6 years. It was a part-time volunteer job and extremely stressful. The first negotiating contract I did was not only a nightmare but because of the contract language when it was ratified (specified faculty, did not include librarians even though I expressed the need for librarians to be named as covered by the increase language, the union lawyer asked “do you teach?” I said yes, he said “if it walks like a duck, its a duck, don’t worry about it.) No we did not get the step schedule increases, and yes, I was serious pain in the A at for the next two years as well as well as in the next contract negotiations.
    Takeaway- be prepared for adversarial behavior by administration.

    1. Migraine Month*

      The adversarial behavior by the administration always confuses me. As an example, the management keeps trying different ways to prevent the union* from using our work emails to contact members. In practice, this means that every 6 months or so I write an email to management in support of the union, pointing out that the emails from the union are much less distracting or time consuming than management’s shenanigans.

      *Technically no longer a union, as those were banned by the state for my sector.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This might be found in the union contract where the union cannot use company equipment for its needs.

        Odd things get written into contracts. If I wanted to talk to a union rep, I had to go outside of the building and I was allowed exactly 10 minutes. Anything inside the building and/or longer than 10 minutes was a violation of contract.

        A friend was trying to unionize. He accidently used company email. He was fired immediately. He had been with Big Company for decades.

  11. cityMouse*

    I’ve worked in a performing arts trades union for almost 30 yrs. I’ve been served well by being in a union. I like that there are voted on, written processes for all situations, and if something isn’t covered, you can propose an amendment or addition. If in doubt, I read the contract, I read the constitution & bylaws, and if I am still in doubt, reach out to the shop steward, or member at large. Prior to joining this union, I worked contract work, and it’s a far better thing to be represented by a union. I’ve never had a grievance progress beyond a verbal stage. To me this is a win.

    I feel supported knowing I have a membership behind me, that we work under a collective agreement, that an employer cannot arbitrarily decide they don’t “like” someone, or don’t “feel like” paying overtime, or that they deem you unqualified for a position.

    1. cityMouse*

      Alison speaks to specifics: I have experienced harassment, and the union has stepped in and put an end to it. I have been discriminated against, and been represented. I’ve had employers insist I am not qualified, and the union has proven I am. I will note I am a BIPOC female in what used to be a male-dominated industry. I would never have stuck it out were it not for the union. I have also seen my union local evolve and grow. There is much power in a union.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        Great stuff and I agree 1000%. Having rights in the workplace is worth nothing if you have no power to enforce them, a union gives you that power.

  12. After 33 years ...*

    We’ve had a faculty union here for 33 years, and lecturers’ and teaching assistants’ unions for shorter periods. Almost all of our staff are also in one or another union. When I agreed to come for this position, there was no faculty union – it formed between my acceptance and my arrival on site, so I had no vote in its establishment.
    In all of the below, YMMV. I’m writing as a senior academic, about unions in academia only, initially skeptical but now generally supportive.
    Although there is some loss of autonomy and personal choice, overall the effects are positive. Those who like to negotiate personally (as some commentators do) may disagree, but I find it more equitable to have conditions defined identically for all doing the same job. We have a contract, which anyone can refer to, so that limits the scope for personal interpretation and capricious application. It depends what relative values you place on flexibility and established procedures for all.
    I have not found that it influences my research or teaching productivity at all. Most of the time, I’m driven by my own “internal demons”, so I don’t worry too much about whether someone with the same seniority and same salary might be doing less work than I am. The suggestion that unionization must result in diminished productivity is not something that has played out here.
    Establishment of each successive union – faculty, lecturers, grad student assistants – was preceded by much discussion about the potential for divisiveness and undue bureaucracy. In each case, that really did not happen.
    I’m not involved in union leadership or politics at all. There are times when I disagree with a position arrived at through collective discussion, but those disagreements have always remained respectful. Winning every bargaining point, in any situation, isn’t something I anticipate. I do always have the options of raising my concerns.
    Happy to engage further ….

  13. J!*

    Not having to play the negotiation game when getting a position at an organization that has a union is a HUGE benefit. Yes, there’s some wiggle room on what grade or step you might start on given your experience but usually they post exactly what position level they’re looking for and how much that makes. Or you can ask about it. You don’t have to play guessing games about how much they’re willing to spend and what you need to ask for. It’s great.

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      Seconding this. The pay transparency is great. I loved not only knowing exactly what I would be paid before I applied, but knowing exactly what my raises would be for the next 5 years. Dental and vision insurance don’t kick in until one year of service, but once they do the premium is fully employer paid. We also have education benefits and considering I work with sensitive information, it’s reassuring to know I’ll have someone to help defend me if I ever make a mistake.

  14. Oxford Comma*

    In my current job (academia), we are unionized. I find it helps to pay attention to contract negotiation and to attend listening sessions because not a lot of people here go and when they’re asking what to include in the negotiations, I have more of a chance of being heard. The contracts occasionally suck and then you’re basically stuck till they get renewed.

    We have a union lawyer who has been very handy to consult. Half the crap my university wants to pull gets stopped by the union and for that I am very grateful.

  15. AverageBear*

    I was at a university as a grad student, and both TAs and lectureres had unions. I wasnt super involved in organizing, but i was always grateful to have amazing healthcare (as a grad student!) And to have our pay as TAs keep up with costs. Academia is such a precarious field for anyone who is not a tenured professor, i know the union was a big reason why grad students and lecturers were at least able to stay afloat . I was a sociology student , so the culture of the faculty in my department was neutral towards unions.
    However, i remember one year, the research assistants tried to unionize, and things got bad: i think one of the lead students (not a sociology student. Maybe a bench science or one of those) behind it got kicked out, and there was a big fight across the university. So i am under no illusion that not everyone looked kindly to unions.

  16. DivineMissL*

    I work in a government agency. Our employees are about 2/3 in various unions, 1/3 non-union (including me). The non-union employees are pretty much treated the same as union folks, including the same meager across-the-board annual increase; and of course the non-union employees do not have any representation in case of any type of grievance. There is no consequence for poor work ethic and no reward for a good work ethic; there are no merit increases at all and little to no other recognition for hard work. This is explained as a way to be “fair” to everyone.

    I agree that the collective bargaining agreements do offer employees important labor protections, but I also think they can stunt employee morale and growth.

    1. Mid*

      That sounds like a workplace issue rather than a union issue, since, as you said, 1/3 of the employees including yourself aren’t in the union. The union isn’t stopping merit increases or rewards for good work ethic. The union I was in rewarded people being cross-trained in different departments. There was a way to get bonuses for going above and beyond (and the way to qualify was clearly laid out and didn’t rely on favoritism.) You can get extra PTO as well as an incentive for hard work. Seniority is done by hours worked, so someone working extra hours can increase their pay quicker and increase their seniority for things like booking PTO, picking what shifts you want, etc. Education and training could also increase your seniority and therefore your pay.

      On the other hand, my non-union job only offered raises when the state minimum wage increased, there was no clear way to increase your seniority (it was theoretically by years worked, but the manager could interpret that how they felt, and so working full time for 5 years sometimes didn’t mean you qualified for the 5 year pay increase because of some magical secret math they could do), no reward for learning how to work in other departments, no recourse if your manager cut your hours down to nothing without warning, no way to get benefits if you worked less than 38 hours a week at any point in the last 6 months (and somehow you would always have one week where you were scheduled for 12 hours every few months.)

      1. Mid*

        Also I skipped over the government part–I feel like that might be the bigger issue rather than the union. While not every government agency is truly like this, the stereotypes of government workers doing the bare minimum and there being no reward for hard work came from somewhere. The added complications from being taxpayer funded seem to be the biggest issue.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Nah, this isn’t just a government issue. We have a local non-governmental organization that’s made the press a lot for its union filing grievances to have underperforming staff rehired and given backpay. One was involved in a fatal accident on the job. The organization is trying to do things like allocate OT more fairly across the staff and create performance-based incentive programs, but the union blocks them at every turn and threatens shutdowns. A poorly run union can be just as bad as a poorly managed organization.

          To be clear, I do not think unions are bad, I just think that this one in particular is giving them a real black eye.

          My husband also works for the federal government. He was in their union for a while but decided not to renew after two unsuccessful attempts to secure their support in workplace issues (one related to a coworker who had a white supremacist tattoo visible on his forearm and was noticeably unprofessional with his female and non-white coworkers). His take is that the union and federal government protections aren’t that dissimilar and that, whenever team he’s worked on has tried to leverage performance management tools to deal with those who are not doing their job well (which are more rigid and formal than the private sector), the union has stepped in to protect the person doing less than the bare minimum.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Experienced here. A toxic employer plus a toxic union is unbearable. When our little union merged with a much bigger union, I saw and heard things that led me to believe I should be concerned for my safety– with the threats and all the lying that went on.

            BTW, that bigger union also went into colleges and hospitals in my area. The union dues were a day’s pay each month when I was in the union. This is not an unknown union.

            When I left for the price of several hundred dollars I was allowed to keep my membership open should I ever get another union job. This supposedly would save me “fees” at the new job.

      2. Siege*

        Yep. I work for a union hit hard by Janus (public employee unions) and let me tell you … if you opt out of the union, you’re still in the bargaining unit, you just get no say (which is fair, because you’re not paying dues). But the employer has neither motivation nor ability to treat non-unionized folks differently regarding pay and benefits, since those are set at the state level anyway, so the “advantage” to being a bargaining-unit member rather than a union member is that you don’t pay dues, you get the same poor pay (this is an issue we’ve been working on for five years and we’ve seen some good gains but not enough) and you’re not bound by the disciplinary protections or other CBA elements. Personally, the dues are worth it to me to know I can’t be fired without a process.

        1. Siege*

          Edit: I may have misspoken (I do comms not direct organizing, so the CBAs are not my jam.) It looks like the CBA does cover non-members, which makes more sense since the goal of Janus/the Powell memo is to end unions. But the state does mandate the pay, and you won’t be on a bargaining team, so there’s a lot of difference in what you get.

          1. MentalEngineer*

            The CBA will apply to non-members in states like yours, but the union has no legal duty to represent them in contract enforcement. (To an extent, the union has a legal/fiduciary duty to NOT represent non-members, because if you take some of their cases then you have to take all of them.) In practice this means non-members don’t have access to the grievance process because very few can competently handle their own case or afford to hire their own lawyer.

            1. Tremu*

              In a right-to-work state and under Janus, unions must represent non members exactly the same as members.

              Is this a fiduciary problem for unions? Yes it is! It’s a bullshit legal framework but it is the law.

    2. Lydia*

      That sounds like management who sucks and has used the union as a scapegoat to continue their bad management. I mean, if your management treats everyone, union and non-union, the same, I suppose that’s fair in the most basic definition of the word, but they can at least aim to treat everyone equitably and well.

      1. Management drone*

        Well that depends. I was managing a union employee who I inherited when I took the position.
        I believe in unions. Really.

        When I say I have physical evidence- emails etc that she had done almost no work the previous two years, mismanaged (documentable) people who reported to her, AND was a compulsive liar (for big and small issues including the most absurd– informing an outside patron in an email that she didn’t have a phone therefore could not receive a phone call.
        After six months I was allowed to start. the union mandated disciplinary process.
        The PIP was a part- time job on top of my own very demanding role.
        It took a year and half of union represented meetings, four rounds of performance improvement plans, 3 grievances filed against me personally to finally let her go.
        The absurdity of looking the union reps in the eye and reading statement after statement and defending my own management practice felt insane.
        I am not sure I would do it again.
        I was advised by a friend in the federal government to give her make-work projects and park her in a cube far away.

        1. Management drone*

          the documentation was a part time job. Daily extemporaneous notes. Documenting ever coaching meeting. Every assignment. every improvement opportunity. Meeting after meeting. Documenting those. And a two month documenting the period of improvement.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          That’s insane. I work in the private sector, and our HR process has a lot of checks to verify that terminations are justified and that efforts have been made to provide training and time to improve and each decision is reviewed by an employment lawyer. With few exceptions (like the one I’m in documentation hell with right now because there is no way they’re not going to sue post-term), it’s a 30- to 120-day process, depending on how bad the situation is.

  17. Dr. Prepper*

    I also have worked with unions, contracts and negotiations for decades in healthcare, mainly in the support groups. Without fail, the biggest issue is no matter how egregious the issue, whether no-show/late-show, theft, frank insubordination and overall incompetence, it is simply impossible to terminate a union employee and the unions will force the company to just “reassign” the offending employee or else – surprise! – they are going to strike.

    The worst are the teacher’s unions – with my wife as a SO, I’ve heard all the storied. In Chicago, there was a 4 week strike where the unions would not budge in negotiations. The issue? The principals wanted the right to refuse admittance of a “teacher” assigned to their school if that individual was “deadwood” – aka incompetent, virtually illiterate and had been shuffled from school to school for years if not decades due to their unsuitability to teach. The union did not even deny the incompetence of these individuals, but stated that because they were long-term union employees that’s all that mattered and they were “owed” a teaching gig, and the union would decide where that individual ended up. The principals finally caved due to parent pressure of their kids not being in school for a month.

    1. dawbs*

      See, I’ve worked within unions in education and while I have seen unions protect some crappy things, I’ve also seen crappy management be the ENTIRE reason.

      I have witnessed the union rep explain to the manager/supervisor that the employee will have x consequence with this write up, and Y consequence if there is a paper trail of this ineptitude for 6 months. I’ve seen the union rep all but beg the manager to create the paper trail…and I’ve seen no consequences to the employee because the paper trail is never created.

      I know that’s not universal, but I’ve seen it more times than I have fingers.

      1. Zach*

        While I’m not in a union myself, I *do* have a reply for anyone who’s concerned about “if you have a union even awful employees won’t get fired” claims.

        I have a friend who works for SEIU as a union organizer and I’ve talked to him about this very thing before. If you work with an awful employee who seemingly can’t get fired, it’s 100% management’s fault. Unions don’t like terrible employees either, but for a firing there needs to be documentation. Union reps explain this to management and apparently management regularly ignores them, doesn’t provide documentation, and then gets mad about how they can’t fire [x] employee. He said this is one of the most frustrating things he deals with at his job.

        So yeah, just know that if you hear stories of someone who should be fired not being fired “because they’re in a union”, it’s actually likely that management also isn’t doing *their* job or that person would probably be gone.

        1. Zach*

          I actually didn’t mean to post this as a reply, but it looks like I posted it as a reply in a relevant comment!

        2. Siege*

          THIS THIS THIS. We don’t LIKE bad employees! But if you give your crappy employee glowing reviews for years because they annoy the faculty head of the department who you’re feuding with, that employee cannot be fired because their manager didn’t follow the contractually-mandated process to terminate an employee. It is absolutely not our fault if the manager is too lazy or too vindictive to do that; all we require is fair treatment and following the defined process for disciplinary action, not keeping an employee on who is bad at their job. We WANT you to get rid of bad employees! Fairly!

          And yet we’re blamed for it every single time. EVERYONE who has a supervisor can be fired. It’s not our fault if you have a lazy manager who just wants to fire people rather than proving that they need to be fired.

          1. bamcheeks*

            My dad was a union rep for decades, and says they practically always won tribunals / grievances not because the plaintiff had a good case, but because HR *could not* follow their own guidance. Whether he believed the person deserved to be fired or not tended to be irrelevant: nearly every case was won on, “You had to respond within 60 days, you responded after 121 days” or “but you haven’t got documented evidence of that.”

            1. Lydia*

              This right here. Chances are pretty good this manager wouldn’t be able to follow any process for firing someone, union or not. Don’t blame the union because a manager can’t follow a pretty clear process.

        3. publicsectorprincess*

          I am in a local government union.
          It is not the union’s fault that they keep problem employees (in my particular union/job), instead the union serves as management’s excuse for not actively managing problems. Management 100% acts like terminating employees is impossible because “union”. The actual truth has been that they do not adequately document issues with employees, or in one egregious case they had tons of great documentation, but took back an employee with a multitude of issues, because they didn’t want to follow a process that would have borne out in their favor.

          1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

            Also local government and we have the “no one ever gets fired so we have loads of shit employees” issue and we aren’t even unionized. It’s a management issue that, as far as I can tell, is endemic in government work at least.

        4. Solidarity*

          On the personal experience end (working in a large union’s in-house legal department) can confirm that Dr. Prepper’s statement about it being “impossible” to fire a union employee is untrue. “Impossible to fire” = management is incompetent and/or unwilling to follow the procedures established to get rid of bad employees. OF COURSE you can’t fire employees when the process of implementing PIPs and firing them is plagued by favoritism, discrimination, or a lack of documentation!

          Unions have a legal duty of fair representation to their members – that means they are supposed to zealously advocate for members. But they aren’t required to fight to the death or to push to reinstate employees who are egregiously in the wrong. When an employer has its act together and follows the procedures in the CBA to document and discipline the employee, the union may grieve, but it’s not going to be able to force the employer to retain or forgive a bad employee.

          The union I worked at represented employees of Very Large Companies that had a long history of unionization. Those VLCs were very, very good at documenting and following the CBA procedures, so 99% of the time, the union would initially grieve the firing, but it would stick if there was good cause for it.

          (Then, of course, the worst of these employees would sue both VLC and the union for not getting their job back. This was annoying, but nobody was particularly afraid of the guy who was mad that he got the boot for stealing inventory.)

      2. Jules*

        Union lawyer here. Believe me, employers fire many union-represented employees, including teachers. I deal with such terminations on a daily basis. Sometimes the employer cannot prove there was just cause for the discharge and the employee is reinstated through the contractual grievance process; often, as dawbs points out, management could have shown just cause if it had enforced its policies and used progressive discipline and other corrective action earlier, but it did not do so. Sometimes an arbitrator or other decision-maker agrees with the employer and upholds the discharge. And many, many times the union will conclude that it cannot prevail if it disputes a discharge through the grievance process and it does not proceed with the cse.

        The difference for union-represented workers from non-union employees is that they have a formal means to dispute their terminations and the opportunity to have a neutral third party rule on the question.

        1. MentalEngineer*

          Yup. Education union staffer. Every person I’ve seen come through our office in the last year who was facing job loss lost their job. Most of them deserved it. Some of them got a contract buyout instead of a termination because management didn’t want to follow the contract they allegedly read before signing. But nobody with documented, real performance issues that weren’t just the principal blowing smoke kept their job.

        2. Fed-o*

          As a manager in a union environment, this tracks with my experience. We’ve removed BUEs. We just had to have very sharp, above-board management practices and documentation to do it. That’s a reasonable expectation of management!

    2. Lizzo*

      Very curious to know when this 4 week Chicago teacher strike took place, and some sources for this particular “issue” you describe.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, there was a 2-week strike in 2019, and a 5-day strike earlier this year, but I can’t remember any 4-week strikes in the ~17 years I’ve lived around here … and Wikipedia certainly doesn’t list any that were that long.

        1. itsame*

          I also don’t remember any four week strike with CTU. The latest strike happened because teachers wanted increased covid protections, which, when I read a description of the protections they were asking for, felt incredibly fair to me.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        I just did a very cursory search for “chicago 4 week teachers strike” and the first two entries are an article about an 11-day strike from October 2019 and an article about a 4-week strike from October 1987.

        1. Lizzo*

          Thank you – I was more interested in Dr. Prepper backing up their post with facts, since I (20 year resident of the Windy City) had not heard about a strike matching this description + I know CPS teachers, as well as teachers’ union employees, and know them to be very reasonable people and professionals. Every strike that has occurred in the time I’ve been here has been for very good reasons.

    3. Kassie*

      Unions can’t just go on strike. That’s not how it works in the US, especially not teachers unions. Strikes are reserved for when a deal cannot be reached on a contract, not because the union doesn’t like the outcome of a disciplinary action. The union can file a grievance and possibly take it to binding arbitration, but they can’t just strike.

      1. Lew*

        I was going to reply exactly that. Unions don’t just strike at the drop of a hat, there are rules about that as well and they are very careful to not break contracts because contracts are kinda the whole point? When you see people striking it’s because a contract ran out.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          My teachers union did contemplate an illegal strike when the government tried to pass a series of laws that effectively re-wrote our contract between negotiations. It wasn’t a quick thing, though. We had to have a strike vote and give the government a chance to respond, which they did by dropping the most egregious laws (win!) and raising the penalties for illegal job action to the point that it would bankrupt the union in days (loose!). The strike never materialized.

    4. anon teacher*

      My experience with teachers’ unions has been very different from yours; I’ve never seen or heard of the union protecting incompetent teachers. On the other hand, I can think several cases just off the top of my head where the teacher was kept around because of poor management. In most of those cases, the manager needed to either provide intensive coaching & support OR document the teacher’s poor performance in order to provide grounds for non-renewal, and they just…didn’t do those things? And sure, the union contract is what makes it necessary to provide that kind of documentation before firing someone, but I don’t think the union is actually to blame for administrators not doing their jobs.

      There was also at least one situation where an administrator was actively ignoring staff & student complaints and shielding an egregiously incompetent teacher from disciplinary action. In that case, the union was instrumental in getting the teacher out of the classroom.

      I don’t doubt that the scenario you describe has happened in other districts, but I’ve never seen it in my 10+ years teaching in public schools.

      1. Siege*

        I work for a teacher’s union and was an adjunct previously, and the EXACT situation in your first paragraph played out in my (very small) department; it was infuriating. Utterly infuriating. The union WANTED to fire the teacher the Dean was protecting so he could feud with the department head (the Dean threw a chair at his staff once, he was not a person of good judgment or ability) and it was just infuriating.

        Strangely, once the head retired the bad teacher was gone within six months.

    5. New Jack Karyn*

      It is not impossible to fire a union employee. It takes the will and effort to document the behavior.

      Of course the union did not take a stand on whether any individual teacher is suitable to teach. That’s not their job, and they might even get in trouble for doing so. Their job is to make certain the contract is followed. You allow principals to blackball teachers, then some will use that power to get rid of ones they find . . . inconvenient, for whatever reason–regardless of their suitability for teaching.

      1. Mid*

        And even though the documentation requirement might mean it takes slightly longer for someone to be removed from their position, I’d rather have that requirement than not. I was harassed by a manager who found out I was LGBTQ+ while I was a teen, and who suddenly kept finding reasons to write me up (because they didn’t have firing authority, thankfully), for things that weren’t actually against policy, or were but no one else was getting write ups for the same behavior. At one point, they blocked me from leaving the break room to “discuss work issues” which prevented me from clocking in on time, which was a write up. I didn’t know then that I had rights and should have involved someone higher up, so I ended up just leaving the job. If they had their way, they would have fired me immediately once they found out I was “sinful” and that would have been that.

        If someone is truly a bad employee, then writing them up shouldn’t be difficult.

    6. Tremu*

      Unions, being organizations made of people, have a lot of flaws. They’re also all different. A union can ask for, push for, and hold fast on the principle that nobody ever gets fired, and if they have enough power and that’s what the membership wants, they might get it. (see for example police unions). But whether unions use job security as a bargaining issue is a matter of choice by the union & membership. I belong to a building trades union and we don’t have any job security protection whatsoever. You could file a grievance for being fired for an EEOC violations- that is, you were fired for being a woman (very common) or not white (also quite common), and the union will represent you in that grievance, but if you’re fired on your first day before lunch because you didn’t get back from break fast enough, there is no grievance to file in my union. On the other hand, if there’s no water in the lunch shack, the union will help you push the employer on that.

      Point being I believe that some unions defend members against firing at all costs, but for the OP looking for advice- you can shape what your union organizes around, and if job protection is a strong theme, think about how that might play out with protection of people who are doing an actual crappy job, and use your voice in your group to shape that policy.

  18. Panda*

    My grandfather formed the police and fire unions in his town and was very pro union. When my husband joined a union print shop 25 years ago, we thought it would be great. It was not. The union wanted the money from his paycheck, but did not do anything or help him with any issues at the shop. The union rep was also the shop manager and buddy buddy with the owner so there seemed to be a clear conflict of interest. It ended up just being a waste of $$.

    1. Ariaflame*

      Sounds like that union needed a change of leadership. It does sound like a conflict of interest there.

    2. O_O*

      Typically supervisors are not part of the bargaining unit for people they supervise, so I’m wondering if it was an informal role based on him being friends with the owner? Regardless, union leadership is typically elected so it sounds like something the members needed to make a change about if they were unhappy.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Members who feel dis-empowered don’t go to meetings and don’t vote. When our little union merged with much bigger union, the newspaper headlines screamed, “New union voted in by a landslide.”
        Out of 350 people, 28 voted. Four people voted against it, 24 voted in favor. The landslide was 24 people. The saying was that there was no point in voting or in voting against it because the union was coming in anyway.
        The news article never explained how many people voted.

        This is when my husband explained something to me. His degree was in labor relations and union arbitration.
        He said that the head union person HAS to tell the union to vote in favor of the new union. The head person has no choice and it is a requirement by law.

        Must be true. I found out later that the head union person voted against the merger. He was required to tell us it was a dandy thing and we should do it.

  19. irene adler*

    My sister belonged to a union. They defended her when hospital management tried to force her, against doctor’s written orders, to work varied shifts. Her medical situation required her to work a regular schedule and not work different shifts each week.
    Management tried to ignore the doctor’s note. Sister went to union. They insisted that the doctor’s orders be followed. Problem solved.
    Glad the union was there for her!

  20. Legal Rugby*

    I worked in higher ed, in a role that was classified as administration, according to he faculty union. I think the biggest things that frustrated me was 1) when union members acted like the union was an amorphous blob that they couldn’t control. People seemed to forget that they WERE the union – we tried to put a policy in place that said teachers could not sleep with undergrads unless there was a preexisting relationship – and the union official position was that it was unfair restrictions; but the faculty that weren’t the union reps fighting it – all complained about the union fighting it. 2) when the union tried to negotiate lighter penalties for their members, or to internalize investigative processes. I over saw the sexual harassment process, and to be found responsible, the person would have been the subject of a very pricey, very thorough investigation, and a hearing. If the sanction imposed was firing, a non union member was gone. If it was a union member, the contract allowed the union to re-investigate the same thing. I fought this tooth and nail to ensure that I didn’t have to put a student through two hearings – but it didn’t matter in the end, because all three professors that were found responsible of sexual harassment resigned when they realized I would have to turn the reports over to the union – their peers – to further investigate. Think these things through before you negotiate for them. and 3) Don’t forget the other folks, who may not be able to unionize. If the maintenance staff is making 7.15 an hour, it might be worth it to remember to fight for them, even if they arent part of you.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      – tried to put a policy in place that said teachers could not sleep with undergrads
      – the union official position was that it was unfair restrictions


      No, really, WTF, in what universe is that an ‘unfair restriction’

      1. urguncle*

        A top US university won’t allow a non-affiliated mediator in sexual harassment mediation for student workers. My partner is a PhD candidate and I’m consistently shocked at what universities and tenured professors think is appropriate behavior.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        If the policy was blanket–all professors, all undergrads–then I can see the argument. If a student is not in a professor’s class, and is extremely unlikely to be, then it doesn’t particularly matter (so long as the student is of legal age).

        A senior who’s majoring in biology is unlikely to take a freshman comp course, for example.

        1. metadata minion*

          There is still a huge power differential between an undergraduate student (at least, one of typical undergraduate age; it’s less of a problem if you’re going back to get your BA at 40) and a faculty member.
          Blanket rules forbidding faculty and staff from relationships with undergrads are pretty common, for excellent reasons.

          1. MissElizaTudor*

            My impression is that total bans on all relationships between faculty and students are the minority, and most places specifically prohibit them when there’s a teacher/student or manager/worker type relationship.

        2. deesse877*

          I don’t know what the actual proportions are, but the trend is for the more-restrictive policy–absolutely no student sex for any employee. This reflects liability concerns and shifting mores, but in my experience it is also practical–because with a looser standard the sort of person who preys on students will just craft some plausible deniability (for example, hitting on the students in an extracurricular attached to the major, who just happen not to be in THEIR section of 101). Do not underestimate the extent to which young people, mostly but not exclusively young women, are openly targeted by faculty who think they’re invulnerable.

        3. Clobberin' Time*

          A senior who is majoring in biology is very likely to have taken a freshman comp class. Especially given that college students change majors, and that colleges often have policies requiring students to be ‘well rounded’ such that science majors still have to take a number of liberal arts credits.

          A policy allowing professors to decide which students to hit on based on the professor’s subjective prediction of whether it’s “unlikely” they will have an actual conflict is stupid and unworkable. It really, really is not that onerous to have a blanket ban on professors macking on undergrads.

        4. Warrior Princess Xena*

          Even if a student isn’t in a professor’s class, there’s still a significant power differential between professor and student unless they’re on wildly different tracks, AND there’s likely to be a massive age differential as well. I’m sure there’s some situations where it works but having a ‘no sexual contact’ policy does not strike me as being overwhelmingly restrictive.

        5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          The only need for a carve-out I can see is the one for certain types of pre-existing relationships, to allow things like Biology-Professor-Been-There-Forever’s husband of 40 years to take classes now that he’s retired from his day job and wants to pick up a bachelor’s degree in philosophy using the professor’s family tuition benefits. This is usually an easy kind of carve-out to get everyone to agree on, although the specific edge cases can get tricky.

      3. MentalEngineer*

        The charitable interpretation is that if you’re a faculty member of a certain age, you have a colleague who married an undergrad and it’s going fine. And there are cases where students manufacture accusations (I’ve seen some). When those are your paradigm cases and you weren’t educated on power dynamics, you have a different idea of what you’re protecting than you do when you’re a young faculty member whose paradigm case is a classmate being run out of your program for standing up to a serial harasser.

        To be clear, I don’t endorse that interpretation. At my university, this was a major point of conflict between the faculty union leadership (mostly older) and the younger rank and file, as well as the graduate worker’s union (which I was heavily involved in). It took a truly awful case of abuse becoming public and some veteran faculty speaking out to start things moving, which is terrible, not surprising, and more terrible for not being surprising.

        1. Clobberin' Time*

          I think you’re being charitable. For faculty members of a certain age, being able to hit on and sleep with much younger students was, until recent years, seen as an unspoken entitlement of the job.

  21. H. Landry*

    Had a contract dispute with a boss who dragged their heels rectifying the low ball mistake. After 8 weeks of waiting I told them I was going to contact the union attorney, the problem was fixed within 3 business days. Even in a right-to-work state, belonging to a union is still regarded.

  22. Ben Wyatt*

    I work for the federal government so my experience with unions may be skewed. First and foremost, I believe in unions and I feel more secure and protected in my job because I know I have a union backing me up. I appreciate everything unions have done and continue to do for workers.

    That said, a union is only as good as its leadership and that’s where the struggle is at my agency. We have poor union leadership that don’t push back enough. As a friend told me, our union is very good at making it sound like they’re going to do something, but nothing ever happens.

    So make sure you have strong leaders, representatives, stewards, etc. That aren’t afraid to stand up to leadership. It makes all the difference in the world.

    1. Aggresuko*

      Yeah, absolutely shitty leadership at my union is my problem (see previous post). I had a friend who used to be really “go union” and kept trying to talk me into participating in it, and she got fed up and gave up on that.

    2. ScruffyInternHerder*

      This is everything, simplified.

      Good leadership is needed; vote accordingly.

      (Experience: lots of time in the field spent with skilled trade union members, though not a member of the union myself. I’m on the design and management side of the equation, so it doesn’t apply in my very particular world.)

    3. O_O*

      I mean. If you think your leadership is bad then you should get more involved and run yourself or recruit someone you think would be better, or work to turn out the vote for the person you think is better in your internal election.

      You get out what you put in.

      1. Anon4this*

        This is my big worry about joining a union myself. I’m pro-union in theory. But if my local has crap leadership, or bargains for things that I don’t want or are bad for me… I don’t want to be dragged into stuff I don’t support, or having to change a whole group direction. That’s a high-stress fulltime job in itself and I ain’t even get paid for it, I have to pay them my dues. All that besides any resistance from executive management.

    4. Caraway*

      This is 100% it. I’m a former union member, and the difference between good leadership and bad leadership, between leadership that fights for members while still maintaining a collaborative relationship with administration and one that doesn’t, is night and day. And yes, sometimes the solution to bad leadership is to step up yourself. I became our union’s vice president and was a member of the negotiating committee twice, and I often wished that members who complained about the union would have stepped up as well. New perspectives are always helpful, and I think it would have been eye-opening for them to see the constraints we were sometimes under as well.

  23. This-is-a-name-I-guess*

    I have experience with a failed grad student union at a public R1 landgrant university. It was 2011-12, which wasn’t a particularly great time for unions (Scott Walker was ascendant). The union push failed, primarily thanks to grad students in STEM departments, who voted against it. Most PhD students in our College of Science and Engineering have just as bad of funding (in terms of both money and security) as students in the humanities/social sciences. Also, many PhD students in STEM must rely more heavily on their PI/advisor to allow them to graduate than humanities students, and it’s not uncommon for a jerk advisor to block students from graduating for years to keep them working in their lab at poverty level wages. (In dissertation-based PhD programs, your advisor can fuck you over, but there are ways of getting around an advisor-based bottleneck when you are creating the research on your own. Dissertation-based PhD students usually work as teaching or research assistants to fund their degrees, which is labor not closely tied to one’s own research. This is inefficient, which makes it hard to finish quickly, but there’s less a conflict of interest. In lab-based PhD programs, you publish papers with your advisor and sometimes on your own – with your advisor taking credit often – and they get to decided when you’ve learned enough in their lab to qualify to graduate with your PhD. Lab-based PhD students fund their degree by providing very cheap labor for their advisor’s lab, so there’s definitely a conflict of interest for the PI/advisor: lose a very skilled, very cheap lab technician you trained yourself over many years or delay their graduate.)

    However, unlike in the humanities and social sciences where there are mostly only PhD students and there are very few, the majority of STEM grad students are Master’s students. They often came from industry, still work part-time in industry (and get tuition reimbursement), and most will get paid beaucoup bucks when they graduate. STEM Master’s students tend to be male and tend to have a more pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-learn-to-code libertarian ideology. They voted against the union for ideological reasons and for selfish reasons (2 years of MS coursework and tuition doesn’t require union protections, but everyone getting a PhD would have benefited).

    It seems like you all WORK full-time (not temporarily) in academia, so it might go better. But, it was really dispiriting for everyone else.

    Unions in universities are really useful, honestly, because there are so many stakeholders at the top of the university and so many disparate groups. I’d suggest rocking the boat. Administration is not your friend.

    1. dtaup*

      This is helpful and intetesting. i know it’s late in thr day, but if you ever come back to this, can you tell me your thougjt on reaching STEM postdocs and lecturers? i organize at an R1, we are already unionized as a faculty (separate union for grad students) but have poor penetration in lab sciences. what would make someone even listen to my pitch? i think my ignorance is a huge barrier in itself, but i also dont know where to start.

      1. This-is-a-name-I-guess*

        Unsure! My partner just finished her BS/MS in Engineering (same uni), and it seems like her post-docs are all foreign. That would make me a little wary of unionizing them without really talking to them about how much they know about unions and their feelings about their jobs. There’s just too many variables! 1) Post-docs are transitory anyway, so they might not want to engage! 2) lecturers often work in industry as their main jobs, so they don’t identify as deeply with their teaching work; 3) I’m unsure of how the cultures of the countries where STEM postdocs tend to come from would feel about the US iteration of labor unions generally; 4) if you come from a lower-income country and manage to get a STEM PhD in the US, you’re often from considerable means and have a lot of traditional power of your home country, which might make you a little more anti-union. Of course, if people come from countries without good labor protections, they might be more in favor of unions. Or, if people are from, say, Germany, they might be very pro-union because of the comparative lack of protections in American culture.

        You would have to really wage a pro-active information campaign to penetrate, I think. The lab sciences can be very siloed.

  24. Aggresuko*

    My union is That Famous Union You’ve Heard Of, which you are by default entered in when you get a job here. I like the “every few years they negotiate cost of living” thing, but they have been shitty to me, personally. They blocked my trying to get a promotion to a different level and ignored my supervisor’s request to have me bumped up in any way. And the one time someone was trying to get me fired, my boss recommended I call the union and the union rep lady was literally my best friend on the phone for an hour and then totally dumped me and never talked to me again (didn’t even tell me she wasn’t going to show up). Literally the only way I got any help was because I knew a lady on my own who turned out to be a shop steward and she came in for me.

    Another coworker of mine got fired years ago–I honestly don’t know if it was for genuine cause or that she had a personality conflict with the manager or both–but she really engaged with the union and the boss did various tactics to screw over that situation as well.

    I want to be all “yay union!” and my friends who dealt with teachers’ unions said they were great, but mine has been SO FUCKING SHITTY to me it’s hard for me to be all “yay union!”

    1. NYWeasel*

      I was in two unions, and both times I found the environment at those jobs was unnecessarily antagonistic between management and union staff. The “stability” was undercut by a constant threat that our work would get moved to a non union location, and on the union side, if I dared to lift a pinky finger outside of my approved motions, my fellow union members would give me grief.

      The worst point was when our local membership took a vote among workers for something that would ask the older members to let go of a tiny portion of their seniority in vacation picks to give younger members a chance to get to take a full week once in a while. The motion passed easily, but as I was leaving the room, the union leaders were talking and said to each other “Who cares what the vote was. We won’t put that BS rule into place!”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I’d like to be all for unions, too. I was until I saw them IRL. The last union (well-known name) scared the daylights out of me. They were scary, nasty people who were just bilking union members for money. I refused to walk a picket line 50 miles away. I got a black mark next to my name for that. Skip the part about no one in my department being able to call in sick because those left behind would be injured. Ignore that and just give me the black mark for saying my job was more important.

      They did send me flyers telling me that they were going to teach me to read. (???)

      I saw things and heard things that left me shaken. I had to leave the company.

  25. Lady_Lessa*

    Several things that you might want to consider about the union.

    Do their political views and spending align with yours?

    Will everyone have to join or pay agency dues to the union? What happens if you vote for the union and it comes in and a new employee doesn’t want to join?

    1. another_scientist*

      Assuming the question asker is in the US, not everyone pays dues in a union, because of a supreme court decision in 2018. Before then, unions in certain states would collect so-called fair-share fees from non-members to cover member services (political spending would only be done using member dues). Now, only the members pay, and non-members enjoy the rewards without contributing.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Presumably the non-members still don’t get to vote or have input on the CBA, and there’s certain benefits (representation etc) that they don’t get? (I was a union member turned fair-share non-member per my anecdote below, but that was before 2018, so I’m legit asking if that part is still how it works now, not being snarky, I promise.)

        1. J!*

          Unions still have a duty of representation for people who are covered under the collective bargaining agreement, even if the person is not a dues paying member.

          1. MentalEngineer*

            I’ve been union staff in two right-to-work states post-Janus and as far as I’ve ever seen this is not correct. If a union in a right-to-work state takes some non-member cases, they may be required to take all of them. But a blanket policy of “we don’t work with non-members unless it’s an infringement of the union’s rights” is fine.

          2. Lydia*

            Yeah, but don’t be a person who benefits from the paying members and not pay any dues.

            1. J!*

              I wasn’t suggesting someone should, I was answering the question about whether it’s required.

        2. another_scientist*

          as far as I know, all covered employees get to vote for a new contract. Also, if a specific individual has a problem or potential grievance, they receive the same advice and advocacy from the union regardless of membership. I would imagine that the biggest difference is felt if a union calls their members to go on strike, which of course the non-members wouldn’t.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Huh, that’s interesting. In the UK you’d get covered by a collective bargaining agreement as a non-member– the union will negotiate terms and conditions for a *role*, not for individual workers who may or may not be members– but you wouldn’t get any representation if you needed to raise a grievance and you wouldn’t usually get formal advice (there are some exceptions to this– for example, there are certain services the BMA makes available to all doctors, regardless of whether or not they are members.)

            1. J!*

              In the US the National Labor Relations Act is the basis of a lot of our union protections, and it gives unions the duty of fair representation for everyone represented under the terms of their collective bargaining agreement. This means that they have to represent grievances and other issues even if a person does not pay dues. Prior to 2018, there was something called “fair share” or “agency fees” where workers in a bargaining unit who didn’t want to be union members could opt to pay a smaller portion than full dues that went to the administrative costs of bargaining and enforcing the contract.

              That was why the Janus case was such a big deal in 2018 because it got rid of fair share for all public employees. People can gain all the benefits from having a union in their workplace without contributing anything to its maintenance. (Unions at private employers can still collect fair share fees if it’s permitted in their charter, but public sector unions have much more coverage than private sectors ones here.)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The union I was in sent out literature that made the reader think the union could see inside the voting booth and know how they voted. ” YOU need to vote for persons A, B and C. And if you don’t we will find out and there will be consequences.”

      Since it was in writing, my knee jerk reaction was to report it to someone who cared. But then I decided I liked breathing better.

  26. IL JimP*

    I was a Teamster for 5 years, our local was small and weak and constantly got rolled by a multinational corporation. I still would never have voted to get rid of it but it wasn’t the strongest union because of it. I would say if you’re joining an existing union group try to join a big local like SEIU so you have been administrative backup and experiences in handling a new or existing union

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Yep. My dad was a Teamster (his union joined in when I was a kid). His benefits were through the union, & we had good healthcare. And he worked 3rd shift, often weekends. Which meant double time.

      A coworker once told him the unions were dead. He responded that, like God, if they didn’t existed, someone would have to invent them.

      The important thing is to be involved. Go to the meetings, read the contacts, vote on the issues. If you can, be a steward. You get out of it what you put into it. And you can get a lot out of it.

  27. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    My union experience was mixed. On the one hand, they laid out in the CBA a specific process I could follow when my job duties had shifted that meant getting reclassified into a new job code that paid better was a pretty easy thing to do. On the other hand, there were at least four times that they held a vote to strike over really stupid things (three of them were the banning of jeans from the dress code, and it was a hospital so 80% of the union staff wore scrubs to work ANYWAY – I don’t remember the fourth one, but it was just as silly to me). None of them passed, though they were all REALLY close, and I was really grossed out by the idea that people who couldn’t afford to be off work (like me :P ) would be obligated against their will to either strike over something they didn’t care about, or else be crossing picket lines. So after the third attempt to strike over jeans, I switched from union member to paying the non-affiliation fee (or whatever you call it, the dues you have to pay to NOT be a union in a union-covered position) and stopped paying attention to what they were doing (which is why I don’t remember what the fourth vote was about, because I couldn’t vote in it anymore).

  28. Commenter*

    My workplace unionized the year I started working there 3 years ago. In the past 3 years, I have gotten a $10,000 followed by another $10,000 raise, plus probably $6000 of bonuses and stipends that the union has negotiated for. We also negotiated to keep our benefits when the organization wanted to reduce them. During COVID before vaccines were available the union negotiated protections and hazard pay for those of us who couldn’t work from home, and negotiated additional accommodations for people who were high-risk or had high-risk family members. I can’t say enough good things about it!

    1. Commenter*

      To add a little more detail, I’m a teacher and it’s a teacher’s union. One thing that I’ve noticed is a little different about our union, since we are small and new, is that it doesn’t include any sort of tenure. All teachers continue to get evaluated (through a process that the union negotiates on) and can be let go if they aren’t doing a good job. I appreciate this because I enjoy working with people who are skilled and dedicated, and I find that the workload is more evenly shared this way. This is the first teaching job where I average only about 45 hours a week. In a previous job with a different union, teachers with tenure would work much less than newer teachers who had a crushing workload.

  29. CW*

    I was part of a union at my local grocery store when I was in college. The union guaranteed a raise every 6 months, healthcare, workers’ rights (including having a strict policy about termination), and a pension. Though I was there for only 2 years until I graduated college, but the protection the union had on the grocery store was really noticeable.

    And no, I wouldn’t have a pension from there because I left, but that is besides the point. And the store has since closed due to slow business (before COVID). Some employees were transferred to other stores in nearby towns.

  30. Also an academic*

    I’m generally pro-union, but had a frustrating experience with the graduate student union when I was a PhD student, which I am sharing in hopes it’s a useful example of what might turn someone off from joining a union. At my university, instructional (TA) positions were covered by the union but research assistant (RA) positions were not. RA positions were more desirable than TA positions (often they just involved work you needed to do regardless in order to publish papers/be able to get a job, whereas the TAships could mean “teach 2 50-student intro sections all by yourself”). At the time, the graduate union was stalled in negotiations, meaning TA salaries were frozen– so RAs got paid more, and the gap was growing because that rate went up every year and TA rates couldn’t until there was a union agreement. The issues that had hit an impasse, as I recall them, were largely around being able to cover dependents on graduate health insurance. Given that I and the vast majority of students in my program had no dependents, this was intensely frustrating, to the point that I was opposed to unionization at a new for many years once I got a faculty job– it felt like the graduate student union was screwing us over in being able to make what we deserved *right now* in service of something that benefitted a very small proportion of graduate students. So, I think being careful to not let perfect be the enemy of good, and making the actual value-add of the union clear to members, is really important.

    1. O_O*

      The NLRB (or state labor board if it’s a public university) makes the determination about who’s eligible to be represented at the time of its founding. Typically the decision is weighted heavily toward the employer, although the organizing committee of the union can object. And then it doesn’t ever change after that unless you’re going to organize the new units and have another election. That situation is not really a fault of “the union,” regardless of what other issues were happening with your employer that stalled negotiations.

      It’s also useful to remember that the university could have stopped the impasse at any time by adding dependents to health insurance. How much was your football coach or basketball coach making? Or the Provost or President of the university? ESPECIALLY if there’s a small number of people with dependents meaning it would be a small amount of $$, it doesn’t really sound like your union was the one that was screwing you.

    2. dtaup*

      dude, this is some sloppy thinking. its not that few grad students have dependents. its that people with dependents cannot afford to live the life of the mind.

  31. Former union employee*

    I was just thinking about this the other day with that question about how their spouse’s travel on short notice is really inconvenient. In a previous job I was a member of a union and we were constantly being sent off on very short notice with the explanation that it was impossible to plan. (It was not an emergency support position.)

    When our next contract was up, we were able to negotiate a clause that if they sent us on an out of town assignment with less than 48 hours we’d get three comp days, less than one week’s notice we’d get 2 comp days, less than two weeks’ notice we’d get 1 comp day. All of a sudden they started giving at least two weeks’ notice for almost all of our assignments. So it WAS possible to plan ahead, but just asking for it nicely didn’t get us what we needed (ability to plan for our lives), we had to fight for it at the bargaining table. And when they couldn’t give us the notice because of course sometimes it’s urgent, we were compensated for our trouble.

    I can see how someone in the travel department or HR or management might not like that and think the union is unreasonable. But for the actual workers doing the work and living that reality, it was a huge non-financial improvement in quality of life that we wouldn’t have gotten without a union.

    1. Karl Havoc*

      This is a great example that could be really useful for others in negotiations, thanks for sharing!

    2. Doreen*

      Something similar happened at my job – non-exempt employees in a certain unit were told they were always on- call and had to answer their phones at anytime , nights, weekends etc. That was magically no longer necessary when a new contract called for standby pay.

  32. Alice*

    I work in a non-union role at a university with two unions that cover various other job categories. I was told (but I don’t know if it’s true) that the university removed our mask requirement “because the union wanted the mask requirement removed.” I thought that unions were supposed to be a force for workplace safety!
    But, like I said, I don’t know if this is actually true or if someone was just trying to deflect responsibility. There have also been cases where leadership said “the union contract prevents X so it can’t happen” and it turned out later that the union contract allowed X and the union leadership and members were in favor of X. Maybe this is another inaccurate deflection….

    1. another Hero*

      My union advocated for staff safety early in covid (public-facing job) and got significant improvements made. That was one time I was really glad to have them.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        Our unions pushed the university to institute and retain mask and vaccination mandates, based on >90% majority opinion.

    2. Union for researchers*

      We constantly get management emails that say “We consulted with the union on this decision” and what they really mean is “We sent an email to the union at the same time that we sent this email, and are describing this as ‘consultation’ despite the fact that we never gave any opportunity for feedback”. It is frustrating! Now I always question when our managers say that something comes from the union because it rarely does.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I worked somewhere that had a union. It wasn’t the best-run union (too cozy with management). And it got scapegoated a lot for unpopular decisions.

        I am still very pro-union. But I recognize that some are run better than others. (Like any other organization.)

    3. another_scientist*

      This is unfortunately one common tactic that one needs to be aware of. My workplace has a number of unionized positions, and I used to be an active member in the postdoc union before I moved into a different job category.
      What I liked about the postdoc contract is that it tried not to get in the way of individual preferences too much, but it made sure there were minimum standards, for example a minimum salary, while saying explicitly that nothing prevents departments from paying above the minimum. You have no idea how many HR and supervisors claim that the union sets the pay. Whether they are misinformed or use it as a convenient excuse is of course hard to pinpoint.
      And when staff recently got a cost-of-living adjustment with lots of generous language about how they want to help folks who are struggling with inflation, HR simply claimed that union represented employees are not eligible to get the adjustment. The good thing is that while these tactics are frustrating in the short run, the collective power (=enough money for a lawyer and to employ people who know the legal rights) often mean that stuff like this can be fixed and there is back pay in the end.

    4. RL*

      Like someone else said above, the people are the Union so it would depend on the people. I work with maintenance and custodial unions in higher ed. One union filed a grievance against me when I disciplined an employee for repeatedly not following a mask mandate. The grievance didn’t have any legs because we were allowed to set health and safety policies as the employer but it still left a sour taste. In that circumstance, the faculty were largely pro-mask but did not have a union. The “union” was anti-mask because the members were.

    5. Mizzmarymack*

      The leader of my division, the one dude who can go to Labor Relations on behalf of management and say “my teapot makers need a raise to be competitive,” instead opens every quarterly Q&A session with a short monologue on how we’re not getting paid fairly becaus our unions aren’t advocating well enough for us,

      Huh? What?

      For our previous 3-year contract we asked for something around a 2.5% raise in year 1, 1.5% in year 2, and 2.5% in year 3. The state countered with 0%, 0%, and 0% plus removing the clause that prevents termination without cause. We voted to NOT accept the state’s offer and went to arbitration. The contract period was over before arbitration ended (and we got 3 years of back raises as one neat lump sum check!) and it was on to the next one.

      My dude, the union could have asked for 5%,or 8% annually – that’s about what private industry was doing at the time – but if the state is gonna counter with 0% no raise, how in the world is it the union’s fault.

      Since it’s the beginning of the quarter, I think I get to sit through it again next week…

  33. Squeakrad*

    All of my union experience has been with institutions of higher education in California. I was the shop Steward and negotiator at my first employer in the 80s, where the staff was shoe horned into a union that really wasn’t appropriate for us. We belonged to a hospital workers union, and their issues were very different from those in a small private university. But we did negotiate job security for employees, as well as some standardization in the language around benefits.

    My most recent experience over the past 10 years for as as a member of two different unions for adjunct instructors. At the private University, the union is pretty toothless, and there is almost no job security, no increase in pay or steps, standardization of policies or anything else. Mostly it’s a very expensive private college, and instructors here seem to feel that they are “above” dealing with issues that unions typically deal with. Every three years our team goes in and gets nothing and in some cases, give back some hard won advantages.

    Part of the problem is that even the larger union that we’re part of is not very responsive to member needs. Getting support for remote teaching for example has involved many phone calls and trying to determine who the appropriate union person is to work with on this issue. However, being involved with the union there I will say that if there were no union, benefits and pay would be even worse. And the union has been very active and resourceful in dealing with retaliation, and has filed several successful grievances on that issue.

    At the larger state university where I am also employed, the union is part of a huge public employee union, and as such, the negotiating team is top-notch and usually comes away from negotiations with some real benefits for the members. One of these benefits has been an overhaul of the student evaluation documents, which now are much more a reflection of an instructor‘s actual abilities and areas of needed improvement.

    The union reps are also paid positions and get one “course release” each semester for their work with the union which I think attracts a higher caliber of representative. They have a dress to pay issue as some here of described as employees of long-standing suffering from lower pay the newer hires, and this year have made a huge adjustment in the pay grades to address that issue. while are the Rank and file would likely not go all the way to a work stoppage, many adjuncts are interested in the union issues and keep up with Union activities. It has a large into institution that’s part of an even larger institution, having union protections around pay equity and other equity issues has been invaluable.

  34. Lingret*

    Michigan public middle school teacher here — our union in our state and our local school district is amazing. Strongly on the side of the teachers. Willing to work very hard and as long as necessary for our members.
    For a few years, I was on the union contract bargaining team. It was an eye-opening experience. We were able to obtain raises and a better schedule.
    Get involved with your union and make it work as best it can for you and your coworkers.

  35. Sotired*

    I used to work for a federal agency with a union that catered to the lowest common denominator. For example in accounting jobs, we could not require that applicants had at least 12 credits in accounting (and forget about CPA). And this would be for new hires, not existing people Eventually the better people get tired of doing the work of others and leave.

    1. FisherCat*

      I’m not a CPA but basically co-signed re: fed unions only working for the weakest link.

      Everything is based on seniority and ONLY seniority. If I do the work output of 2 people but have 5 yrs of tenure, I make less money, have less preference of assignments, and get my days off later/less priority than someone who started 2 weeks before me but has worse performance. Nonsense come to life.

      1. Nonnie*

        I am also federal government, and this is my biggest pet peeve. My last boss just flat out told me that he couldn’t adjust compensation in response to quality of work because of the way the union has negotiated compensation structures. I love the job protection, but the rigid compensation structure demotivates high performers and good managers (who don’t have very many tools to manage in these situations), so they tend to leave early.

      2. Scooter34*

        I understand your bitterness, but aren’t the issues of the low performers a failure of management to do the processes necessary to address them, like performance reviews, performance improvement plans, write ups, etc.?

        It seems management is really good at convincing us that the union is the problem.

        1. Twenty Points for the Copier*

          I think in a lot of cases it’s a management issue if people who are truly terrible (either can’t do the work or are abusive to colleagues) can’t be let go. But sometimes there’s not that much management can do if some employees are overall better at their jobs than others.

        2. FisherCat*

          No, they’re not. In my immediate department, the union has pushed back on 3 PIPs (that I know of personally) for obvious, problem causing low performers that mgmt was trying very hard to manage out and the union blocked.

          Everyone here who *hasn’t* had a bad union experience is no-true-Scotsmaning all over this post. Unions are not, actually, an unalloyed good. Some people benefit from them! Others don’t.

          1. Mizzmarymack*

            My one peeve with mine is that the union leadership is all Men, and mostly older men. Men who have never been responsible for dealing with all the shit that comes with kids.

            We have an absence policy that you can’t use sick time for regular doctors visits (like your annual exams, or your kids weekly therapy) unless it’s part of FMLA. Which makes sense! Most of the workers at our agency are in coverage positions, since we run service 5am to after midnight, 7 days a week, most workers don’t have shifts scheduled 9-5 M-F and they can usually get a shift schedule that works for them … if it’s their own weekly appointment, getting shifts that allow it is often required under the ADA

            But I’m I’m an office drone. Yes, I can use 2 hours of FMLA a week to take the kid, but I could also do 4 8.5 hour days and one 6 hour day.

            My prior union president absolutely refused to consider including any language towards allowing flex time for recurring medical appointments, and assured me I could work it out with my manager “because he’s a good guy.”


            Both being in violation of the absence policy and lying on your time card are reasons you can be fired FOR CAUSE. It really, really sucks that I have to use up my FMLA leave and drain down my PTO to cover this and remain protected.

            We just elected a new president last month – I’m hoping I can bring him around on this before our next round of contract negotiation starts in about a year.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          There are also situations like the performance technically meets the requirements of the job but Bob is a 3/meeting expectations and Jane is a 5/knocking it out of the park. There is no additional benefit to Jane for knocking it out of the park, other than that she knows she’s a rockstar. The raises are set by grade/step, the bonuses, if one is available, are laughable, and promotions tend to be given based on primarily on seniority.

          Then there are the performance management processes that are so onerous, they’re like having a side hustle on top of your full time job – and there can be a lot of union input in those in the name of protecting the employees. It should not take a year to get rid of someone who’s obviously not doing their job. PIP timeclocks should not start back at zero if someone meets one and then immediately reverts to poor performance. Egregious things like timecard fraud, theft, workplace sexual/racial harassment, and creating health/safety dangers on the job should be terminable without a manager having to tell you multiple times that, no, you can’t have your buddy clock you in when you’re not at work or that you cannot use slurs in the office or that you can’t just walk off and leave your train stopped on a platform during rush hour to take your break at exactly 5:15 PM because your relief driver isn’t there. (Should the relief driver be there? Yes. Should you bring the entire transit system to a dead stop the one time they’re not? No.)

  36. Rumpole's Old Bailey*

    Not sure if it helps to have the pov from outside the US. Unionisation is pretty universal here. I work in a statutory legal service and have been a member of my union since I started my job 21 years ago. The union negotiates our Enterprise Bargaining Agreement every 3 years. If management wants to make major changes to roles they have to consult with the union. My union has negotiated paid family violence leave and also rules to make casual employees permanent if they’re in roles for a set period of time, for example. There are no penalties for being a member or being active. I’ve participated in strikes with no negative consequences.

  37. Dawn*

    I’m a teacher and part of a union, and my experience has been positive. Our profession suffers from being one of the female-centric “caring” professions where hugs and handmade cards have been traditionally regarded as adequate compensation. We also have a constant uphill battle to be recognized as professionals with knowledge and skills that support students’ learning and not “glorified babysitters.” Our union helps with those things.

    Three years ago, negotiations between the union and school board had reached an impasse. We were called into confidential meetings to informally vote and express any concerns over what seemed a very likely possibility of a strike. The board didn’t want to budge on raising our salary, wanted us to absorb rising health care costs with no help from our district, and further wanted to expand our after-school obligations with no raise in pay. The union not only held off those changes but eked out some small victories for us. Not the best contract, but we didn’t lose ground, and we didn’t have to strike.

    Three years later, post-covid, things look very different. Our profession is losing teachers faster than they can be replaced. We drive the bargaining now. Our union has been able to leverage increases in pay, safety language, and improved working conditions. For example, we have finally achieved guaranteed planning time … just a half-hour, but it’s a start. This year, we gained compensation when required to sub for a class other than our own, so administrators can’t just lean on their teaching workforce to cover staff absences because they can’t or won’t hire subs.

    During covid, my state was one that was initially vaccinating based on age bands. We were teaching in-person by this point and had been all year, unvaccinated. The age band system made sense to get the oldest and most vulnerable citizens protected first, but it swiftly reached the point where retired people were boasting of their ability to travel again for fun because they were vaxxed while we were still going into classrooms every day to work, with no access to vaccines. At the state level, our union pushed to get teachers included in the next round of vaccines. I watched other non-unionized professions in similar circumstances, like grocery workers, wait till the very end even though they were in some of the highest-risk professions. It was terribly unjust, and I have no doubt that we would have been in a similar situation without our union.

    Likewise, when it came to light that our state legislature had been covering budget shortfalls by not funding our pensions for the past 20 years, the first solution they grabbed was for us to cover that shortfall. (Naturally! We’re women, so our income is just pin money and we have the pensions of our menfolk to rely on, right?? *eyeroll*) Our union fought for us and, while the eventual solution was not perfect, it was highly in our favor and much better than the original proposal that we just should absorb two decades of legislative neglect.

    Also, I have worked as a teacher in a school that was private and therefore not unionized. I went five months without a raise, watched our health care switch to high-deductible so that it was essentially unusable to my husband and me with no change in compensation, and was told when I started my Master’s that I was doing it “for myself” and it wasn’t required so the school would support me in no way. To compare, in my current position, I’ve seen my salary increase $6K in the past two years, plus the progress in safety and working conditions (which honestly feel more valuable at times! It’s not uncommon for me to work 50-60-hour weeks, ten months out of the year, even though my contract is for 40 hours. If I could change anything about my job, it would be to reduce that workload.)

    If anything comes out of the rapid shifts in work post-covid, I hope it is that unions make a comeback.

  38. HannahS*

    I’m in a “professional association” which is like a union, but for professions aren’t allowed to actually unionize. My experience with them has been wholly positive, though I’m not particularly active in the org. I’ve called them several times to clarify points of my contract; basically to arm myself with information before pushing back against supervisors. I prefer to try and advocate for myself first, because I think going in with a representative is a pretty strong move and I’d rather pursue easier paths of resolution first. I’ve never needed to call in a representative for support, but knowing that I could is really great.

    One really great thing my org does is they’ve published our contract (we’re all the same profession and all have the same contract, just with different employers) with explanations in plain English, divided into easy hyperlinked sections labeled things like, “pay” “vacation” “parental leave” etc. It makes it easy to go to their website for info.

    1. HannahS*

      Oh, the other big resource that’s great is the helpline. I call or email with a question, and someone calls/emails me back with an answer! It’s so, so helpful when navigating questions of “Hey, my supervisor said I have to do work at this site when I come back from maternity leave, but I thought I’d be entitled to work at the site I’d left. Can you clarify?”

  39. Elmost*

    I am in an established union with a decent amount of bargaining power. We do currently have a mediation/arbitration agreement, so anything that doesn’t get resolved at the bargaining table and can’t be resolved in mediation gets decided by a mutually-agreed-upon arbitrator rather than going to a strike position. I think we would re-think that if we were continually getting screwed over, and it helps that there is a second and even more powerful union for a different population at the same company. My experience is that the people in the union can be a bit difficult to deal with as it does attract people who like to argue and debate, and you can kind of see why. I am personally uncomfortable with confrontation, so I don’t mind paying the union dues to not have to deal with that, but it doesn’t always get you the most personable reps.

    On the other hand, I have seen other unions that seem much less effective. I think it comes down to:
    a) how much does your organization care if you all walk out?
    b) are the people running the union good at their jobs (do they understand what the workers actually want/need? do they know where the problems are? do they have processes in place for grievances etc.?)

  40. Over It*

    I’m in my first union job, in local government. My experience has been that the union is *too* strong when it comes to white collar government workers. Bureaucrats have a reputation for doing the least and never leaving until they retire because it’s nearly impossible to get fired, and in my experience that’s been 85% true. It’s hard to get anything done partially because of the bureaucracy and siloing, but also because of the leisurely pace people work at. Long-timers get paid extremely high salaries not based on output, but based on how long they’ve been here, whereas people in their probationary year get paid way less to do more work. I’m in an interesting position because I’m technically union but my position is grant-funded by a federal grant provided to the state. So myself and other grant-funded union employees need to have much higher output to prove our positions are worth renewing every year, whereas people with union jobs in permanent funding sources do not. It’s a very stark cultural difference within our own government, and people know who’s who. Our union also caused a ton of chaos in our transition from full-time remote back to hybrid but for anonymity reasons I won’t go into it.

    In general, I am pro-union outside of white collar government and police. The U.S. certainly needs better labor laws and unions do their best to advocate for providing those to members in the absence of federal mandates. But my personal experience with being a union employee so far has been underwhelming.

  41. UKDancer*

    I’m in the UK so not sure how relevant the experiences are but I will add them with that caveat.

    I’ve been in a trade union all my working life. My mother was a shop steward and her father and her uncle were both union men in heavy industry so I’d never not be in the union. I watched my mother fight sexism, ensure her members were fairly treated and deal with a range of issues in local government so it was a non starter for me that I joined the union representing my sector in my workplace. I’ve moved companies but stayed in the same union.

    I find the union is fair, works for their members and tries to improve working conditions. I like that it is broadly democratic so I vote on my officials and if I don’t like them I can vote them out. I also like the other benefits of union membership for example free legal advice, shopping vouchers and a discount on getting my will made. They also run some fairly good training. When one of my former staff launched a grievance against a few of their managers (2 companies back), I was very pleased with the representation I got from my union representative. He accompanied me to the meetings and was very effective in helping me make points.

    They have lengthy, dull meetings which I don’t always attend and there are some areas I’d like them to be more active in, but not to the point of getting involved enough to do it. Overall I think it’s excellent value for money and I am proud to be union. In the words of the Billy Bragg song “there is power in a union”

    1. Victoria J*

      I’m also involved in a Union in the UK.

      And I’ll post separately as well. But wanted to both celebrate someone else celebrate employees acting collectively, and to comment on:

      >They have lengthy, dull meetings which I don’t always attend and there are some areas I’d like them to be more active in, but not to the point of getting involved enough to do it.

      We’ve just discovered some people weren’t joining because they thought they actually had to attend all the meetings, and that they would have to be involved in all the organising ! So we’re trying to work out how to redo our recruitment to include – honestly be as involved or uninvolved as you want. Just adding your name and increasing our numbers adds strength. It’s great if you want to be a rep, do organising work on some issue, come to the meetings (arrange the meetings, chair the meetings, minute the meetings), etc. But it’s still a good idea even if you are going to sit there, pay dues, and know we’ll be there if you need us.

      1. Victoria J*

        And replying to myself because I can’t just edit and add to it.

        We thought people were put off because it costs money (for non UK people, or non union people, you have to pay to be a member of a nationally recognised union to get protection for union activities in your own work place – I pay the highest rate to my union and it’s £16.25 with access to legal advice etc). But more people said – I don’t want to voluntarily sign up to more meetings.

        1. UKDancer*

          I can relate and think it’s good to make sure people know they don’t have to be active if they don’t want to. I’m not hugely into activism, and my union has some really long, really boring meetings so I mostly opt out. I pay my dues, vote in elections and read the not very interesting newsletters and that works for me.

          I also make sure my junior staff are aware of their right to join a union and tell them which ones are most represented in our company.

      2. Slinks*

        This is super helpful. We struggle with getting people engaged, whether from apathy or just not having time, or whatever the reason. I think part of this is due to general work culture (I’m speaking from a US perspective) which is informed by white supremacy culture that values individualism. People may feel that involvement looks like having to do everything, all the time, when in reality a healthy group dynamic involves people truly sharing the workload and understanding that everyone’s capacity is different.

        One thing we try to impress on people is that if only a few people do all the work, we’re creating the same hierarchical structure that unionization is trying to avoid. Reframing this in a way that specifically describes what various levels of involvement look like is very helpful, thank you!

      3. pandop*

        I’m also in the UK, and also in my Union (we’ve just been on strike, but not the one that made the papers) & I have to say I am lucky I work in an industry where active unions are the norm, but that also we are a particularly active branch – at our last online meeting before the strike we had about 400 people in the ‘room’.

        There is going to be a lot of negative press about Unions over the summer, as there are a lot of strikes in the offing, but striking isn’t something done lightly (it can’t be, there are very strict laws about percentages of members voting, and percentages of voters voting for the strike – most general elections would not meet the rules imposed on union strike votes!).

        We have had some results from our latest strike, and there are a lot of other good things the union does outside of direct employer negotiation, like give grants for education, organise day trips, and I am going to make use of their will writing service.

    2. Loulou*

      +100 to this comment! I also find it good value for my money. Dues are fairly modest and, if nothing else, I essentially view it as paying for my own dental/vision care (union provided) and subsidizing that of lower-paid essential workers in the same union.

  42. Al who is that Al*

    I’m in the UK, Had one Manager try to insist I worked 2 months notice rather than the usual one. Told her I’d talked to my Union and they said no, only one month. She quickly back-pedalled. So for use against the office tyrants and arrogant bosses on power trips, it’s very handy indeed to remind them you’re not just one person they can pick on but a member of an organisation that will pay your legal fees should they try anything.

  43. Sharkie*

    I have weird experiences with unions. When I was lifeguarding for my county part time when I was fresh out of college I had to “join” a union as a requirement for employment. I put join in quotes because I was not allowed to attend meetings, vote, have access to a rep, but I had to pay full dues because the union made sure I had a safe work space and I benefited from negations they might have. Don’t do this.

    1. Ardis Paramount*

      How was it that you were not allowed to attend meetings, vote or have access to a representative?
      Was this stated to you explicitly, or was it a logistical matter of some kind?

      1. Sharkie*

        It was a government union, so since I was only “part time” I guess I wasn’t allowed? It was sketchy as hell.

  44. Spreadsheet Enthusiast*

    I used to be a NYC government employee where unions are the norm. It was nice receiving cost of living adjustments through the union negotiations, and our medical benefits were fine, but the dental and vision benefits were very basic.

    My impression of unions and their effectiveness is that leadership makes a big difference – ours generally didn’t seem to take up causes beyond complaints about being assigned tasks outside of defined roles or improper termination. My role could easily have been conducted from home, but leadership was very much dedicated to being in the office and other roles in the bargaining unit had tasks that required staff to be on site so telework was never a priority except during COVID (and even then the return to office happened with little to no pushback from the union despite staff objections as far as I’m aware).

    Nevertheless I’m still very much in favor of unions as a tool to empower and protect employees. Even if you’re not in union leadership, I think there are lots of ways to express support for unions and your coworkers – especially using methods shared on this site. Being transparent with your salary, describing methods for reporting issues for coworkers who are unaware, making it clear that you’ll support coworkers – these things all contribute to a positive workplace culture and effective union membership.

  45. Generic Name*

    I was a non-union hourly worker at a factory where the factory workers were covered by a large, national union. It was an internship, and I was there for a summer, and that summer, the union was in the midst of contract negotiations with the company. Contract negotiations were not going well, and the union voted to strike. In the week leading up to the strike, and while negotiations were ongoing, the workers would stop every hour on the hour and bang their tools and shout at top volume. Some of my coworkers took me to one of the work areas so I could witness it. It was loud as hell, and frankly somewhat intimidating. It was a very effective display of “there are more of us than there are of you, and we will not be quiet”. Very powerful. The eve of the strike, the union and company came to an agreement, and signed the contract, and there was no strike. The next day, the director of the department I worked for (who had no business being a director over that particular function; I gathered that he was a director that he was next in line for a directorship via the Good Ol Boys Network when that spot opened up). complained that the company had “caved” and signed the contract. He pissed and moaned and said, “What did the company get in all of this?”. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Well, the company got no strike”. (The “no duh” was implied.) So in my experience, unions are an effective way for people who are normally powerless to use their greater numbers to negotiate with those in power.

  46. My Useless 2 Cents*

    I used to be very anti-Union, thinking they had long out lived their usefulness. But I’ve revisited that in the last 10-15 years as I’ve seen more and more predatory practices come to light. I don’t know what the exact solution is and I have not researched this topic so this is all opinion but… it seems to me that large corporations and businesses have too great an ear at the government level (money to pay for lobbyist and lawyers that the everyday employee is lacking) and have used that to push thru, stop, and take advantage of laws that give them too great an advantage. The only solution I see as practical is unions (if large enough) that can push back on the corporations and level the playing field so that the everyday worker has a greater voice at government level. Until then we will see little change.

    How this plays out at a company/university level, I don’t know. But I don’t think it right when minimum wage is so low that some people have to work 2-3 jobs to earn enough for a living wage or that some at the top earn more in a year than those at the bottom will earn in their entire working career.

    I used to work at a construction company and if there was ever a disagreement between field and office workers the owner would come back with “Well, without those men in the field, we wouldn’t have a company.” I was just a lowly peon but I so wanted to respond with “Well, without those women in the office, we wouldn’t have a company either!” Just because we weren’t out in the hot sun didn’t mean our contribution was any less valuable to the company. A good cashier can be just as hard to find as a great CEO, and I’d argue their value to the company could be equal as well.

  47. unionized*

    I’ve been a member of a couple different academic worker unions over the last decade. Speaking from my personal experience, compared to my colleagues at non-unionized institutions, I have higher pay and better protections. I’m in a field that is typically supportive of unionization, so I’ve never had an issue with any of my immediate supervisors.

    The biggest benefit to me personally has been support navigating university bureaucracy. For example, due to a clerical error, I was taken off my health insurance right at the start of the Omicron surge. Going through official university support channels, the estimate for getting my benefits back was over a month. I called my union and had it back within a couple days. My colleagues have had similar experiences with delayed paychecks, missing benefits, etc.

    I’m in a short-term postdoc position now, so I won’t see the results of our current bargaining push. But I’m still involved because of the bigger picture: recognizing the hard work and dignity of all academic workers, not just those on the tenure track.

    1. another_scientist*

      I concur with some of these points. A lot of supervisors in academic institutions are not at all opposed to unionized staff positions, even if they don’t have a union. One reason is that unions can often open the door to achieving attractive benefits, that have a ripple effect to nearby non-unionized positions. Eg. the union has a very strong bargaining round, and gets parental leave while no other job category at the organization has parental leave. A few years later, enough staff grumble about this, so the employer provides the same benefit to all. There is also the universal wage increase that tends to be handed out when a job category get serious about unionizing. All of these are real life examples, btw.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        In 2000, the university offered our group a 21% increase over 4 years. Our group countered with 5 years and 19% …
        for a wider group of people, including many long-term sessional lecturers. Our altruism was successful.

  48. Polar Vortex*

    I’m not a part of a union in my job but I’ve seen it play out for many people in my life.

    Overall, I’ve seen much more benefits than problems from unions. My sister is in a teacher’s union, it does more to protect her particularly during the pandemic than her school has (in a very conservative area). She’s not in love with being in a union, but she appreciates the protection and the collective bargaining aspect of it. In AAM a lot of the suggestions to bad situations is to band together with your coworkers to address it en masse – finding protection in a group. That is the biggest thing the union offers anywhere, protection in a group and prevention of retaliation.

    That is not to say a union doesn’t have downsides – yes you’re paying fees, yes sometimes people who are useless take longer to be shuffled out of the office. Yes this can mean sometimes you need to do something like strike and that can feel uncomfortable to do for many people who haven’t been a part of unions before or grew up with that experience in their world. It can also feel conflicting regarding people breaking union picket lines – sometimes it’s hard to separate the fact some people desperately need a money and it has nothing to do with wanting to break the line.

    A couple of suggestions for you, LW, as you begin your union life. Be involved, attend meetings, read your emails/pamphlets. You can’t have a voice unless you actively are a part of union life. Know your reps, ensure you have good reps who fight for what you all want. Know your rights as a part of the union, so many people who first join unions don’t know what their rights actually are. Understand there’s going to be people who are going to actively try to circumvent your union, which is why you need to know your rights. Know some people are going to be absolutely ridiculous about you being in a union because they’ve been raised on the terrible anti-union propaganda that arose during the union busting time period and so they don’t know differently. Or they just don’t like the fact they can’t just do whatever willy nilly because someone’s protecting you. (I find, unfortunately, managers and HR people are the worst offenders here. But they’re generally the bad managers/HR people anyhow, so in my actual experience, it’s protected me from these bad managers even if you have to deal with their attitudes.)

    Also just a shout out to maybe look at Jorts the Cat’s twitter/etc. Pro Union Cat provides some very good resources from time to time about the benefits of unionizing, and can be a great introduction to unions without feeling intimidating, in part because they share out a lot of information to help people form/just starting out in unions.

  49. SwampWitch85*

    UFCW protected me and my department from layoffs when we were already understaffed and protected us from being reverted to Perdiem contractors because the CEO bought a $500,000 conference table and was having an apartment added to their office. They helped crack down on nepotism and favoritism. Yes, unions.

  50. AceyAceyAcey*

    I’ve been in a union since my first grad school, and continue now as a community college faculty. As a grad student, I was lucky and my stipend was higher than the union minimum, but the union got us dental coverage which we hadn’t had previously. As a faculty member, I appreciate knowing that there is a system that helps reduce inequity based on gender or race. I’ve needed to do a couple grievances for contract violations, and they were a good support. I’ve also been union president, which was waaaaaay too much work. If there is need for a union, definitely do it. If there is already a union, definitely join it.

  51. Friyay*

    I feel burned from our union experience at a large public university… we used to have a union but only for a certain set/type of employees (more the administrative and blue collar jobs). What we’d experience is people being shifted around to other offices because they weren’t working out at their existing place, but we basically HAD to take them as an internal transfer. We would have receptionists who would comment on people’s hair color, do their nails at the desk, prioritize their personal phone calls over answering the phone, etc. It was just not a good experience at all but the union always protected these people and it was impossible to let them go or fire them.

    1. O_O*

      It’s been my experience that it’s entirely possible to fire union staff, but you actually have to do the legwork of escalating discipline that’s laid out in the contract. People get shuffled around when the managers are too lazy to do their jobs and follow that process.

  52. PotientalUnionAnon*

    Has anyone had any experience organizing a smaller workplace? I’m thinking about starting at my workplace but have only had experiences with larger workplaces?

    1. Mid*

      I haven’t personally, but I’d also look and see if there is a larger union that exists for your industry already and see if they can support you! For example, there is Unite Here, which “seeks to achieve greater equality and opportunity for those in the airport, food service, gaming, hotels, transportation, and textile, manufacturing, and distribution industries” and Communications Workers of America which “represents public and private sector employees in a variety of industries including news media, education, law enforcement, telecommunications and information technology, and manufacturing.”

      There are already some very broad unions that could offer resources and support!

    2. irene adler*

      I work at a small biotech manufacturer. We consist mostly of laboratory techs. We experienced some safety issues and shortly after someone started talking “union.”

      Someone in upper management (ahem, my boss) got wind of this. He pulled me aside and talked at me about how unions were such a bad idea. Avoid at all costs. He gave me some story on how he’d averted unionizing at his prior workplace because he worked to improve communications betw. workers and management. To his credit he was a very good, effective communicator. So I imagine this was an effective solution.

      He then asked me why folks wanted to unionize. I explained about the safety issues. He was not aware of them. He then instructed me, from now on, to report any and all safety concerns to him (yeah, we had a formal system for this, which clearly was not effective). Let him know what’s going on.

      Then he took action to remedy the issues I told him about. Fixed everything. That seemed to quell the union talk.
      My point: be ready for pushback from management.

    3. O_O*

      That’s essentially what’s happening at the assorted Starbucks around the country right now – shops are organizing one by one, a dozen people at a time, it’s not one big union. I’ve worked at a nonprofit that had a small staff of 5 before and it was still useful. (And frankly easier to coordinate than the larger place I work now.)

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Not an exact match to your setting but a friend tried to organize his local office.

      It was NASTY-NASTY. Well the company was abusive anyway and the local management were a nightmare.

      There are lots of rules to follow and they must be followed to the letter. My friend tripped up on using company resources to talk about unions when he sent an email. The company jumped on that email and he was fired about 12 hours later.

      People were using code names and code words. It was surreal. There were websites where you could follow the story as it unfolded. smh. lots of drama, upset and upheaval.

      While my friend’s location stayed out of the news, general problems with unionizing in the company made nationwide head lines. Court cases followed. People were fired all over the place. (See there are so many rules that it’s really easy to break one of them.) The courts leaned toward the employees. However, even a favorable settlement did not stop the company’s poor behavior. When the cases were over the company went right back to all the things it was doing that had previously been called out by the court.

      When I was in my old union, experienced union people said that those who try to organize a union end up getting fired or leaving. They do not stay. And they said this was almost 100% of the time. And the organizers were gone regardless of whether the union was voted in or rejected. My husband with a degree in labor relations said, yep, that’s right.

      My best advice, do not do this alone. If you decide to do this, make sure you get help from people who are experienced. And when they give you advice make sure you do it and do it to the letter.

  53. TheUnionHelps*

    I’m a tenure-track faculty member at a public university with a strong statewide union. The union has resulted in stronger projections for faculty freedom, particularly going thought the tenure process. We have pretty-darn clear tenure standards regarding teaching, research, and service, we have support should we need to appeal or contest during the process, and we’ve have more communication with what going on with the administration through Covid. I’ve also been super pleased with the gains we’ve made in our contract thought collective bargaining. For me, the union and the conditions it creates are part of why I feel successful at my university.

  54. TROI*

    One of our worst employees led a push for a union, but ultimately it fell apart, at least for now. When I say worse I mean someone who was a routine slacker and who would take any opportunity to tattle “anonymously” on a fellow employees for dumb stuff. The other leader was a whiny employee with a grating personality.

    I wasn’t opposed to the idea but I did not want to be represented by someone who’s work ethic and professionalism I didn’t respect. Because there wasn’t enough for a union, a letter was drafted signed and sent instead. I didn’t sign the letter either. Short term there was some concession won by the letter. Or so it appeared. I found out later there were already plans to address the ideas in the letter, but they were scaled back sod upper management wasnt to appearing to give in completely.

    Well executed by good people a union could have been a good thing, but I only see how this effort hurt us workers, and it’s too bad.

    1. Alice*

      I’m not and have never been in a union, but what I take away from this experience is: your company’s management was letting a slacker just sort of poke around without firing them or managing them out, and then, best-case scenario, management refrained from implementing changes because they were afraid of appearing weak. Worst-case, they made up the story about “we were going to fix everything but the union, sad trombone.” I don’t think the hypothetical union is the biggest problem in this situation.

      1. TROI*

        This person does enough work not to be fired and knows how to game the system. They do get managed about performance then backslide. Then re managed. Agree that management is a problem but take me at my word that it was not a made up story about changes already being made behind the scenes. I didn’t say that everything was going to be fixed and it’s a bit insulting to hear my own story being exaggerated and not believed. I have no incentive to lie, just sharing my experience.

  55. Secret Squirrel*

    So, I’ll just offer this… I work in a non-unionized, public sector job. My father worked in an equivalent-level unionized public sector job. This year, I finally make the same money on the hour that my father made… when he retired in 1996. Not adjusted for inflation or anything, the same exact dollar amount.

    There are downsides to anything, but the only question you really need to ask about a union is whether you think you’d be more successful taking on questions of benefits, salary and working conditions by yourself, or with your coworkers and a large organization behind you.

    1. bamcheeks*

      UK — my partner has exactly the same job that my dad had, plus I earn 80% of what she does. In our mid-forties, we could not afford my dad’s house, which he and my mum bought on his single salary when they were in their early thirties and had three children.

    2. Brett*

      That might be a matter of time period rather than unionization. At previous government job, employees made more (in absolute dollars) in 2007 than they did in 2020, despite unionizing in 2015.
      The early 80s, in particular involved annual COL raises of 5-10% as well as merit raises as high as 20%. 1986 through 2022 combined had a total 1% of COL raises (and that was only because of a social security change). Meanwhile, merit raises were frozen in 2008 and remain frozen today, despite being unionized for seven years. The first union contract did negotiate a single 5% raise for one class of employees (not all), but has been unable to secure any raises since then.
      None of this is the fault of the union. The county was rapidly expanding and rolling in revenue in the early 80s. It has never recovered from the 2008 crash and remains in financial trouble today.

  56. Vermont Green*

    In my high school teaching days, I was an enthusiastic union member. Although I remain supportive, one aspect of membership didn’t sit right with me at the time. We had a few high-level students who had maxed out on the curriculum we offered, and the principal suggested that I give them an advanced class during my assigned study hall period, with no additional pay. My other classes were pretty pedestrian, and didn’t require a lot of extra planning and grading. I was looking forward to working with motivated kids in an area I found fascinating. At some point, the union president stepped in and said that my doing this would be against our contract, and the idea was dropped. I understand why this happened, of course, but you can see that belonging to a union does cut down on your individual freedom. People who are happy with group responsibility and group decisions that benefit the whole group, rather than individuals, probably do better in a unionized environment.

    1. Ariaflame*

      Did you discuss it with the union? But I can see that they might not want to establish a precedent to have them pressure others to do the same when they weren’t in the same situation you were in.

    2. Pescadero*

      It’s likely a violation of FLSA, and wouldn’t be allowable even without a union.

      Generally an employee has to be paid if they are doing tasks related to his or her main job – they cannot volunteer do their job without pay, even if they desire to, without violating labor law.

    3. just a random teacher*

      The problem here is the precedent, and the slow responsibility creep. Sure, you’re willing to take on an extra thing, because it’s something you’d specifically like to do and the rest of your schedule happens to be a year when you can handle it, but in a way that isn’t easily quantified (such as having an extra free period).

      Then that becomes the new normal, and it’s now just a thing that can happen – you can be expected to take on an advanced group during study hall, after all, it was fine when so-and-so did it. Now your fellow teacher, who is barely able to keep up with her existing classes because some of them have content that is new to her, also has to do this. And everyone generally has to work harder.

      Then it happens again, maybe you have to alternate the advanced group and another group that needs credit recovery, since now it’s normal to teach during study hall.

      And again.

      No pay, just more work as the expectations slowly rise.

      That’s why the the union shut it down. I’m sure they would have been happy to formally capture it as part of your job in exchange for other concessions (extra pay, some other thing taken off your plate) but it’s not just about whether you specifically can handle a little extra work, it’s about keeping the job scope reasonable for everyone with that job class.

  57. SpiderLadyCEO*

    One of my jobs decided to form a union around the start of my second year, and I was asked to be an organizer. I was leery at first, because I didn’t know why we needed one, but it ended up for the best. I didn’t do a lot of work in my role (there were a few of us, and the others carried the bulk of the weight) but I did enjoy being a team representative, and helping my coworkers out.

    There ended up being some great benefits to the union, which was implemented pretty quickly, like mandated raises, and securities for union workers who were laid off (a major hazard in our field.)

    However, there ended up being one major, major drawback: the organization refused to let managers be covered in the union which meant they weren’t protected – de-incentivizing the roles, because you knew you would end up taking a lot of work on, for what worked out to be a pay cut after losing out on mileage, comptime, and the better insurance for lower level employees. It was ridiculous, and essentially we all knew that if we took a manager role, it would be for one year that looked good on paper, and then we would be laid off.

    1. O_O*

      The National Labor Relations Act excludes managers, it was not a choice made by your union. Supervisors are not allowed to be in the unit that they supervise. And if the employer treats their employees so badly when not held accountable, then that’s their own fault that nobody wanted to become a manager!

      1. Mizzmarymack*

        I’m a the lowest of middle-managers,, and in a union.

        My reports, when I had them, were in a different union. (We’ve re-org’d so I m now a manager of no one but the most vexing projects)

        This isn’t really practical unless where you work is big enough you can form a union / union chapter of just one level of management.

  58. Meowww*

    I have mixed feelings about unions. I was in one in my first job out of school and because the union had a policy that people who were previously laid off could “bump” people out of their jobs and be put back in a position similar to their old one, I got “bumped” six months into my job. Sure, I would have also been able to bump someone else at some possible later date, but that whole policy seemed asinine.

    That said, the union really helped me out with a PTO issue where my HR manager approved my use of sick time as vacation and then changed her mind months later and asked me to pay the time back. The union stopped that.

    Generally, I learn toward “don’t love it” but they can be helpful for compensation or benefits negotiations.

  59. Ms Frizzle*

    I’m a member of a well-established teacher’s union. My first year of teaching, I was at a school that was exempt from the union contract, and it was HORRIBLE. I routinely got 15-20 minute lunches, lost my planning time, did not get my state-funded class aide (in a kindergarten class of 29), and was put on an unofficial PIP with no warning or coaching during the length of the PIP. I am so grateful that at my current school I get the full contract protections.

    I totally understand feeling nervous about being involved. For me, it’s because a lot of the union’s work is inherently about disagreement and conflict, and that always makes me uncomfortable. My participation in the union is mostly limited to paying monthly dues and sending the occasional advocacy email, because the thought of even showing up to watch negotiations brings up a lot of anxiety for me. Obviously that’s not true for everyone, but if you’re conflict avoidant than I think union stuff can be very hard. I did join in our strike a few years ago, because of course I wasn’t going to cross the picket line, but it was a very uncomfortable time for us all!

    I’ve also found that unions are run by people, and so inherently imperfect. My local union has taken positions that they thought supported teachers and I thought supported the school-to-prison pipeline (I’m still mad about one of them). I’ve had a local union rep lie about the contract, and make unethical attempts to pressure people to join. I think the positives definitely outweigh the downsides, but it’s important to keep the union accountable too.

    1. anon teacher*

      I’ve also found that unions are run by people, and so inherently imperfect.

      THIS. Working with the union has occasionally been WILDLY frustrating, but that’s because of a few tedious members, not because of anything inherent to organized labor. The benefits & protections I’ve gotten (also K-12 education) have far outweighed the frustrations of listening to Joe McNoodlebrains bloviate at a meeting.

      1. Ms Frizzle*

        Oh man, the meetings. My life became significantly less frustrating when I realized that the same qualities that were driving me nuts actually made Joe McNoodlebrains a more effective rep/advocate, and that I could appreciate his work while staying out of his way.

  60. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    In the UK.

    The industry I work in (railways) is heavily unionised – there’s actually more than one you can belong to. The unions agree with the company with regards to what pay rise percentages are acceptable, what the salary ranges are, what the working hours will be…et cetera. They’ve got a lot of clout but are not dictating the terms of employment – the companies can and do disagree (see how many strikes we have this year for details) and there is still a lot that is down to the individual employee to sort out.

    For instance: you cannot negotiate a pay rise that takes you over the pay scale determined by your role. No exceptions. But within that range you can fully negotiate on your own. I’ve belonged to one of the unions for decades now (moved around a lot in this industry so not always at the same firm) and generally speaking it’s been a good thing.

  61. Migraine Month*

    I live in a state that banned unions for public workers (except police and fire departments), so the unions now call themselves “employee relation groups” and depend on employees choosing to pay dues. I’m sure the expectation when politicians banned unions was that these groups would fail, but it’s been 10 years and the rate of dues-paying is still over 50% for each job category.

    To give perspective on the benefits these “employee relation groups” secured for us, I recently had major surgery and ended up paying less than $100 for the whole thing (and most of that is because one of the pre-op x-rays went out-of-network).

  62. Beth*

    My first career was in theater, working on the technical/production side for a professional opera company. This is an industry that has a long history of unions, with all the complex range of what can and might happen — all the way from “unions ended slave labor” to “unions ruined the economic structure of our industry”.

    Prior to our shop’s decision to unionize, my own personal attitude had mostly been “Yikes, unions can cause so many problems, do we really have to do this?” In fact, we did our damnedest NOT to reach that point — we kept hoping that if we tried hard enough, we’d stop getting screwed over, or at least the screwage would be less egregious.

    In the end, it improved some things and didn’t improve others. Our incomes went up considerably, because we’d been so horribly underpaid. I wasn’t happy with the way my own unique set of skills and level of experience had to be shoehorned into an existing set of official employment tiers — but I hadn’t been getting paid what I was worth, and at least I knew that there was some kind of structure to how my rates were set.

    Our opinion of our management plummeted even farther; they did everything they could to block us, including forced meetings where we were told it was going to be a disaster, and blatant attempts to turn us against each other. Since the impetus for the union drive had started with management being bad at communication, outright lying, playing us off against each other, retaliating against complaints by yanking perks, expecting us to work for years without raises (or be grateful for a 1% raise when inflation was 3%), morale was already low and hostility was already high.

    In the end, I didn’t stay very long after the unionization; I was already fed up with “purple-collar” work, and had started to take night classes and imagine myself at a less “artistically thrilling” but more lucrative job.

    My bottom line: unions don’t solve the problems of bad management, but they do give you tools with which to protect yourself and push back. Having the tools doesn’t mean they’ll be the best tools, or used with skill, but it sure as hell beats not having them at all.

    A final note: at present, I am not a member of a union, but my wife is; she’s a public librarian. Her union isn’t perfect either, but it’s done a massive amount of good for her, and for us, and I’m very, very glad it’s there.

  63. Lora*

    I was in a chemical workers’ union at my second job out of college, and grad school #1 was unionized. Brother was in Teamsters until he retired.

    -The process of unionizing can be tremendously stressful. Management will basically harass staff and do all kinds of illegal nonsense and yes, some employers would rather shut down and go out of business rather than deal with a union. I have an extremely low opinion of such managers/owners (as a manager myself). When I say harass, I mean all the way to having you tailed by private investigators, sending all kinds of paperwork about how everyone is going to be fired because of the mean old union, it’s all crap. Thankfully the bad old days of shootouts and people being disappeared are over *in the US* (they’re not in other countries). But it did used to be that bad and can definitely cross the line to illegal harassment. Keep notes, keep a record of all your dealings with management and let the union lawyer know about it. I used to keep a daily diary of all the nonsense that happened and it was helpful in the union lawyer getting us good settlements for all the illegal crap the owners pulled.

    -Once you are in contract negotiation phase, try to get as much union member input into what they’d like in the contract as possible. The union itself will have some boilerplate contract language and some of it may be outdated, written weirdly, or not quite applicable to all the roles of the union members at your organization – it will need some tweaking, you may have whole sections needing a rework, and definitely find out the market rate for various positions when you’re setting wages because the one union had not updated their wages ask for a few years and it was barely $0.50 more than what we already made – but we had different health and safety requirements than the oil refinery that the boilerplate contract was based on. Often people don’t read the boilerplate contract, don’t know how to amend it to say what they want, get bored and don’t want to participate in the negotiations process, and then you end up with a lousy contract that doesn’t actually get you a whole lot. Then everyone complains that the union didn’t do anything for them.

    -There are many benefits to being in a union! 1) pension protection: my mom and my brother both worked for a long time at the same company. Mom was white collar so not eligible for the union, brother worked in the facility operations so he was Teamsters. When he joined the union, his pension automatically switched to the Teamsters pension fund which is managed by Fidelity like any other retirement benefit, and he retired comfortably last year. Mom got a notification that the company has declared bankruptcy and her pension payments will therefore be stopped and likely she won’t get anything from the company. 2) access to real professional staff that you may not have as much of, or not really available or required at a university (labor lawyers, EHS industrial hygienists, training programs) the same way it’s required in industry. These are good things! There are a LOT of safety issues at universities and it’s good to have professional industrial hygienists come do a walkthrough and help out with that! Thinking here of Sheri Sanji, Karen Wetterhahn, various other university lab accidents. 3) defined roles as opposed to “other duties as required 4) yes, raises that happen on a schedule though they still tend to be fairly small and barely cost of living 5) a grievance process so Personality Problems aren’t really able to wreak as much havoc as they would otherwise – they have to go antagonize the shop steward instead. 6) as you note, a real contract that lasts more than a year or two.

    -Management tends to take a bunch of stuff personally. In some ways, well, they SHOULD, it’s a judgement on their poor management that people need to unionize at all. But asking for self-awareness and receptiveness to feedback is a bridge too far for many, and they have this whole big emotional THING about it. This can cause a lot of fallout depending on how high up the tantrum-throwing manager is, and how much power they actually wield. The whole process tends to be extremely personality-driven, which makes it extra-stressful.

    1. Fig*

      Something similar to your first point happened to my partner during a union run at his job. Death threats, vandalism of our home, his social media was hacked…But this was all done BY the union – he is a very senior level manager. Lucky for him, the vote was not in the favor of the union.

  64. Beboots*

    I have been active in my union local in various roles for over 8 years. I’m really grateful to be in a unionized workplace, especially seeing the contrast between how things are here with my sister, who works for a non-unionized small business! My workplace is one branch of a (non-US) federal agency with a fairly well-established union, so the protocols and processes and collective bargaining are fairly routine. One thing I’m really grateful for is that there’s no question about equal pay for equal work. The benefits and pay rates are public, and everyone in a position starts at the same salary and leave balances and it goes up at a regular rate based on years of service. I don’t have to worry that I didn’t negotiate hard enough to get paid the same as male colleagues who are in parallel positions to me. There is recourse if we’re having difficulties in the work place – collective agreement not being followed, harassment, etc.

    It can be hard to engage with colleagues at the local level sometimes. Most folks agree with the need for a union but don’t see the work that is done and don’t see the point in getting involved… until they encounter an issue in the workplace. There are a lot of misconceptions about unions and one of them is that we’re there to stir stuff up. As a shop steward, the way I frame my position is that I’m a “good advice giver”. We rarely have to slam our fist on the “grievance” button! I try to help colleagues who are struggling parse out their problems – is this issue with their supervisor a collective agreement not being followed thing, a safety thing, or just a dick move? Helping articulate the problem and frame it in a constructive way – a potential harassment thing, a team morale thing, a communication issue that could impact work – can help employees and employers come to solutions together. Oftentimes I facilitate conversations and help interpret the collective agreement or the labour code.

    We have a management team who is fairly open to the union – we actually have a union/management coordination committee which should in theory meet regularly, like four or five times a year… though in practice we end up meeting only a few times of year, so issues do build up. The big boss on site actually was the president of his union local for like 10 years before being promoted to manager, so he sees the value in working with the union local and that is very helpful.

    We have had issues with people joining the union local for their own ends, which does erode trust in the rest of the employees (e.g., the person may seek to get elected to the local to try to further their grievance or pet issue in some way – we had an anti-vaxx local union executive which only became apparent after he was elected last year and that wasn’t fun as he was going rogue with approaches/messaging from the regional union office, which was pro-keeping workplaces safe through vaccination mandates and reasonable accommodations). It can be hard to fill the positions on the local executive with people who want to be there for the good of the community of employees. It does take time, emotional energy, and effort. But being seen as a professional and reasonable person, speaking on behalf of a number of employees about an issue that affects more than just you? And when you can actually affect positive change? That’s a great feeling.

  65. Irish Teacher*

    Working in the public service, obviously unions are the norm. I haven’t had much personal interaction with my union as it plays more of a role on a macro level. Perhaps the main role the public service unions in Ireland had in recentish years is the Croke Park Agreement. This was during the recession, when the unions for various public service jobs negotiated with the government. It basically said there would be no job cuts or reductions in pay (despite the country essentially going bankrupt and having to call in the IMF) and in return, there would be no industrial action and there would be increases in things like efficiency. I’m not sure of the details for other groups, but for teachers, it essentially meant we now have to do 30 “Croke Park hours” a year for which we are not paid. A lot of it is stuff we were doing anyway – staff meetings, department meetings, organising school events, CPD, etc – but it now has to go down on paper so the government can say “look, they are doing this for free, so we’re justified in not cutting pay.” Some of it is box ticking and annoying when it gets to “oh, we’re short 2 Croke Park hours. We’ll have to have a talk on mindfullness in the workplace or something to fill the hours.”

    It also meant the government had to negotiate with teachers about things like the new junior cycle. To be honest, they probably ended with the worst of both worlds. The government wanted to introduce more continuous assessment, which is a good idea, but the problem was they didn’t want to PAY the extra it would take to correct it, so they decided teachers should correct their own students’ work. This is problematic for a whole host of reasons. Mostly, the way the state exams are run here, every single student has to be marked to the exact same standard; I mark the exams and I have an advising examiner who I have to ask if I am unsure whether something is acceptable or not and if she is unsure, she has to ask the chief advising examiner. It would not be possible to give the same training and have the same oversight for every single teacher in the country. It doesn’t really matter for the Junior Cert., but there were fears that if it were allowed to go ahead, it would be used for the Leaving Cert. and given that college places are decided SOLELY on Leaving Cert. results and 5% in one exam can decide whether or not you get a college place (and this isn’t even an unlikely scenario; I missed out on being a primary school teacher by 20 marks in total, out of 600 – we do 6 subjects, each worth 100 points and the results are added up), a teacher being slightly more generous or less generous could mean somebody has an unfair advantage. So the unions objected. The compromise was that teachers would correct the continuous assessment, but that it would not be included in the grade, but would be mentioned separately on the cert. Which…kinda missed the point, in my opinion. But the reality was the government were determined to misinterpret teachers’ objections there because “pay people to correct” wasn’t something they wanted to do.

    And the overall thing is that teachers get a say in such decisions.

    One issue in Ireland is that there are two secondary school unions, so it could happen that one accepts something and the other rejects it. At one point, one union was cooperating with the changes to the junior cert and the other was not, so that got complicated. As you can imagine. It would be better to have one union, I think.

  66. fedsteward*

    I was lucky to join an active and vibrant union when I became a federal employee, and my experience has been incredibly positive. Beyond paying dues, I became a steward, and that’s been a whole other level of rewarding–being able to help other employees navigate conflict and arriving at resolutions that make everyone’s experience better. One thing that’s important is having HR and leadership seeing themselves as working in partnership with the union, rather than against it. Our agency has a high number of political appointees and until the administration changed, HR and leadership were less willing to work with us and it made things harder and worse for both sides. I like to think of the union as insurance (and I mean that in a good way!) It’s awesome to know there are people on your side and ready to fight for you.

  67. Nom Nom Anon*

    I work at a public university with a strong and established union. Our HR department is pretty staunchly anti-union: in fact they got in trouble during our contract negotiations a few years back for impersonating union members and spreading misinformation about the negotiations. It will probably not surprise you to know that HR is also pretty useless about things like protecting workers from harassment, discrimination, and unsafe working conditions. The university is well known for not addressing these issues unless the union gets involved AND makes the issues public.

    While I can’t speaking to forming a union, being a member of the union is incredible. I’ve seen the ways our union goes to bat for our workers when the university won’t address things. When our contract is coming up for negotiation, they do a lot of outreach efforts- surveys, town halls, and drop ins- to find out what our members’ priorities are for the contract. As the negotiations progress they give us weekly updates and seek regular feedback on what to compromise on and what not to. We definitely get better raises and benefits with the union than we would without. This is the only union I’ve ever been in but I really feel it makes my work a better place.

  68. bad raincoat*

    I was an organizer when my PhD program unionized. The administration was extraordinarily hostile to us. I was lucky that my department supported us and that my advisor (who I later discovered was personally skeptical about graduate student unionization) did not let her feelings affect our working relationship. I saw a lot of retaliation, both overt and covert, toward organizers in other departments. However, I also made great friends and got a lot out of the process, both personally and professionally. We won our union in the end. I’ve graduated since, but I can tell you that our program now has explicit protections against retaliation of that nature, as well as safeguards against getting shorted on our paychecks or paid late (both of which happened to me before we had a contract), pay raises for everyone, and improvements in our medical care. One of the union’s biggest continuing fights is over the harassment grievance procedure — the university has had a number of high-profile Title IX catastrophes and the union is pushing for a third-party grievance procedure.

    In my new position, I am now represented by a faculty union and I like it fine — I haven’t had much interaction with them so far but I hear good reports from other faculty.

    My biggest piece of advice for union organizing is: make it fun. You’re doing something important with very high stakes, of course, and the stressful scary side of union organizing gets a lot of press for a reason. But a great way to attract recruits is to show by example that being union comrades has both social and material benefits. We threw a lot of parties (of many kinds: ragers, casual picnics, dinner parties, you name it) which helped keep our own spirits up during some hard times, and drew in some folks who might otherwise have been hesitant.

  69. Them's Fighting Birds*

    I’m a professor on the tenure track. At my last job, I was a member of a faculty union, and at my current job (at a private college) I am not (because we can’t). Tenure-ineligible faculty and non-managerial staff at my current institution are working to unionize at the moment.

    Especially at small institutions or units, one of the things that critics of unionization raise is that it has the potential to sow discord among colleagues. In my experience, this is a tactic to make people afraid to talk to each other about working conditions.

    At my current institution, contracts are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. If there are salary bands, they’re not public. What this means is that people with social capital are often able to negotiate higher salaries and better benefits. For the people who can negotiate higher, being a member of a union might depress their earnings, but for everyone else, my experience is that clearly negotiated contracts lead to fewer disparities on the basis of race, class, gender, etc, and in doing so, make the workplace MORE collegial.

    My experience is that forming a union, and negotiating a contract can be fraught, and people certainly will experience retaliation. There’s a whole industry of lawyers who run seminars on how to suppress unionization while *just* staying inside the law. But after the union is recognized and the contract is codified, it makes the workplace so much more pleasant.

  70. Jake*

    I’ve worked at several construction contractors that utilizes union tradespeople. Keep in mind these are unions with 10k plus members, and I work around nearly a dozen such unions. My experience varied a lot by region and trade.

    1. In western Kentucky, 70% of the unions were full of really hard workers that tried to do the right thing, and being a part of the union made their wages and benefits significantly better than they otherwise would have been. We’re talking well over double the pay (but they were also that much more productive and safe!) The unions spent about the same amount of time fighting for their employees as they did fighting each other over which union had which scopes of work. The other 30% of unions were basically just organizations that wanted employees to not have to do anything.

    2. In Pennsylvania I worked in an area that was mixed union trades with non union trades. The unions there caused no problems for the employers, and resulted in marginally better benefits than had they not been a member. We’re talking around $1 an hour worth the extra benefits over a typical non union guy, when the total wage/benefit package was 50-90/hr depending on the trade, however, union tradespeople rarely worked 52 weeks a year, whereas the non-union folks tended to have a steadier job. I don’t think the unions were a negative nor a positive for the workers or for the companies.

    3. In Central Illinois, it completely depends on the trade. In this area most large projects require union labor by law. This has resulted in some union members of specific trades bragging about how much they get paid to intentionally get less done than their non-union counterparts. Other trades take a lot more pride in their work and get a similar amount of work done, but are getting $20-$30/hr more worth the pay/benefits than their counterparts. In these cases the unions are clearly doing well for the members, but I’d guess about a quarter of the trade unions are intentionally taking advantage of the laws that require clients to use them. The other three quarters are genuinely doing what’s best for their workers without trying to intentionally suppress production or drag out projects. All that being said, without the laws in place requiring the use of union labor on all state projects, union companies would go out of business pretty quickly.

    Those are my experiences. I’d never tell somebody it is a bad idea to unionize, especially in OP’s situation, but there are some specific existing unions that I’d express concern in joining.

    1. Mid*

      I believe in the construction/labor trades, unionized employees consistently have a lower rate of injury, disability, and death on the job. Even with a bad union, the threat of a strike can save lives.

  71. 30 Years in the Biz*

    I joined a union when I returned to working in a hospital lab as a scientist after being away for about 10 years. There had been talk of joining before I left because of the usual reasons, like fair pay. I believed our total compensation was fine, but thought a union might be helpful in other areas. I was pressured to join the union when I came back to the hospital. I waited for a while because I really wanted to understand the benefit. I and one other colleague were the only 2 out of over a 100 who hadn’t joined. I finally caved. I saw no visible benefit, but did experience several negatives: It was more difficult to get rid of underperforming or bad colleagues; the union protected them. Also, the outside external reps would come into our breakroom during our stingy 1/2 hr. lunch to try and discuss things with us that were of no real importance; they were inconsiderate of our time. They were also really disrespectful to the community hospital where I worked. They made them out to be evil tyrants and in my long experience they were not. All they seemed to care about was getting new members and their dues. I’m a Democrat, I’ve read The Jungle, and I’m sure unions can be extremely beneficial in many circumstances (especially now during COVID when health workers are slammed by work), but this one was not. When I see their commercials, during campaign season especially, I cringe.

  72. Batman*

    As a PhD student, I was fortunate enough to be at a large, public university with an existing, robust union. Over the past mumblety years, it’s been a stalwart force against the university trying to cut unconscionable corners. (E.g., they tried to remove dependents from student health care at one point and the union shut it down.) While the environment was never perfect, they made sure that our wages did at least attempt to keep up with inflation and cost of living. It helped that the faculty were broadly on board by the time I got there; during strike days, faculty would cancel class or hold it off campus in solidarity. The union was much more adversarial toward the administration, and it is the faculty—not the administration—who are likely to affect your future career. Graduate students are so frequently disempowered and made to feel that they cannot stand up for themselves against clear abuses. A union is an incredible resource for us to push back against larger systemic issues and abuses in academia. I would encourage you to participate, even if it feels risky.

  73. De Minimis*

    I was in a union for about seven years, until I changed jobs. This was at the USPS in various capacities, so it was a longstanding union rather than trying to organize one. It’s going to depend on workplace culture but here were my observations–it was very helpful to have some kind of representation when management raised an issue with you, it was much better than being there alone. I think too that a lot of people aren’t involved in their unions so if someone does decide to be more active they can have a big impact in the direction of the union.

    There were also negatives, some of them maybe more specific to my particular work environment:
    You could file grievances and you usually eventually won, but you’d end up something like a couple of extra hours of overtime pay. That’s great, but it wouldn’t do anything to actually change the condition that prompted the grievance. The theory was that if everyone filed grievances when the contract was violated, the financial penalties would prompt a change, but that never seemed to happen–either not enough people filed or else the financial penalty was deemed an acceptable cost of doing business.

    By its nature, the union was there for all employees, and at my workplace, many times negative issues were caused by your coworkers as much as by management, and the union isn’t able to help with that since that’s not what it’s there for.

    When you’d have things like facility closures or reorganizing workplaces/scheduling, the union seemed to do this thing where they’d work to make sure you had a place to go to after the change had occurred, but I thought they should be able to do more to influence the initial decision by management especially in situations where people were working in one position at a facility that was remaining open and moved to a completely different job, shift, and location. It’s one thing when your workplace is shutting down [I had that happen once], but I saw people who had worked as window clerks for years on the regular day shift be forced to move to working swing shift in the processing plant, and the union’s response was, “What are you complaining about, you still have a job…”

  74. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I’m not actively in a union, but I’ve worked with them (public accountant). I’ve found that unions can be prey to a lot of the same problems as small businesses – small, exclusive groups, lack of experience in key administrative positions, and management that may be good at unions but not good at actually managing – AND many of the same problems as government agencies – high regulation, lots of red tape hoops to go through, people who go to the letter rather than the spirit of the law.

    I feel that all these problems are very solvable, but if you’re setting up a union it should something you consider. Can you join a larger, nationwide union that has access to more resources? Do you have the skilled administrative staff needed to run the union – and having someone who understands both the state and federal HR regulations and union regulations counts as skilled administrative staff, as well as having a trained negotiator or contract lawyer that is good at actually finishing negotiations successfully. Who pays fees? How do negotiations work? What sort of relationship does the union want with the management of the unionizing employees and how do you maintain it? The more planning you do ahead of time, the better both your negotiations and your union experience will be.

    1. TRC*

      I work on the administrative side of a union contractor (all field employees are union). For YEARS we would get union rate changes that happened mid-week, say the 1st of the month. That is a payroll nightmare. We’d also get contracts that were still negotiating when the old one ended. When the negotiations finally finished, the new one was retroactive. Again payroll nightmare.

      Okay, there will always be contracts that are not decided by the expiration of the old one. That’s just how it works.

      But thankfully they finally made most of the contracts end on Sunday and begin on Monday, which is the normal payroll cycle. I would guess that the contractors negotiated that one. Payroll people can be pretty loud and obnoxious about such things.

  75. Bluebell*

    I’ve worked under a union at a private and a public university. I didn’t see huge impacts from either, because I came on board after the contract had been negotiated. Benefits were really good at both, and salary was fine. The one thing that happened at the public university was that I saw two people fired just before their first year anniversary, apparently because after that point the union could get involved. Also, a friend was removed from her position (for something her manager did) less than a year before retirement. Because of the union, she shifted to a different position and still got her pension. I’m also a big fan of the Jorts Twitter feed.

  76. Alexis Rosay*

    I was in a union and it was a mixed bag. Absolutely more good than bad, but not a paradise by any means. I was a very young, very new member and and the union was heavily weighted toward protecting the interests of the oldest and most senior members. I watched other young people try to get involved with the union to change how things were run, and eventually give up.

    The union also picked a lot of unnecessary fights with management that poisoned all of our relationships. I also saw multiple people who were awful at their jobs get involved as union reps just because they knew it would make them untouchable.

    But overall, despite all of this, I am still grateful to the union. I got a fair salary, benefits, and regular raises because of them.

  77. Pop*

    My brother works in the film industry, where a union is standard. He loves being part of it. He mostly works on short-term jobs, so the stability that the union provides is super valuable – ie, he knows that he’ll get paid at least $xx per day, and he doesn’t have to negotiate, he knows that he’ll be fed (x) meals at (x) times, he knows that’ll he’ll be asked to do y and z, but q and r are outside of his job description and so he won’t do them. It provides a lot of constants when the rest of his work (location, subject, people he’s working with, etc) are constantly in flux.

  78. Jam on Toast*

    I’ve worked in higher Ed in unionized and non-unionized environments and it’s night and day. Postings in unionized environments are consistently posted, pay raises are clearly scheduled, re-hiring and seniority apply and working conditions are clearly laid out. For instance, at a unionized university, I got paid a certain formula in my contract for answering emails, grading was assigned different formulas (a short quiz was calcuated to take X minutes vs an upper year 20 page essay of Y minutes multiplied by the number of students in a course). When I had a pay issue, I contacted the union after the professor I was working for refused to complete the allocation of hours form, it was fixed within 48 hours. Later, as a contract faculty member at another unionized college, I had a student file an academic appeal that required that I appear at a formal, departmental meeting to defend my decision to award the student a failing grade, I contacted the union and asked for representation. They didn’t need to intervene (my paperwork and documentation was top notch) but I had protection and someone to advocate for me if I’d needed it. I’ve been on strike or experienced labour actions three times in my career. Longest strike was five weeks, others were work to rule situtations. Not fun, but communication was good and the action was necessary. When I worked at the non-union campus, I had a faculty member swear at me and call me incompetent with no way to file an appeal or complaint for their egregious behaviour (I literally got told ‘oh, yeah, they’re like that!’), we got paid for 10 hours of work a week but regularly worked double that and had no protections, pension or benefits.

    As with all processes, you need to be involved. Unions can be autocratic fiefdoms and like any bureaucracy, they need good people to be involved or things can go very badly (*cough*Jimmy Hoffa*cough*). That means attending the monthly meetings, taking your turn as steward, reading the proposals or serving on the negotiating board when contracts are up for renegotiation and voting on contract offers and strike mandates. But unions are important equalizers in many fields, and especially in higher ed where the ‘this is your calling….as an intellectual you should be above petty things like working conditions and pay’ is real and ubiquitous.

  79. Lch*

    Any info on how to successfully get benefits info from the union before joining? I had a job offer that would have been unionized. Usually with job offers I can get specific info on benefits including my portion of the premium payment. But with this job, it was all very vague. I talked to both HR and the union rep and just didn’t get very much. It’s hard to determine a good job offer without knowing these things.

    1. O_O*

      I’ve had luck straightforwardly asking for a copy of the contract during the offer stage. They’re going to have to give it to you if you take the job anyway, and if they won’t after making an offer there are probably bigger problems at that workplace. (If it’s in the first interview or early in the process, I kind of understand. You never know when Project Veritas is lurking around the corner. But in a final interview or after the offer? I would just be direct and if they still won’t give it to you that tells you something important.)

      1. LCH*

        yeah, it was annoying. i couldn’t tell if they were hiding something or just really disorganized. never before had an issue getting this info in writing.

  80. Union exp*

    It seems like the comment section here already has a lot of input from people in university settings, but I’ll go ahead and offer my two cents anyway.

    My former workplace (a unit within a university) held a successful union drive. I ultimately left before the contract was ratified, but I feel like there were benefits to being a part of the union, even though I never saw the ratification of the contract. The process of getting the union started brought my colleagues together in a way I had never seen before at that workplace. Before starting the union drive, our unit had been kind of fractured and siloed due to working across many different locations and shifts, but starting the channels to unionize led us to much better communication amongst ourselves, and personally I felt a lot more connected to my colleagues because of it. The union also gave us the standing to push back at the beginning of the Covid shutdown, when faculty wanted some parts of our unit to be declared “essential workers,” even though none of us had ever signed up for that kind of designation.

    From what I have heard, the final contract was good but didn’t necessarily solve every problem – some issues regarding benefits were nonstarters in negotiation because the university wasn’t willing to change them just for our unit. But overall, some things improved with the new contract, and other things improved because of the organization and communication amongst the unit.

    1. Slinks*

      I totally agree with the feeling of community that was created around organizing. I have never felt so included at work as I do now after sharing our stories with each other and coming together to reach a common goal.

      One thing to remember about contract negotiation that I have to remind myself of often, since we’re currently bargaining, is the idea that your first contract is your worst contract. You’re starting from nothing, so there may be more give and take. Ideally you know what matters to the members, and you know what to fight for and what to let go, with the hope that it can be improved in later contracts.

  81. Another J*

    First – if anyone has any experience or advice in advocating for a union as a person who may not ultimately _qualify_ as a union member, I’d love to hear it!

    Like others, I’m in academia and my institution has a mix of union and non-union positions. Adjunct faculty, graduate student workers, and non-exempt staff are unionized, while other positions are not. I’m management, so I’m obviously not in a union, and most of my reports are also in non-union positions.

    One issue I’ve noticed with this set-up is that managers are pressured to make sure new or revised positions cannot qualify for the union, and pretty much every salaried position is also treated as exempt. So we have an ever-increasing body of staff that do not have union protections (and maybe have dubious exempt designations).

    My institution has taken great pains to ensure non-union staff feel as if they have a voice to leadership through “councils” but there is no real leverage for negotiation on issues. For example, we have been asking for transparent salary bands for years and simply get a “no, we aren’t doing that” in response. Our health benefits are good but not as good as the union members’, and all salary increases are tied to performance (no cost of living adjustments). Since we’re such a large organization, group negotiation is pretty essential to any kind of change. Some of my colleagues definitely prefer the flexibility and “wiggle room” around policies, etc., that can come with not being unionized, but I personally think we lose a lot more than we gain.

    I honestly think our exempt staff should attempt to unionize, but as management, I have to operate as if I do not have NLRB protection, so I can’t really advocate for it.

    1. Indubitably Delicious*

      Just a quick comment that as a pro-union exempt staff member at a university who does HR for unionized folks, I am with you (and everything you say sounds very familar; I don’t think our adjuncts are unionized, but otherwise we could be at the same institution). It’s hard to know how to advocate for workers when you’re technically on the “other side” — other than insisting that the contracts and agreements are honored, and working to make interactions less adversarial without letting the union’s objections lose their teeth.

  82. anon teacher*

    I’ve taught for over a decade in K-12 public schools, which are strongly unionized in my part of the country. Overall, I’ve found that a district gets out of its union what it puts into it…which, unfortunately, does sometimes mean that the teachers who are most passionate about doing good work are the ones that have the least time to participate in union activities. It’s possible to get out of that hole, but it takes a long time and a lot of work from people who are already overextended, which can be a really hard sell.

    That said, I’m absolutely in favor of unions in both the general and the specific. My local union has fought for fair pay and reasonable workloads for teachers—our last round of contract negotiations led to a substantial restructuring of the salary scale that is going to be hugely beneficial for membership. The local has also been instrumental in getting at least one incompetent teacher out of the classroom—administration was unwilling to take action, so teachers took their complaints to the union. At a state level, our union has run several successful campaigns around various ballot initiatives, and generally speaking has had strong leadership with priorities I support.

    I got really involved with my local when COVID hit, and it was ultimately really good for me. Was it wildly frustrating? absolutely! But the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines and across grade levels was really eye-opening, and I personally found a lot of satisfaction in being able to support my colleagues. Not everybody is going to love this work, and not everybody is going to have the bandwidth to do it—especially not after the last few years!—but the more people you can get involved, even in a tiny way, the easier it gets.

  83. FisherCat*

    Have not had a good experience in a union-covered position. Lot of protecting the lowest common denominator at the expense of normal flexibility and grown-up expectations for everyone else (ex. remote work discouraged by the union because of concerns some employees will have performance reductions). Managers cannot exercise flexibility with schedules and the like for high performers because the union will consider it unfair and therefore against the agreement between the union and the employer.

    Evaluations are pass/fail, per union agreement, so there’s really no way to show excellent performance on paper for things like raises, promotions, etc.

    Next job search I will be specifically looking for a non-covered position so I can be treated like a competent adult.

    1. Mid*

      While that sounds very frustrating, I’d like to gently push back on the ideas that these issues exist because of your union, or are because of unions in general. I’ve met plenty of bad managers who say “oh sorry, the union says we can’t give you a raise/flexibility/whatever” when it’s not at all true, the manager might have to do an extra step to get those things, but I’ve yet to see a contract that truly forbids flexibility and rewarding high achievement. Same with the “union says we can’t fire people” which is rarely ever true, they just have to document the reasons why someone should be fired.

      For example, my unionized workplace immediately removed an employee for making transphobic comments towards another coworker, because our manager filed the report immediately and the coworker informed the union rep. The person was given the option to transfer to another store or resign. Transferring to the different store didn’t mean there were no consequences for their comments, because they were explicitly told that making any other harassing remarks to coworkers or customers would have them terminated permanently.

      It’s possible that your union contract truly prohibits any flexibility, but that’s also not inherently because of unions, but bad management (inside of the union and out.)

      1. FisherCat*

        Please stop “no true Scotsman”-ing my personal experience. The CBA at my job truly does prohibit these things explicitly, so yes, it is the union’s fault and the reason I no longer want a covered job.

        As to unions in general, I did not attempt to extend my experience to all unions. Maybe others are good. This one is most definitely bad, and the post called for personal experiences, which is what I shared.

    2. Kelly*

      My workplace is non-union, and it’s only been in the last decade that annual reviews were made mandatory for all employees. Even now, the only rating a supervisor can give is meeting expectations for whatever reason. It’s absolutely demoralizing to make an effort to go above and beyond and not get recognized for that. Yeah, supervisors can be critical in comments but they have no real impact in the overall picture.

      Also, working in a public university comes with the reality that raises cannot be assumed to be an annual thing. My employer just started another round of raises that have to be done in a shorter time than usual. This was prompted by a hr title change and campus increasing the minimum wage. My guess is that I should be getting a raise, more for wage compression. If some very deserving colleagues get raises for the same reason and others enough above the new campus minimum are missed, I would not be shedding too many tears. They’re the ones whose lack of effort make the rest of the us look lazy and unmotivated.

  84. Spicy Tuna*

    I worked for a large international company. Part of the work force was unionized and part was not. I worked in a non-union job in a salaried position with no overtime.

    The unionized employees were in negotiations with management and they came up with a new contract that entailed non-unionized employees getting a pay cut.

    This action did not sit well with us non-union folks because we had no say in the negotiations! The hours were very long so getting a pay cut on top of it was a slap in the face.

    In my local office, most of us non-union folks ended up leaving the company for better jobs.

  85. PlainJane*

    Depending on your employer, your union may or may not be able to negotiate a lot on salaries and contracts–it’s sad, but true, that sometimes unions are lucky to secure a little less than a cost of living increase. (My current union… yeah.) It’s kind of a wash, but at least you don’t have to negotiate every contract yourself.

    But when I worked in a place with a very active union–flyer protests outside, hard-nosed bargaining, serious protection of positions (almost too much… the jobs were defined within an inch of their lives to make sure no one level of job could take over another level of job; think professors are not allowed to wipe the desks in the classroom because that’s a different union’s job)–I found the thing I liked most was that I could turn to someone with a little clout and power when health and safety conditions were questionable. There was a horrible, sickening smell in the room where I worked, and after being blown off by maintenance several times, I called the union for a health and safety check. They marched up there with maintenance, pointed out that the reek was not subsiding, and demanded action. Sure enough, with a much more careful approach and two people to lift things, they found a dead and rotting mouse underneath a piece of furniture that no one had thought anything could actually crawl under. They’d press on heat and cooling, worry about safety in jobs (no, it’s not okay for a heavy bookshelf to be wobbling), and generally be concerned about workplace welfare. That’s not necessarily going to get you long term contracts, but it can certainly make work life better.

  86. Nessie*

    Hey LW! I was there when my workplace organized seven years ago and currently volunteer for our union. My employer actively opposed unionization efforts but they were beat out by an overwhelming majority of employees who voted in favor of unionization.

    Then the company spent two years dragging its feet before signing a contract, which led to increases in wages (I think the average was a 22% increase) and certain concessions on benefits (like our health care premiums can’t go up more than a set percentage every year). The union also helped us bargain for more sick days after the pandemic hit. And let us know the day that the Supreme Court overturned Roe that we had a right to protest and they would have our backs if we did.

    So, overall, I’m glad I joined a union and it has improved my life measurably in multiple ways. And even though the company was a pain about it, several of us who participated in the union’s formation have been promoted since then.

  87. doreen*

    I have been a member of three different unions- one was great, one was terrible and the third was OK for me. For the most part, the differences were based on the leadership – there are good union leaders and not so good ones. But there was an additional issue in the “OK for me” union. The bargaining unit represented by that union included pretty much all college-educated state employees. Not those employed by the state university but teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses engineers, social workers etc. And one of the problems is that since teachers and nurses made up the bulk of the membership, their issues got attention. At one point, my agency had 1500 or so members – with only three in my title. In a 50K plus member union, that meant any issues specific to my agency or my job mostly got ignored , so I would recommend that organizers try not to have too broad a bargaining unit ( some of the people in my agency try to de-certify this union and get out of that unit – it cost approximately 100K , they were unsuccessful and 15 years later, they are still having the same problems.)

    I spent my last 15 years as a manager – and while some people believe union members cannot be fired, that wasn’t true. What was true was that management often didn’t do their jobs – progressive discipline was required, and that meant that it didn’t matter what someone had done in the past if no action was taken . They could have been constantly late or absent have sexually harassed other employees on multiple occasions – and if this was the first time any action was taken , it would be treated as if it was the first time it happened.

    Although management and other non-union positions were in general treated the same as union members, there was one significant difference. Non-union employees did not have contracts guaranteeing wage increases , etc. So in 2009 and 2010, the union employees got their negotiated raises while the raises for non-union employees were withheld since there was no contractual obligation for the state to grant them.

  88. Llama face!*

    I support unions but have personally had bad experiences with the government union in one of my workplaces. Sharing a couple examples in the hopes that you can avoid this:

    1. Union protecting bully employee over bullied employees. We had an employee who was known far and wide (literally I had heard of them before even moving to the city) as a bully. They would harass other employees to the point of tears for doing things as simple as putting paperwork on their(bully’s) desk. It was paperwork the bully was meant to get. The bully also was vocally prejudiced against single mothers and would rant about that all the time in a piublic facing workplace. Employees tried to get the union to intercede and management wanted the bully out but the union sided with the bully.

    2. Union refusing to fight for employees on contract-relevant issues and workplace safety. During the earlier part of COVID (pre-vaccine) management first refused to put any safety protocols in place and then once protocols were in place, refused to enforce them. Some employees asked for a meeting with manager regarding a specific safety measure that wasn’t being followed and the manager lied that the employees had said they didn’t want it. Employees pushed back on that, manager got upset, and grandboss threatened to discipline employees under the “workplace bullying” rules (yes, ironic). The union was asked for help and refused. The union was also asked for help when employees were asking for medical accomodations around COVID and the employer was lying about the availability of accomodations and lying about the protocols being enforced in the workplace and the union again refused to get involved, even though this involved union contract rights.

    Obviously not all unions are like this so I’m not trying to discourage unions in general. But it seemed that, in our case, our union reps had lost their way and were doing nothing more than protecting their own jobs without actually fulfilling the purpose of a union. So finding some way to ensure the union doesn’t become more about “protecting the union” than actually supporting workers is key,

  89. Anon Again*

    I’ve only had one job that was union, but it was when I was a teenager, pre-career. I did not have the option to join or not join. I earned minimum wage, had no benefits, had hours/breaks/rights per state law and nothing more, and paid a HUGE (for me at the time) amount of my check to “union dues.” I was very unhappy with the situation, which I felt (and still feel) was very unfair to me.

    That said, this same field (grocery worker) is one where I think workers have really benefited from unions.

  90. Abogado Avocado*

    In my first job at age 21 in a profession in a “right-to-work” state, I was hired by a mid-size company that had a union for its professional employees. The company was the only one of its type in the state whose professional employees had a union. Because I come from a long line of family members who have been enthusiastic union members (albeit in closed-shop states), I voluntarily joined the union in my first day on the job. And within three years rose to an officer’s position. The union even sent me to a short course on leadership at the George Meaney School of Labor Relations in Silver Spring, MD!

    Also, I loved what the union accomplished: we had better pay than professional employees in similar companies like ours in the state, our healthcare policy was better than the policy for the company executives, and we also sponsored a low-income housing project that enabled a lot of single parents and their children to live in well-cared-for, affordable apartments at a time when few people understood how important good, stable housing is for child development.

    At no time did being active in the union held me back professionally. I was promoted steadily until I decided to go to graduate school and, even then, my former employer kept asking me to work part-time on special projects (which I did for textbook money). That employer tried to hire me back after I got my graduate degree, but I entered a new profession, where the fact of having been an officer in a union was treated as an impressive fact in job interviews.

    A lot of people think that professionals don’t need a union, but in an era where too many employers show no loyalty or concern for their employees (professional or otherwise), my experience has been that — as Alison repeatedly advises here — advocacy from a group is far more effective than a single person’s advocacy. And unions have long experience with that advocacy. It’s why today, even though I work for local government in an open-shop state, I’m still a union member.

  91. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

    I work at a company with a partially unionized workforce that span a large number of unions (the smallest union is a union of 1, the largest have thousands).

    The company’s relationship with the unions varies. I managed unionized employees at one point in a very cooperative relationship and the “last grievance” from 3 years before was talked about as a thing. At the same time, a friend of mine in a similar function but more adversarial area got 8 grievances filed against him in one day.

    The contracts are extremely complex and negotiations are even more so. It protected the unionized teams somewhat from bad managers or random not well thought out corporate choices but our contracts structured nature meant my direct reports were surprised when I spent time to give them helpful reviews since performance reviews weren’t really linked to raises.

  92. formergradstudent*

    I attended graduate school at a university where the graduate students were unionized (through our role as teaching/research assistants, not our role as students) and it was honestly wonderful. Our union contract specified that our compensation could not be reduced, and because of that the union successfully fought back against a university plan to make us pay for some previously-free perks (a bus pass specifically, if I remember). The union gave us a lot of power in those kind of situations, which might have been small but made a difference.

    1. formergradstudent*

      And one more example: We were only allowed to work 20 hours a week as teaching/research assistants, and because of the union contract the faculty RIGOROUSLY respected this limit (at least in my department), which I always appreciated. We still weren’t paid a lot, but were definitely treated with dignity.

  93. A Genuine Scientician*

    I’m another unionized academic. I’m a non tenure track faculty, teaching intro STEM courses, both lecture and lab. I likely would not have taken the position I’m in now had it not been for the union of non tenure track faculty here, which have gotten concessions from the administration that make this a much better job than the typical non tenure track faculty job. In fact, I turned down a pair of tenure track positions to take this one instead.

    Things that I have solely because of my union:

    – Longer contracts. After a certain number of semesters of teaching at least half time, we’re eligible for promotion to a status with multi year contracts. That used to be a 3 year contract; it’s now a 5 year one after the most recent round of negotiations. That gives us the ability to try things out in our teaching that would be much riskier on single year appointments. This is also a really big deal in academia because in a lot of cases there is *one* employer in town for what we do (though variable in some larger cities, of course). When it’s pretty hard to switch to another employer without moving to a new city, non-precarious employment becomes more important.

    – Pay protection. The university attempted to reduce our salaries during the pandemic, even as our workload went up substantially (for those of you who haven’t done it: teaching online is a lot more work than teaching in person. That goes double for lab. If we were just lecturing, that would be one thing, but even our lecture courses are primarily active learning classrooms rather than the old sage on a stage model, and that’s way more effort over Zoom than in person). They publicly announced how much they were cutting all our salaries. The union responded that no, we have contracts, you can’t change our pay unless we agree to it. And the union won; the percentage of our contract covered by the union could not have its pay cut, which for me was 90%. A 5% cut on 10% of my salary is only a 0.5% cut, a very different thing.

    It’s not utopia. I’d be earning more as a K-12 teacher where I grew up than I’m earning as a professor here, and I’d have a pension there while I don’t here. But it’s so much more reasonable of a job than it would be without the union. And my chair is fully in support of the union, and there’s never been any pushback about it from them.

    I do think some of the US laws regarding unions aren’t great, but that’s a separate matter. I get how it can feel weird to be joining a union in academia, as it’s not a field where you typically think of workers being exploited. But adjuncts absolutely are, and even full time faculty can be. There are real advantages to being able to push back on things as a group.

  94. AnotherSarah*

    I worked (not very hard, tbqh) at unionizing grad students when I was in a PhD program, which was a great experience but I wasn’t highly devoted to it. Some folks who did a LOT of work did get burned out, and their academic work suffered, so watch out for that. Honestly, pushing back against admin was invigorating, though, and I’d do it again. Now I’m unionized faculty, and it’s also great–obviously everything depends on the CBA and leadership can be better or worse, but being unionized has helped me in cases where the university didn’t enforce their own policies, has made me much more secure when some private funders pulled money over a political issue, and honestly, the union is the only reason we get raises. What I’d say about being unionized faculty is that you want a union that will also represent non-tenure track faculty (ours does) so as not to create (exacerbate) a tiered system. You also want, as a union member, to be familiar with other bargaining units on campus. Our union is very strong but some of the staff unions are not, and there are some resentments. It’s good to be aware of that, and to encourage your union leadership (if you’re in the stronger union) to work with leadership of other unions to make sure things are equitable.

    1. New to the Office*

      This is what I came here to say that last point. I worked in a K-12 school district union, and my last year there, us teachers decided we would not negotiate without the paraprofessionals and janitorial unions. It was a risk – they could offer teachers a raise, but not the others, and we would have to turn it down. But ultimately, I believe it was the right thing to do – it’s the spirit of unions in the first place. I was proud to be part of that union/decision. I was talking with a friend who works for a local university but is not faculty, and his union has very little power because the faculty doesn’t include them in negotiations.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        That is awesome. In Ireland, teachers and SNAs have separate unions, which doesn’t make sense really.

  95. BRR*

    I’m in a union as a college staff member (fundraising). Overall I’m very happy being in a union and don’t ever want to be in a non-union role again. I love not being an at-will employee. It’s done wonders for my anxiety to have clearly spelled out firing/lay off policies that have to be followed. I’ve also gotten more raises than my non-union coworkers. I used to be irritated that it was more or less impossible to get a merit raise but the reality is I would be nowhere close to my current salary if I wasn’t in the union. The only real downside if you could call it that is I’m in the same union as faculty and since faculty/staff have different needs, the union has to decide what to fight for which doesn’t always help staff. But I know it’s better for the union to have more members so they have more bargaining power.

    tl;dr Looking at the big picture, I’m by far in a better position being in a union than if I was not in a union.

  96. Kalliopesmom*

    My last employer *a union hall* force me into a union or I would not get the job. My union didn’t represent me even when my employer threatened to clean house if we didn’t accept the new CBA. I had to go to NLRB and file charges on both my union and my employer.
    Tik tok #badunion to see more.
    Make sure you know more about the union before joining.

  97. River Song*

    I work in nonprofit social services! Before we unionized, there was rampant poor staff treatment ignored by the (designated county) agency. Since unionizing staff have gotten major pay raises to be actually competitive in our state, much stronger benefits, and access to steward support when individual team middle managers are terrible. I cannot support unionizing enough, it is very hard to gather a group for pushback and having a union provides incredible resources for many toxic workplace situations.

  98. Not Australian*

    My personal experience with unions has unfortunately been poor and has left me without much faith in them. I’ve been in a workplace that was a ‘closed shop’, for example, and joining the union/paying the dues was actually mandatory. Until then, I’d had faith in them as being protective of – and proactive on behalf of – the workers, which turned out to have been rather naive of me. (This was very early in my working career and well over forty years ago now.) I only needed them once, because I was asked to do something at work for which I should have been given protective clothing – as I found out later – and accidentally destroyed the shirt I was wearing. I asked my union rep to help me get a replacement, but after twelve weeks of wrangling all he came back with was the cost of dry-cleaning. In later workplaces I was more sceptical, and spent entirely too many hours listening to people bloviating without ever getting to grips with the subject supposedly under discussion, and in the end I gave up participating in the process at all.

    *However*… on the whole I feel unions have the potential to be extremely valuable. That said, I regard them in very much the same light as families; the good ones are great, but the bad ones can completely **** you up and actively damage your prospects. Understanding this is probably the key to dealing with them effectively – exercise caution, and don’t expect anything to change quickly.

  99. Anon this time!*

    In my first university job, I was in a union. This was many years ago and I’m staff, so some of this may apply to your situation and some may not.

    One thing to keep in mind is that unions rarely focus on everything. The union I was in ensured I got paid well for my position, with regular raises and great benefits. They were less good about pay raises/promotions/career tracks. Good pay is not nothing! I appreciated it! But in my case, it was a job that people tend to stay in for 2-3 years and then move on. The union did great things for people who stayed in their jobs for decades, which I think was a lot of their membership (and I do think that those folks need someone looking out for them.) But some of their bargaining priorities just didn’t matter to me.

    As others have said, it really matters who the union leadership is. That’s something you can change or influence, as a member, but (like anything) it’s not instantaneous.

    I never really saw the kind of slacking or taking advantage that’s a common complaint about unions. Not saying it never happens but just that it’s not universal.

  100. Junior Assistant Peon*

    There was a grad student union organized during my time in grad school. My classmates and I were mostly against it because it specifically covered only our teaching duties. Some departments, especially in humanities areas, did indeed have a problem with excessive teaching loads. In my department, teaching duties were light, and most of our time was spent on research. We resented being forced to pay dues to solve a problem that largely didn’t apply to us.

    1. Well...*

      I think the whole point of unionizing is strength in numbers. Not wanting to pay the baseline dues is like not wanting to pay taxes if you don’t need food stamps.

      We also had this same teaching vs research split, but in fact research stipends that weren’t unionized went up to match the teaching stipends the union negotiated for! The rich depts that didn’t rely on teaching (mine was one) had an incentive not to have their grad students’ pay fluctuate wildly when they went on and off teaching fellowships. Internal fellowships also went up to match. So there were spillover benefits that helped non TAs, but you may not have been aware you were benefitting.

      Also not having homeless and desperate grad students enriches the whole university community IMO.

  101. Dawn*

    My experience was that getting a union STARTED was far more difficult than I had ever anticipated.

    The work environment was extremely toxic and that certainly contributed, but in spite of the fact that we were an obvious place for a union (24-hour work, government-mandated to be open and available at all times due to being an offshoot of emergency services,) people were terrified of being seen to support a union and even people who had expressed support in private wouldn’t come to a confidential meeting.

    My advice, for what it’s worth, is this: in the early stages, focus on ways to get people over the “I’m afraid” bridge. It’s illegal to retaliate against employees for attempting to form a union but employers still routinely do so and you have to be able to assure your coworkers that they will be protected.

  102. Pro-Union*

    I want to make it clear that I’m pro-union, because I’m going to criticize them.

    The best outcome I’ve ever seen is when my mother tried to organize a union where she worked. Management heard rumors of it and made changes (pay raises, better shift scheduling).

    But I’ve noticed that once the union comes in, shit gets really, really petty. Everyone sticks to the union rules and uses it as a weapon against each other. Management becomes really strict and enforces the contract in ways that punish workers when they can. Workers become really rigid and enforce the contract in ways that punish the company.

    For instance, my father was in a union that had negotiated how many days you could take off for a family member’s death. Three days for a parent, wife, or child, no days for extended family. My father was raised by his grandparents, and when his grandfather died, he was not allowed to take time off for the funeral, because it wasn’t his actual father. I worked for that same company later as a union employee and we all took advantage of the break policy so that our morning and afternoon 15-minute breaks took 45, the hour-long lunchbreak was one-and-a-half hours and our half-hour morning meeting took an hour. I guess, they had factored in 15 minutes of travel time to get to the breakroom, but it was literally attached to the warehouse where we worked. I’m all for sticking it to the man, and this industry was not saving lives or anything, but basically no one worked during their regular 8-hours and all actual work happened during overtime. And this was already a job making 3x the minimum wage.

    I’m not saying unions aren’t necessary, I’m not saying there is currently a better system, but there are definite downsides that you should be aware of, and I’ve noticed that people seem less happy with their jobs for years after unionizing (but happy with union jobs that have been around forever).

  103. Anonymous Professor*

    I’ve been involved for several years in my large university’s faculty union- the first few years in organizing, the last few years in leadership after the union was formed and the contract bargained. It’s been a great experience, although not a 100% positive one. This union includes all faculty, including non-teaching faculty, adjuncts, and lecturers.

    1) The number 1 fear on everyone’s minds was the fear of retaliation/rocking the boat. I had it myself when I first started organizing, as I wasn’t tenured at the time. It pays to listen to that and empathize, but also to realize that the university administration isn’t going to just spontaneously improve matters for faculty, either. They’re still going to mistreat part-time faculty, have the option of terminating lecturers, refuse to give raises, overwork teaching faculty, and so on. Some of the people who didn’t become members were fired (if part-time) or had their contracts not renewed before we held the union vote, so “not rocking the boat” didn’t benefit them. A large group of people, as AAM is always emphasizing, makes it much more difficult for them to do this.

    2) The administration’s excuses for why they can’t do anything but things will improve “someday,” so we don’t need a union, are often BS. In the case of my university, they tried to justify not giving raises because they were in a budget shortfall and couldn’t afford it. In the intervening time, they gave the university President a yearly bonus worth six yearly salaries for faculty members at my level, funneled pandemic money into paying for athletic conferences, and tried to force Academic Affairs into cutting staff positions to pay debts incurred by athletics. The union put a stop to some of this and secured our first raises in two years. It wouldn’t have happened without that.

    3) Union organizing also revealed some of the problems festering under the surface that individual faculty were aware of but didn’t feel they could talk about before. We faculty in the union can’t claim to have solved racism on our campus, but much more open conversations around it are happening now, partially because the union surveyed and asked faculty of color what their experiences had been like and what they would most prefer to see the union working on, and some particularly egregious problems of pay equity have been addressed. We have also pushed for and won accommodations for disabled faculty that they were being denied by their department chairs, minimum salary bands for people at the same title/level where before it was largely up to individual Deans, and the options of permanent contracts for adjuncts who have been teaching for a certain number of years. Again, none of this would have been achievable without organizing.

    I can’t tell any one specific person that it’s a good idea for them to join a union, but I can sure say it made a difference in my workplace.

  104. Heffalump*

    As I’m sure Alison has written elsewhere, bad employees can be fired even in a unionized company. But some years ago I was told that a toxic coworker (most toxic person I’ve ever known) couldn’t be disciplined, much less fired, because “she has union protection.” Of course this was an excuse–the manager didn’t want to deal with it.

  105. An Inside Joke*

    I’m a long time lurker, almost never poster, happy to talk about my experiences with unionizing.

    My company formed a union for the very first time two years ago, in 2020. I was a part of the organizing committee, bargaining committee, and am now the chair of the labor management committee, in spite of having never belonged to a union before that point. My two cents:

    – It’s very, very normal to be afraid of rocking the boat. When we were forming our union and bargaining over our contract, this was the #1 concern for most of my colleagues. The good news is, the United States has pretty good, strong rules against retaliation. Given your use of the word “keen,” I suspect you may not be in the US, but it might be worth reaching out to one of your organizers to get a clear picture of what protections apply to you.
    – Even if your employer wants to retaliate, it’s pretty unlikely they’ll target you specifically unless you do something to put a target on your back. In my office, my boss pulled some pretty passive-aggressive moves. For example, he used to send a monthly email highlighting a handful of employees who had gone above and beyond, but once we announced the union, he made a point of only celebrating people in departments that weren’t unionized. I think he thought he was making some kind of point, but mostly, it was so petty and transparent, it mostly made him look buffoonish. There were some other incidents that were a little more serious than that, but they never rose above the level of “minor annoyance.” (Think, discontinuing Christmas gifts from management, new policies requiring intra-department communication to go through managers so we couldn’t coordinate directly (which would have been illegal to enforce), etc.)
    – It sucked that we did have to deal with pettiness, but the tradeoff is that we got a contract with stipulations about the maximum length of our work day, mandatory rest periods, and management was banned from asking us to work during PTO, all of which had been major issues before. We also got raises of at least $2k for every person in our unit, the largest of which was $18,000 for one chronically underpaid employee. Personally, I thought it was worth missing out on a Christmas gift I didn’t want in exchange for the salary bump!
    – The biggest key to making a unionization issue worthwhile is communication. When I was bargaining our contract, I had a list of about a half dozen co-workers who I checked in with regularly to make sure I understood which issues were important to them. Negotiating means you always have to give something up in order to get something you want more, and if anyone failed to speak up about a particularly important issue, there was always a risk I’d give up something they really wanted in exchange for something they didn’t want as much. So I highly recommend you reach out to your rep about what your funding means to you, just so they don’t underestimate its value in the interest of securing other gains.
    – This is less easy to quantify, but I felt like unionizing brought my coworkers and I closer together. Four separate departments joined our union, each of which did very different kinds of work on very different timeline. Early on, the people in my department didn’t really understand what other departments did, and tended to assume we worked so much harder/had tighter deadlines/were treated worse than everyone else. Turns out, understaffing and overwork were an issue through the entire company (go figure) and once we started working together to try to solve these problems, I think we realized we had a lot more in common than we’d realized. Big win for empathy and solidarity!

    Obviously, I’m a bit biased on this count, but

    1. An Inside Joke*

      Hit send too soon. That’s supposed to end with “I’m biased, but I’m fully on board with unionizing!”

  106. Anonymous Teacher*

    I’ll preface this by saying I support unions and think they are overall a positive thing. Unfortunately, my personal experience with the unions I have been part of has not been great.

    I’m a teacher, and started during the great recession, so at the end of a very tough first year working in a very difficult to fill niche, I was laid off due to seniority. While I was rehired (see difficult to fill position), it felt like such a slap in the face that I really didn’t want to return. As a new teacher, the union didn’t protect my job really. I don’t think this is how we should handle new teachers; we need to support them during the first years, not consider them our most expendable.

    In a later job, the facility I worked at closed, so I was going to lose my job. Due to the contract, I had to be offered a position if it was open and I qualified for it. The position I was offered was one I technically was qualified for, but has absolutely no experience (I’m a high school teacher and was offered an elementary position. Special Ed, so that why I had the credential). It would have been bad for the kids and bad for my career. So I had to resign, which meant I didn’t qualify for unemployment and I lost my health insurance after June, so I had a gap between starting my new job. So the union contact meant I was worse off than I would have been without the contract when my position was eliminated. It was a very upsetting experience.

    Also, my unionized school didn’t offer maternity leave even though California offer maternity leave, and our health insurance was $700/month for a family. I’m now with a charter school, and I got 6 months maternity leave and have more affordable health insurance. The pay is a bit less, but the benefits plus working conditions make it better. This being said, we talk about unionizing at our current school.

    I guess as a highly skilled professional, sometimes the way the contract treats you as a cookie cutter cog can feel kind of devaluing. I was a new parent and didn’t have time to be involved in our union other than a few meetings; now I would be more involved if we unionize.

    1. Anonymous Teacher*

      Ugh, sorry, I realize that mast line makes me sound really classist. I’m thinking about the original unions in factories with like assembly line jobs, but I realize that in all work settings there are highly specialized skills! So my point is that unions treat everyone equally, which is good but can be frustrating if you don’t feel exceptional work can be recognized. I’m not sure if some unions have come up with a way to address this.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Just wondering are teachers part of the same unions as people in different professions in the US? Here in Ireland, there are specific teaching unions. There is the INTO (the Irish National Teachers Union), for primary school teachers and the ASTI (Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland) and the TUI (Teachers Union of Ireland) for secondary school teachers. I agree that all jobs have specifics and that the issues a teachers’ union should be campaigning on are very different to the issues a doctors’ union or a factory workers’ union or a transport workers’ union should be campaigning on and…like it wouldn’t have made sense if people in other professions could vote on whether or not the union agrees to changes to the exams here. That is specifically a teachers’ issue. Other people don’t even have the qualifications to say how students should be assessed. (And equally, I do not have the qualifications to vote on things to do with train driving.)

        And that part about you being offered an elementary school position seems really weird to me. As a secondary school teacher, I am not qualified to teach primary. I can sub as I am a teacher, but I’m not qualified for a full-time position

        1. just a random teacher*

          In the USA, there are two main teacher’s unions: the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. I don’t really know much about the AFT since every school I’ve worked in has had a local under the NEA, but I know my union, in my state, covers both public k-12 educators and some community college faculty.

          Teaching licenses, which dictate what you can and cannot teach, are sometimes for a specific subject at all grade levels, sometimes for a specific subject at certain grade levels, and sometimes for all subjects at certain grade levels. For example, my license has an endorsement that lets me teach a specific subject at any level k-12, and I also hold another endorsement that let me teach multiple subjects, but only at certain specific grade levels. The specifics of what license types are available is a state-level decision, and my state has changed things around quite a few times so there are also plenty of teachers with additional license endorsements that are no longer available to new applicants.

          Someone teaching a specific subject like special education would likely have a license that let them teach all grade levels. This becomes a problem when teachers get bumped and someone is told that even though they’ve taught 8th grade for 15 years, their license is k-8 and they’re being moved to a kindergarten opening, or that they’d better dust off their French, since they are also endorsed as a French teacher even though they’ve taught Social Studies for the past 20 years.

          Theoretically, my district could decide that they were now going to offer specific classes in my subject to kindergartners next year rather than having their main kindergarten teacher teach it as part of their multi-subject class, and they could then assign me to have a group of kindergartners rotate in each period for an absolute fiasco of poor instruction in my specialty because I’ve been teaching high school for a long time and have no idea how to teach my subject to 6 year olds as I last dealt with that age range as an an assistant camp counselor when I was in high school. The main thing stopping this from happening is that it’s a terrible idea, and also that there are generally a lot more people looking for jobs as elementary teachers than secondary ones so it’d be pulling me out of a hard-to-fill role to do a job that they currently have an easier time filling.

  107. Caraway*

    OP, I think often employees who are in a stable position with a good supervisor and colleagues are the ones who can make the most impact with a union. That was my situation, and I became a member of our union leadership team, eventually becoming the vice president. Because my supervisor supported my participation, I never had to worry he’d try to find a pretext to push me out. Because my work was excellent and I had a great relationship with my colleagues (including administration, most of the time), I was able to push harder for employee benefits. It meant that the few times I got genuinely angry, my concerns were taken very seriously and addressed quickly.

    It does take time, or it did for me, to get used to rocking the boat! But that also helped me develop new skills that I could then use both in my work and also to continue to support my colleagues as their union representative. I became a supervisor a few years ago, and although I love my new job, too, I really miss being part of the union. I hope you’ll join, and that your experience will be as good as mine was.

  108. Iffy on Unions*

    My experience with unions is uniformly bad, mostly as a result of being in the military and working alongside civil servants who were, frankly bullies and opportunists and protected by their union when behaving badly. I was considered acceptable collateral damage in their attempt to secure their bargaining position.

  109. Elysian*

    I have worked with, for, and against unions in my professional life. I think this can easily go many directions depending on the specific union and how involved employees are in it. I have seen large unions steamroll their local affiliates by demanding policies and taking negotiation positions that get the union more money off the backs of the employees. I have seen unions fight hard for some employees but not others based on dubious reasons. I have also seen minority views/positions get trounced in a union even though they are valid and fair – unions are democracies too, after all. But I have also seen some cases where unions got benefits or policies that employees legitimately wanted/needed, and management would not have been responsive without the pressure the union put on them.

    In sum, I unions in the US talk a lot about how they don’t have enough power, and I don’t thin that is true. There are some workplaces that will really benefit from unionization, but (1) you get out of it what you put in as a group – if you let the international run your union, you are basically giving them money for nothing; and (2) unions are certainly not working magnanimously for the benefit of the employees, they are working under the same influence of power, politics, and money as everyone else.

  110. Victoria J*

    I’m in the UK so our union system is different.

    Big fan of collective action as employees. Employers have disproportionate power and we need to stick up for each other.

    I don’t really understand people who are undecided about unions, or think they are generally not good. (Individual local ones can have their own issues sometimes). The fact that employers so often don’t want them confirms that they are good for employees. Employers don’t spend time and effort and money persuading people not to join a union because they have employees best interests at heart. That’s not how they spend the rest of their time/effort/money. They do however do whatever it takes to keep power.

    I work for small charities – so our union experience is a bit different, and sometimes less contentious. I’m a rep at my current organisation, and it’s my second time in the role.

    We actually organised and got the union recognised from scratch where I work now. I’m so proud of that. We were recognised a little over a year ago.

    High points – assisting some individuals, getting extra sick pay for employees with 6 month to 2 years service when we renewed the sickness policy, and getting a much less restrictive home working policy. A long with much less hostile language in all the policies that have been renewed, and generally better and clearer policies for staff. We’ve also done some good health and safety stuff including well being. This year we’re looking at pay, training and equalities. We want to start discussions about possibly doing a 4 day week pilot at some point (excellent look for a mental health charity).

    We show that a local union (we’re all members of a national union but we run things for ourselves inside the workplace – with the option of some guidance and assistance from the national people if we need it) can really reflect the members.

    Part of our organisation are therapists – I’ve never been at union meetings before where someone arranged to take time to make sure everyone feels safe about sharing (or choosing not to). (Our therapists are great, I find therapists hilarious sometimes – excitingly they are also a profession starting to unionise themselves!).

    I’m a welfare rights adviser (I help people fight for their government benefits when the government makes that difficult). We’re the angry corner of a fairly mindful and positive organisation and it’s not surprising that we were over represented in the push to unionise and as reps.

    3 of us are acting as reps at the moment (with another couple of dedicated organisers helping us). All the reps are female and we’re in a mental health organisation – and it’s all so very supportive ! Everyone tries so hard to make sure no one is getting burned out, and everyone can take a break, etc. It makes me happy.

    And in general I think we are a very positive union because people are there for the right reasons. They want to protect their rights and their colleagues rights. I am proud of my organisation when I got to meetings and people in management roles speak up and say they want pay increases to be weighted to lower paid staff !

    (We cover non senior management – it’s a small organisation and loads of people manage one or two people, or a specific project. We unfortunately only cover employees not contractors or our sessional therapists).

    I do sometimes regret signing up for extra paperwork and meetings. I never realised I’d have to draft policies and legal documents (our recognition agreement !). I annoy the people in charge sometimes, but I also get to have my voice heard. And then it’s all worth it when I get other people’s voices heard, and when I support someone going through really stressful stuff like disciplinaries, capability hearings, grievances etc.

    I get paid time out of my role if I need to do union training (up to 5 days a year), for meetings, and for rep work. (That’s an agreement we negotiated). Though I never actually have enough time because my work still needs doing so I do end up spending personal time as well.

    I think in general we help the organisation too. We have done a huge amount of work on the policies. We’re getting much better staff engagement than they were getting when asking for staff opinions (tip – we actually listen), supporting staff helps disciplinaries go more smoothly. And doing things right benefits everyone.

    I’m proud of my union, and the work I have done in it.

    Join a union ! Set up a union !

  111. Not my usual name*

    I work at Duke University and am part of the Duke Faculty Union, which covers some but not all of the non-tenure-track faculty, and is organized around teaching rather than research, so some of this won’t be relevant to the OP.

    I was unaware of the initial movement to form a union until the organizers from SEIU (Service Employees International) started coming to campus, at which point I jumped on board enthusiastically.

    The unpleasant truth is that Duke values research far more than it values teaching. In many departments, the quality of instruction is at best a secondary concern, and the treatment of those who do much of the teaching varied greatly from department to department.

    I was one of the better-off contingent faculty. I typically found out by July whether I would have a job for the upcoming academic year, whereas colleagues in other departments might not know until a couple of weeks before school started whether they had a job for the upcoming semester. I had also finally managed to negotiate for my health insurance to be 12-month rather than 9-month. Going on COBRA for three months each year when making less than $20k had been rough.

    Remember, I was one of the better-off employees.

    The administration was VERY hostile to our organizing attempts. They hired a union-busting law firm and put out a lot of scaremongering documents, saying that we could end up worse off than we were.

    Given that their audience for this was a group of people who routinely evaluate the validity of written arguments, that part backfired. The organizers posted a “corrected by red pen” version of one of them on the organizing website.

    We overwhelmingly won the vote to unionize and started the collective bargaining process. The administration remained hostile, sometimes at a “shouting and pounding on the table” level. I’m sure that the fact that the shouter was a straight white male and all but a handful of members of the bargaining unit were not had absolutely nothing to do with it.

    The results of collective bargaining were positive. The benefits that I’d managed to gain were extended to all the union members. My pay, which had increased since the days of 9-month benefits, went up somewhat; some of my colleagues’ pay nearly doubled. (We all still make less than $40k/year for our full-time jobs.) The agreement gave us all greater job security, including multi-year contracts after enough years worked, and guaranteed cost-of-living increases. Members who needed office space had to be given office space, and members who needed laptops had to be given laptops. A fund for professional development was established. Members had access to paid parental leave.

    The administration has remained extremely hostile to the union. They routinely lie about the nature of the collective bargaining agreement; any time a member tries to negotiate something not explicitly covered in the agreement, the administration will tell them that really the university would LOVE to give them X but the union won’t allow it.

    They’re replacing the in-unit instructors in Duke’s nationally ranked Thompson Writing Program with ones who are non-tenure track but also not union-eligible; the TWP had the highest percentage of active dues-paying members of any department. In doing so they’re also radically changing the nature of the program, in which experts in various subject areas teach writing through the lens of their specialty. Students almost universally love this. The replacement faculty have Ph.D.s in rhetoric or composition. I’m sure they’re excellent at teaching writing, but that’s not what makes students excited to get a slot in a TWP class.

    My experience with the union has been overwhelmingly positive, but I have actively stayed away from being involved in the day-to-day and year-to-year details of keeping the union running, because the unrelenting belligerence from the administration is just not something I can deal with.

  112. Hannah*

    I’m also in academia and when they tried to unionize, I had concerns. They were forming 1 union that excluded certain departments (and they were very up front that was because those departments would be more likely to vote against the union forming) and also had what I felt like was too broad of a scope. They wanted to pull tenure track, non tenure track and adjuncts into the same group – with the adjuncts outnumbering the other groups something like 3 to 1. Which means that in terms of voting, the adjunct rights would always prevail. However, because adjuncts are lower paid, the majority of the dues would come from the other two groups. That made me really uncomfortable. While I’m 100% for the adjuncts unionizing, I felt like any group that I was paying dues into should be focused on my rights rather than another group.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      Just out of curiosity, what issues did you think adjuncts would vote for in ways that would disadvantage the other groups? I’m currently non-tenure track, but when I was a part-time adjunct, we were only prolific at universities that knew they could screw over adjuncts in terms of pay and benefits, the lowest in terms of rights overall. I would think it would be a good thing for those most likely to be getting screwed and paid the least over to have their rights acknowledged, yes?

      1. A Genuine Scientician*

        If 75% of the members of the union are adjunct, it’s not unreasonable to think that the union will mostly focus on the issues the adjuncts face, particularly lack of benefits, horrifically low wages, and extreme precarity. Those same things are less likely to be the focus of the tenure track, or the NTT full time faculty, since their positions and compensation are different (often still low, but nowhere near as extremely so). I get the sense that Hannah would prefer the adjuncts have their own union, separate from the other groups, so that her wages are not going to support bargaining for things that do not apply to her. That’s not an unreasonable position.

        It’s not so much that the things that help the adjuncts would hurt the other faculty. It’s that the other faculty wouldn’t benefit much from the things most important for the adjuncts to win.

        1. Hannah*

          Yes, thank you! I absolutely would be on board for adjuncts unionizing! They deserve better rights. But they are also distant enough from my work situation that it’s more like me supporting fast food workers having a higher pay – yes I would do it but no, I don’t want to tie my work benefits to theirs. I’d be personally better off taking that portion of my salary that would go to union dues and supporting either political activism or charities – money that would go straight towards the issue.

  113. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I took my first union job when I was 24, and I was immediately pro-union because that job came with a 30% pay increase over the one I’d been doing. Then, when I was moved into a new technology initiative and a newly created role, it became important for the union to claim its rights in the new unit, so I was made shop steward and put on the Negotiating Committee.

    Fortunately, the company was trying to get itself into shape to be sold, and it was to their advantage to have contracts settled, so the one round of negotiations in which I participated was very quick and painless.

    Eventually I changed industries and moved into management, where I was required to take a “training” and sign a document stating that I would report any union talk I heard and do everything in my power to discourage our workers from unionizing. I signed, but I found the process manipulative and mean-spirited. So I also met privately (on my own time and off company property) with the guy spearheading the union movement and gave him what encouragement I could.

    I’m in tech now and I wish more tech companies WOULD unionize, but there are a lot of libertarian bros out there who think the company won’t dump THEM in the soup should it become advantageous to do so.

  114. Public Sector Manager*

    I’ve been a union member of local government and in an affiliated group at the state level in both a rank and file and management position (for rank and file, they have our salary and benefits match what the union members are paid, and for management, it’s a 5% pay differential every position you move up, so supervisor is 5%, manager is 10% (basically supervisor + 5%), etc.).

    For the union with local government, pay and annual cost of living increases were great. On the benefits side, the employer covered health care and it was really good. However, since most of the unions supplied dental and vision through their own plans, the employer didn’t provide that coverage and paid you a stipend for dental and vision coverage. Since my union was a smaller attorneys union and we weren’t with a nationwide union, the dental and vision were the worst, as in barely above a cash discount I could get on my own! Our coworkers who were with AFSCME got waaaaaay better coverage! On the plus side, it was really nice having a union rep for grievances and complaints.

    In my current state role, we’re not in a union but our pay is tied to the union. Unlike at the local level, health care, dental, and vision are all supplied by the state and they all are amazing! Pension is through the state plan and also amazing. So the union deals with grievances, salary, and other benefits not already provided. The union we’re affiliated with is an attorney’s union, but they are tone deaf, they never get good salary deals (SEIU and police/fire get impressive deals that we never get), and the disparity between what local public sector gets and what we get keeps expanding. I’m glad I don’t have to pay for the lack of strong leaders at the state union level for our attorney groups.

    The takeaways are: (1) if you are going to rely on a union for benefits like health care, dental, vision, pension, etc., affiliate with a large union because the more members you have, the lower copays and deductibles you’ll have and the monthly costs will be cheaper; and (2) if you only rely on the union for salary and other workplace issues, make sure you have strong leaders, regardless of the unions size, because even a small union with strong leaders can make a lot of changes in this regard.

  115. New Jack Karyn*

    A professor I had a million years ago taught us that a workplace gets the union they deserve. If they’ve treated their workers fairly, paid a decent wage, etc., then if they even get a union, the discussions will be amicable.

    If they have attempted to squeeze every last bit out of their workforce–low wages, unsafe conditions, unfair practices–then the union is going to play hardball and the fight could get vicious.

    1. ellyBell*

      I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but I was at a company (a hospital) that organized a union under a previous, very very bad owner. Hospital got bought out, new company is excellent and treats its employees fairly, and the union there continues to play hard ball. I actually left because the union (that I had no choice but to be in) offered worse benefits than the hospital corporation offered every other hospital in its system.

      In general I’m very pro union, and was excited to work at an organization with one intact, but I actually voted to dissolve mine (the vote did not pass) because I felt they were not being fair to the company! It was an odd position to be in.

  116. noname*

    I was in a union in my workplace from the early 2000s until I quit about a decade ago. I quit after I repeatedly asked the union if they would support maternity leave for employees, and each time they replied, they basically said, “This is not something we are interested in because we don’t think this is an important issue.” Meanwhile, their entire board consisted of white men over age 45, several of whom hit brick walls inside of our organization and the union rep job was the only thing open to them. I quit when I finally woke up to the realization that our values did not align. So before creating or joining a union at your workplace, find out the objectives and goals of the union and determine if they align with yours.

    1. another_scientist*

      this is a great point, and if your union is just forming, that means there is a lot to be gained from getting involved and making your concerns heard. It’s harder when you come into an existing structure, depending on the people in charge and how much time you can invest. But getting in at the ground level is really powerful.

  117. I Wore Pants Today*

    I met my husband at work … We were both union workers. The union provided the best wages and benefits we’ve ever had. Without the union, we’re both stuck in corporate he!!, with limited advancement opportunities, stagnant wages, and benefits that get stripped every year. Wish I was still with a union!

  118. zolk*

    There are good and bad things about being in a union but in my experience (11 years in an academic union) the good far outweighs the bad.

    Bad: yes, your least-useful coworkers are nigh-impossible to fire. Yes, you don’t typically get merit increases in a union.

    Good: regularly scheduled raises negotiated as a group by pay band; a body with power you can report major issues to, which I wish I had done more when I was younger.

    Someone I worked with had a boss who deliberately tried to schedule a mandatory meeting the same day as her parent’s funeral, knowing the coworker would not attend the meeting. This was the boss’s attempt to justify firing this employee. The union stepped in and shut that down within 30 minutes.

    Even if you have no doubts about your _current_ bosses, in my experience, academia is full of people who absolutely should not be managers and there’s little to no review of their management skills. Management is rarely fired in academia. The union helps a lot.

  119. kay*

    My number one piece of advice: you have more power than you think in this situation, and you’re not alone.

    I was less than two months into my first job out of college when I joined my union governing board. We had just gotten our first contract, so all I knew about the union was that they had gotten me a $3k raise and a bunch of extra PTO within my first month of work. I was brand new, and terrified of speaking up.

    But I had incredible coworkers, and got to know the most amazing people across the organization through the union. They had my back, and had been in this fight for a long long time. I learned so much from them – not just about the org or the union, but about how to be a good coworker and member of a community. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for those folks! They gave me so much more confidence, including to tell my great-grand bosses they were doing things wrong (my exit interview was just “so this position is designed to chew people up and burn them out, it absolutely has to change”). I had capital because I was good at my job, but I also had a community that would leap into action to support me if I had a problem.

    Unions aren’t magic, and never work perfectly. But people sometimes talk about them as this outside force – and maybe that’s more the case when they’re super established and big. But in my experience, a union is just you and your coworkers saying, “There’s a problem, and there’s something I can do to make it better for all of us.” It sounds cheesy, but we really were coming at it from a place of love! Love for each other AND love for the org.

    So yeah, if you have a chance to get involved I highly recommend going for it!! You literally can just show up and say “hi, I don’t know what’s going on or how I’m supposed to be helping, but this seems cool – can you tell me more about it? Why are you doing X and not Y? What am I supposed to say if my boss asks me about this?” and people will be DELIGHTED to meet you. You’re not alone in this!

  120. refresh*

    I’ve been in unionized workplace without being in the union, with being in the union, and with managing people in the union.

    Leadership makes a huge difference. Both the company AND the union. There was a while where the local rep was RUTHLESS and a total jerk and both to people inside the union and outside, he was 100% a good ole boy and the union just was run like a good ole boys club. The government agency was far less so than the union, but that’s not a good thing, it’s just one kick in the shins instead of 5 kind of thing.

    Once a couple of them retired it seems to be tilting back to ok, it’s a lot of weirdness now, but it’s not quite as “this person was a serial sexual harasser with video evidence but I’m going to file literally a grievance every single day against the person who complained so that they never have to be fired.” But that was also because there was not a will to stand up to it from the HR or labor relations groups within the organization. This guy just had his own little fiefdom.

    I kind of wish unions had to be re-…organized isn’t quite the word, but like they’d expire and then be pre-set to come back so that they had an easier time to shaking places up. I think unionization is EXTREMELY good. I’m less set on long term unions being around forever but that’s just because I think complacency isn’t really healthy.

    Now I’m technically a manager and not in the union anymore and every time I’ve suggested this to folks they’ve kind of phished at it but I really think one of the things the union should be advocating for is to require that the cleaning company be a unionized company, but long story, they don’t seem to be treated well. I think that this is something that our union (not affiliated with a national union which is one they got away with one jackhole for so long) could really make a difference on. I’m really open to suggestions on how to get the union to leverage some of that because it’s something I can get at least a bunch of folks on board with, why yes that sounds excellent, but if it comes from management it’s going to sound weird and I’ve been shut down on this side already too. It’s not a “direct benefit” to their members which is what I’ve been shrugged off with.

  121. Butterfly Counter*

    I am a union employee in academia. Our union supports both tenured and non-tenured faculty my overall experience with them has been positive.

    I’m non-tenured (a lecturer) and compared to other universities with less active unions that I’ve also taught at, being at my university with my union has been excellent. I’ve been a lecturer at a university where an adjunct professor can teach 6 classes (18 credit hours) plus have required office hours for each class, and still be considered part time and ineligible for benefits. At mine, one can only be part time if they teach less than 9 credit hours (max of 2 classes).

    Further, regarding our contracts, we used to only have a minimum contract length of 2 years, which meant I was reapplying for my job every other year, despite consistent growth in our department. The union has negotiated that someone who has been teaching beyond 7 years can now get a minimum 5 year contract and are currently negotiating tenure for long-time lecturers.

    They’ve been great for us non-tenured faculty, especially when the higher-ups have decided that, due to budget cuts, they’d prefer to sacrifice our jobs vs. their own raises. The union does tend to focus on the tenured faculty, but I have to say they have stepped up for us contract workers in real ways in the last 5 years.

    They can be frustrating at times (especially in defending terrible professors who are tenured and no longer do some of the basic aspects of their jobs), but that’s based on more with issues of tenure than issues with the union.

  122. another_scientist*

    Regarding the specific case of the question asker, I wanted to mention a few specific points that I often see grad student or postdoc unions address. You mentioned contract lengths, which are a huge concern. Salary levels are the other big one. There are also lots of details that often come down to the question of are the workers university staff or do we classify them as students (trainees in the case of postdocs). The crux is that if you ask for full benefits, the university likes to call you a student, but if you ask for student support systems and career development, you are treated as staff. This affects retirement contributions, parental leave, vacation, housing or childcare supplements to salaries, the fact that students on fellowships or stipends sometimes fall out of health coverage, who steps in if your fellowship is much lower than the normal PhD salary, whether you can be the PI on a grant that was your idea, or get partial credit for a grant that you helped win, who pays for you to attend conferences and professional development opportunities.
    Having clarity on these is a good start, so that it’s not down to the policy of your specific department or the supervisor’s mood if you get certain perks. A strong union contract can address these topics.

  123. Well...*

    I was a head steward in our workers union in my PhD program. Unionization definitely helped with pay and benefits, and the university admin hated us for it. Lots of misinformation to combat.

    The whole thing really tired me out. Most people are so busy just trying to get through the program they they don’t want to hear union spiels, and I hated the salesmanship aspect of activism.

    I loved that we negotiated for gender neutral bathrooms in our contract, and that language made a difference in my own building (before the contract profs said it was against building codes to have gender neutral bathrooms, after the contract that complaint evaporated).

    The union organizers were generally involved in lots of activism on campus, leading to some major wins. One was getting the chancellor to step down after she accepted money from for-profit schools.

    There were interesting dynamics between the local union and the statewide union and the national union. Check out the UCSC wildcat strike for more on that.

  124. RubyJackson*

    I was a regularly working union member for about 5 years, in IATSE Local 600 for the camera department on films and tv commercials. My union dues were skimmed off the top of my paycheck for this entire time and not once did I earn health insurance benefits and didn’t qualify for a pension with them. When my boss gave me a ‘quid-pro-quo’ demand of sex-for-employment and I turned to the union for help, they told me since ‘sexual harassment’ isn’t specifically mentioned in the by-laws, the cameraman hadn’t technically violated any union rules and there was nothing they could do to help me. That’s when I gave up my lucrative career and walked away from the film industry and unions.

  125. Solidarity Forever*

    I was part of a university union as a graduate worker for about five years. I cannot recommend unionizing highly enough. The union was responsible for negotiating major increases in healthcare coverage, decreases in university fees (charged to students) while employed in an eligible position, emergency funds during the pandemic (though this was largely through mutual organizing, not from the employer), and major gains for international workers and parent workers (funds for legal fees, childcare stipends, etc.). It didn’t resolve all the issues we faced as workers–especially those that the university cast as “student” problems rather than “worker” problems, including major disparities in stipend funding–but it was a huge help, and even having the specter of the union helped us to win some unofficial gains from the university.

    A small but but telling example: The ceiling in our graduate office had been leaking for *months*, and it was really unpleasant (attracted flies, dripped onto workspaces, and was presumably molding since the wall and ceiling were always damp). Neither the graduate workers nor our faculty managers were able to get it fixed, and eventually the university claimed that a fix would be literally impossible (something about the city-owned street above being improperly waterproofed and out of their control). We filed a formal grievance through our union rep as sort of a hail mary, and what do you know? The university figured out how to fix the damn leak basically over night. I had so many interactions like this, where the union made something (extremely reasonable!) happen that had been deemed “impossible” by our administration. I cannot recommend unions in university settings enough.

  126. biodesign*

    I was part of a tech union at a large research medical university. Our funding was decreased and the union was great. My friend was put on the top of the interview list for any open lab position. Her severance package was clearly defined (I was off to grad school; so I was not laid off). The union also negotiated off between Xmax and New Year (as long as you weren’t critical). We had published pay bands and guaranteed annual cost of living increases.

  127. StuckInLine*

    I was part of a union at a large educational institution in a non-educator role. I got to experience both the positives and negatives (and the “somewhere-inbetweens”) of being a member. On the one hand, the job security was really nice. It was often emphasized (usually indirectly) how difficult it would be for a unionized member to be fired or lose their position. I was an excellent employee and that never felt like a surface-level problem, but it was comforting nonetheless, especially when the pandemic hit. My reps also were also affable, even if they couldn’t provide entirely adequate support the one time I reached out to them with a complaint (about returning to the office during the pandemic).

    On the other hand, because of the union rules, advancing within the hierarchy of the institution was almost non-existent. Because of job protection, other union members had security even after they had been outperformed in their positions. This meant we were relying on outdated practices and not-up-to-date levels of work because those members could not be fired or moved without pushback from the union. In other words, in the half-decade I was there, I wasn’t able to advance anywhere in my position because those above me were content to hang around despite being able to retire years previous. Eventually I had to leave the role because I had been stagnant and wanted to grow my career, and the union was a huge reason for that bit of being “stuck in line”.

    After my experience, I come down somewhere in the “fairly positive” category on unions. I definitely see the good and why they are such a useful tool for employees overall… but I also understand the detriment they can be when they’ve grown so large and fail to adequately provide support for individual employees too.

  128. AndreaC*

    I have been in a union, worked for a union, and worked HR for a company with union workers. My #1 suggestion is to stay engaged. Read your contract and consult it when you have concerns. It’s not easy to get through all the stupid language, I know, but learn what you can. If you have questions, ask your union, not your employer, to help interpret. Elect a good steward, not just the most popular person. You need someone who can foster a good relationship with management but also isn’t afraid to stick up for people. If they are too contentious, they’re just going to annoy people and not get anything done.

  129. The Crowening*

    I was in a union shop for 20 years on a government installation where, because of the nature of the work, the hours varied wildly, sometimes with very little notice (again due to the nature of operations, not because anyone caused it). We worked alongside teams that were not unionized. We were better paid than those counterparts and had better benefits (we know because we had a couple of team members move from those teams to ours). However, management tended to be grumpy and surly with us and micromanaged us a little more and were less flexible with us than they were those other groups, and the occasional grouchy comment about our being union made it clear they resented we were represented.

    We did not care. :D Go ahead and be grouchy and inflexible, managers – we’d have been wrung out, exhausted, and underpaid if not for the reasonable guidelines laid out within the bargaining agreement. Those 2 decades in the union kept my family afloat while my spouse struggled to build a career. It was worth it – the dues, the meetings, the teeth-gnashing at negotiation time, the grumbling by management. All of it.

  130. Jen*

    I’m in higher ed and have worked in a right to work state and now a very strong union state. I have the feeling it depends a lot on the individual institution, but there are pluses and minuses.

    Union Plus: Great benefits! And when the state has tried to go after them, they haven’t been able to touch them.

    Union Negative: Lots more bureaucracy. It is harder to do my job in the union state because there are a ton of extra regulations. And there are some jobs that are strictly controlled by the union. Like, I wanted to hang a picture in my office, but had to call a certain department to do so, because that is an activity that can only be done by 1 position type, as stated by the union. So, I had to make an appointment and wait a week, when I could’ve just brought in a hammer and did it myself. I was warned I wouldn’t want to be caught union busting.

    I also feel that some of the unions on my campus make crazy demands just to see what they can get. Drastic (20%) annual pay increases, a week off to get a Covid shot, stuff like that. And when they’re turned down, it is framed as administrative bullying.

    Union employees get automatic pay increases that often mean non-union employees (mostly faculty and administrators) have had no increases or even furloughs during bad funding years. And those automatic increases have meant that there are junior faculty making less than the guy who empties their trash can. I know there is a sense of “sticking it to the man” among service workers, but sometimes doing so isn’t fair to “the man”. Also, since it is so hard to fire, we have problematic employees who are just passed around from unit to unit, basically doing nothing.

    There are still issues with funding (find me an institution that doesn’t have those issues), temporary positions, and such, as the university looks for ways to get around some of the cumbersome union policies. Union review of an open position takes considerable time, and they will often try and slot an existing member in a role, whether or not they are qualified.

    So, this is a bit philosophical, but based on my experiences, I’m not a huge union fan, at least in higher education. This could be due to my state having been unionized for so long that all the basic needs are covered, and the unions press for more.

  131. Lab Rat*

    We have two unions where I work. I call them “the Haves and Have Nots”. The “Haves” get a two grade pay hike (roughly 12% every 3 or 4 years) My union, “the Have Nots” Nada. Nothing. * I’ve been a Pay Grade 10 for over 20 years. I work with a woman who’s been here over 40 years and is still a grade 7.
    Twenty years ago, my counterpart in the “Haves” was also a 10. They’re now a 16 last I checked.
    My theory is the Haves are more valued because they have a Bachelor’s or higher. They also have a more congenial relationship with management.
    The Have Nots are high school or Associate degree. The Have Nots union is more adversarial with management and management is more adversarial with the Have Not union.
    *I don’t consider “step increases” or COLAs actual raises, as everyone gets them whether your in Union 1, 2, or nothing. I did learn recently you CAN fire your union, which is good to know. I’m nearing retirement though, and the fights’ been beat out of me.

  132. Just Me*

    Never in a union, but I used to coordinate a job-training program for a Workforce Board. We had to maintain relationships with local manufacturers and with trade unions, and reps from both camps had to be on our board. Many of the big employers wanted incentives for promoting from within and providing job training, which is a good way for people with little education or experience to get their foot in the door, but also is very much an anti-union measure. Unions like the IBEW are pretty important in terms of setting up apprenticeships and teaching young people trades, so we worked with them a lot. In hindsight, my youth who ended up learning trades and joining unions ended up with a lot more security and stability than those who worked for the hands-on promote-from-within type employers.

    1. refresh*

      How come promoting from within and providing job training are anti-union measures? (100% actual question, I can’t see it)

      1. MentalEngineer*

        Most manufacturing or skilled trade unions run their own (very rigorous) training and apprenticeship programs and then connect the graduates with jobs, kind of the same way that med schools match residents with hospitals. Companies hiring inexperienced folks and training them in-house is a union-busting measure because those workers displace the union workers. Because they’re not unionized, they’re not on the union pay and benefit scale that’s negotiated across employers, which then depresses wages and benefits for everyone. And if a particular company does your training, it’s not as portable between jobs as if it’s independent, which suppresses workers’ ability to leave the company they trained at; this also suppresses wages and working conditions for everyone.

        1. MentalEngineer*

          Also, the company training is usually a lot more dangerous, because their incentive is to spend as little as necessary to meet legal and business needs while the union’s goal is to set up the trainee for a long and safe career. To use Just Me’s example, if I’m looking into being a high-tension electrical line tech, I’m going for an IBEW apprenticeship every single time – my odds of falling, getting electrocuted, etc. are very measurably lower.

        2. refresh*

          This is really helpful! Thank you!

          It makes sense in that way. (I work in an environment where the union doesn’t do any training but the org does a lot of internal promotion and training into other specialties so just had a little moment.) The trade union is the trainer of excellence and transferable stuff. The company wants just what they want at best.

  133. Once a nurse*

    I’ve been in 2 unions. The first, a reasonably well known nursing union, has done a great deal to improve working conditions, (which also translates to better care for patients), standardize pay, build in rewards for keeping nurses at the bedside instead of jumping to administrative roles, and get more recognition for the profession. The union staff also helped a lot of nurses with labor law issues, whether it was pressure to work off the clock, failing to pay for mandatory classes, or trying to limit breaks and lunch periods. In more recent years, the organization may have gotten a bit “too political” for some members’ preferences, but I still feel that union has done great things for nurses.

    My current union is in the public agency arena, and mostly functions to do contract negoitations, although they do have stewards who will assist members with disciplinary actions if requested/needed.

  134. MV Teacher*

    One of the key issues with unions is to realize that the power of a union is in its members. Having a union is not a magic wand. How effective the union is depends greatly on what it wants to do, the cooperation (or lack of) from management, and how unified and active members are.

    Finally, make sure you connect with the best larger union/association to assist and support you. This will vary by field. Backing by a larger organization is essential.

  135. Quickbeam*

    I’ve been in a union twice. The experiences were good and bad. My first union was as a probation officer in NJ. The union pressed for us to get fair raises, dental insurance…pointing out that our county was one of the most expensive in the US. We picketed daily for months. We won a 22% raise and dental insurance. This was in the 1980s.

    Different state (WI)….different career….I was shoehorned into a very weak nurse union with low wages and very little protection. I was a statewide consultant and was getting jerked around on travel time, over time….lots of nickel and dime stuff. My pay was 30% less than market value but there was a pension system. The union was not able to help with an abusive boss. Then we had a new governor who campaigned on busting the union. We lost all our protections that we had. WI still has not recovered 12 years later. I left for the private sector.

  136. Sabina*

    I work in HR in a very large and heavily unionized organisation and we negotiate all our HR policies both with official staff representatives and with different union reps (our staff are active in a couple of different unions). Although in terms of my job they are on the other side of the table, I have definitely come to appreciate the work they do especially supporting staff members in difficulties. I would say though that the older generation are much more committed to trade unionism and our younger staff don’t tend to get involved so much, and the influence of the unions is decreasing. But I would definitely join the union if it wouldn’t be more or less a conflict of interest with my role.

    In terms of impact on individuals who get involved in unions, in my experience we (i.e. HR) are extremely careful to watch out for the careers of union activists to avoid any implication that we are anti-union or trying to suppress staff representation. And actually many of our successful managers come from union backgrounds. But we have long-established unions, I imagine it could be rather different to a brand new union in a union-busting atmosphere.

  137. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    My private English as a Second Language (ESL) school in Toronto unionized four years ago. It’s *extremely* rare to have a union in an ESL setting.

    Our school (an international one with headquarters overseas) tried HARD to discourage us from voting one in. The negotiations for both our previous contracts took ages. We’re negotiating our third two-year contract now. I am extremely happy to be part of a union. Our main concern wasn’t money, but fair allocation of classes and working conditions.

    Bless the union who took us on as a collective, because they are *never* going to collect as much money from our dues as they’ve put out in time, effort, and probably money on our negotiations. Is it a perfect system? No. But I feel much safer, especially in this industry, being part of a union.

  138. Elle Woods*

    I had a very mixed experience with the union at my R1 institution and was not active in it. The union didn’t exist when I first began my studies but did by the time I left a few years later.

    The biggest issue I saw was that the union organizers very much took both a “one size fits all” and “all or nothing” approach to things. Most of the organizers were in the liberal arts & sciences (LAS) and didn’t take the time to learn how grad students in departments outside of LAS (like agricultural & consumer sciences, engineering, business, law, vet med, and the med school) were set up, funded, organized, or operated. Additionally, during one particular period they also relied very heavily on confrontation and threatened strikes or walk-outs whenever they got an answer they didn’t like. It got tiresome fast.

  139. TJ*

    I’m an admin at a healthcare/university setting and I’ve been a union member since I started about six years ago. Eventually I became a steward, and now I also sit on the board of my union (we’re staff, not faculty). I’ll preface what I say by mentioning that all unions are different, there’s a lot of factors (public/private sector, state labor laws, workplace demographics, contracts, leadership, etc), and I can only speak to being active in mine.

    My biggest take away from unions is that, they’re a lot of work if you want a good one. It’s easy to think about what ‘the union’ does or doesn’t do for your workplace, but the thing is YOU are the union. The organization is only as strong as the members are willing to make it. A strike is the best example of that, if workers at a company truly believe that they deserve a 10% raise this year but they aren’t willing to strike if the employer won’t give in, then they’re not going to get it. And pulling off a strike, getting a majority to agree to it, coordinating it, that’s hard work too. Solidarity, workers have to show up for each other. Even when it’s inconvenient.

    When layoffs/pay cuts were threatened at the beginning of the pandemic, our union (through town hall meetings) decided that we would go back to the university with a proposal for members to apply for temporary furloughs/FTE reductions to reduce costs. There were a lot of folks who were happy to reduce their hours (childcare was a huge factor) and so we avoided layoffs because enough members took that. The unclassified workers did take pay cuts.

    Being a steward is hard (I’ve sat with other members through a lot of tough meetings) and you have to step away from your work, but it’s the probably most rewarding part of being active. People feel supported having someone show up to make sure their contractual rights are being followed. I’ve met people from all across my workplace and learned a lot about what other folks do (there’s over 300 classifications in our union) and what issues they have. It gives you a better understanding of how your company works (or doesn’t work).

    I joined the board of my union not really knowing much about what the board did, and I was surprised about how much we do. Our board decides what grievances go to arbitration or approves raising the pay grades for classifications. We decide how dues money gets spent. It’s a lot of responsibility really. If you have an active board you can get a lot done. I used my seat on the board to get our contract summarized and translated into multiple languages because there are a lot of different languages in our bargaining unit and we only had the contract in English.

    And it can be frustrating. My union has thousands of members in it, but barely 5% of the membership is actually holding it together (stewards, board members, committee members). Burnout is real. Everyone is volunteering to keep things going. Board meetings are LONG. People don’t understand the limitations of a contract (I’ve had to tell so many people that just because their boss is a jerk doesn’t mean we can file a grievance or that yes, they can get fired… I’ve seen it. If a manager really wants someone gone, they can make it happen). A strong union should be democratic, that means having to build majorities, getting consensus, and that’s hard. There are personality clashes. It’s no different from any other member-driven organization.

    But I think we’re at an exciting time for unions. Not just in the wave of organizing but in how they can push for change. We are bargaining this year, and we are trying something new, getting language in our contract around harassment and discrimination. Not many unions have managed to do this. I’m not sure if we’ll succeed but I hope we do.

    1. kay*

      Seconding 100% of this – the union is what you make it, and the people who are involved keep the whole thing going for everyone!

  140. former union member*

    I was in a union at one job and honestly didn’t find it very valuable. My department was in academia, we were part of say llama support and under the same high level group as alpaca support. The alpaca team had always been in a union, and voted to add the llama team (without our consent). I had money deducted from my paycheck, had to go to meetings, got tons of political mail and calls to support union backed candidates etc. When we had layoffs, union members were not spared.

    I like the “idea” of unions but was not actually useful in my situation, unfortunately.

  141. Union rep*

    Here’s my experience with the Union: I am a member of and Union rep for my employer. For the last few years I’ve also been a member of our region’s Executive Board (as the Local’s treasurer). It’s not surprising perhaps that I’m pro-Union, but here are some things I like about it.

    First of all, in the words of a good friend of mine, a main reason for Unions to exist is so that people’s recompense for their work (including benefits, amt of hours required, etc.) is something they can have a voice in. It’s nearly impossible for one individual worker to change things dramatically when going up against a hostile or indifferent employer. You can take it or leave it (and the job), but you can’t do a lot. And the lower your position, the less power you have. Unions are a way for employees to cooperate and band together so it’s harder for employers to ignore them.

    It’s also a bit like having a public defender. The job of a public defender is to make sure that every person accused has some sort of legal representation, even if they are unable to afford it. Likewise, with potential disciplinary actions, we as reps will be present for the discussion and take notes/pay attention to what happens, ask questions, and so on. If the manager doing the disciplinary interview is hostile or out of line we can defend the employee and help keep them from incriminating themselves. We have more experience with the types of things that can happen with a disciplinary interview and more of an idea of what pitfalls employees tend to fall into, just like a public defender knows the law better than those accused of crimes. It’s important to know that this representation happens whether or not we think someone is guilty. Everyone should have the help of someone more experienced in an area like this when dealing with issues that can have serious effects on their career. (That being said, it should be everyone. I remember a horrible story on AAM where someone was a complete jerk to his co-worker [didn’t tell him about a phone call that a family member or pet was in the hospital? Something like that?] and the union provided representation for the jerk but not the person who was wronged. A Union should 100% in a case like that provide a separate representative for each person so they can both be treated fairly.)

    Last thing I’ll mention for now: even with a Union, keep in mind that the level of power any one person has may be small. I work for a large employer, so we have local reps, an Executive Board that handles regions, some larger councils that manage specific issues on a more national level, and then the parent Union who handles the stuff at the very top. When I was a local rep, and even now at the next level up, I’d sometimes have people come to me about issues on a national level and expect that I could change it. I’m always happy to pass things up, but my power to effect change is still limited. I can do a lot at the Executive Board level, and give info to people at higher levels to try to persuade them to take a specific action, but I’m not at, say, the level of contract negotiations. (Although not gonna lie, I’d love to work at contract negotiations someday….)

  142. MentalEngineer*

    Better get this up here before it drops off the front page! I’m a union organizer in higher education, starting as grad worker rank and file, then elected leadership, and now a staff role. If you have questions that are too private or too complicated to go through here, don’t hesitate to email me at my username at Gmail, or DM @BSerber on Twitter. I will always have time to talk to a worker who wants a union or has a union but wants it to be better. And if I’m not the right person for you to talk to, I’ll find someone who is. Solidarity!

  143. Madie*

    I helped successfully organize my white collar law office /non profit workplace and get an interim agreement before I left for a job. Organizing was daunting and exciting. Unions are polarizing and you quickly learn how sensitive some people are to it. Bargaining took a long time (management was very reluctant to work with the union) but my former colleagues now have an amazing CBA.

    Having a union means your benefits and job conditions can’t be changed overnight unilaterally. Having a union means stability and respect in the workplaces. Bosses and upper management care about money and outputs. Workers are replaceable. A union ensures workers are treated fairly and respected.

  144. FormerTeacher*

    Teaching Job 1, public charter school. I was part of a group that tried to start a union. Management caught wind of it early on and actively worked against us–in the process backtracking on agreements they’d already made with us regarding the union, stirred up drama with potential union members, and ultimately was successful in busting the union. By the end of that school year, half of us in that group had already left; by the end of the following school year, only one of us was still there. Once the union was busted, admin took a pretty hands-off approach to us, which meant that we got basically 0 support from admin (instead of the lip service we got previously).

    Teaching job 2, large public school district. I became a building union rep, two months later my program was cut and my position eliminated.

    Teaching job 3, mid-sized public school district in a wealthy suburb. I accidentally ran afoul of the building union rep and she used her pull to make sure I didn’t have a job the following year, despite solid student results, strong relationships with parents, strong performance reviews, and a good relationship with the building principle.

    A strong, well-functioning, positive union is worth it’s weight in gold but they are few and far between. Tread carefully.

  145. Union Attorney*

    I work for a union. I used to rep unions as an outside attorney. I’ve never been a part of one, but I’ve been heavily involved in lots of the sausage making.

    Unions are, ultimately, what you make of them. With unions, you have a say in electing leaders. You have a say in contracts. You have a say in joint labor management meetings. By no means are unions perfect. Far from it. But they are heavily regulated, at least in the private sector, so as to create democratic voices in how they’re run. And even then, it’s not all roses. There are growing pains, there are politics, there can still be bad leaders. But it gives a voice that doesn’t otherwise exist. And if the union is not working out, you can still vote to decertify or to certify with a different union. Ultimately, I think they do much, much more good than bad.

  146. Alternative Person*

    I like unions, but it definitely depends on the people running them to be decent, and between the downward spiral of my sector where I live and corporate being determined to drive that spiral down faster, my union is mess of conflicting interests that can’t agree to positions they want to pursue (think more senior people being on better contracts and holding titles/positions with fewer qualifications than more junior staff whose contracts are worse and qualifications higher).

    Even (gently) raising an issue can get you pounced upon for the crime of having a different opinion and I just don’t have the emotional energy to deal with it. I’m fortunate in the sense that they’ll uphold the letter of the law and the union contract when it comes to individual issues, but when it comes to collective bargaining and conditions, older members get so caught up in protecting what they have, they make it near impossible for younger members to ask for things. This has meant the union has been caught flat-footed recently when it has come to BS corporate contract and hiring changes and it has been deeply unfun.

  147. Testerbert*

    Mine is a UK-based situation. I (briefly, moved onto a different company) was a union rep in a large organisation, working as part of a business unit outsourced from a well-established company (the organisation had promised to streamline their legacy IT platforms and eliminate the need to maintain multiple specialised mainframe systems).

    We did the best we could given the circumstances. An awful lot of our membership were people who had started working for the well-established company straight from school at 16 (or earlier in a few cases) and had stuck around ever since. We had the normal sort of casework of the organisation not giving people reasonable workplace adjustments & discipline matters, as well as the annual game of the organisation giving us an insultingly low pay offer (often below inflation, with an insistance of ‘performance banding’ it to further insult people) followed by us threatening strike action. The only things which ever got real traction with the members was pension & redundancy terms. 90% of them were on fairly generous pension terms compared to someone new like myself, and had built up many years service under the old company scheme as well. Any attempt to expand those terms to newbies like me got no support, but any hint of making *their* benefits worse led to packed meetings.

    In the end, the work (and all the staff doing it) got shuffled to a different outsourcing company, and I believe their pension terms for future accrual were made worse anyway. The members just didn’t seem to have the stomach for putting their foot down as many of them were basically holding on for as long as possible to get a voluntary redundancy offer or reach retirement.

  148. MediaUnion*

    I’m a little late to the party, but I work in media and have a union, and I really appreciate it. I was not here when the union was created, but I’ve gone through one negotiations cycle and plan to get more involved as time goes on.

    The biggest benefit is the collective bargaining, so it means that instead of just me trying to get a raise on my own, it’s a large group pushing for that in negotiations. My employer has been very reluctant to give even small raises to the union, which makes me appreciate the union more because I can only imagine how much harder it would be to do alone.

    I do agree with other comments that what the union accomplishes depends on what the employees want to put into it. We are a small staff so having just a few of us be very invested in it means a lot gets done.

    And the benefits of the union contract aren’t just about wages, our contract also outlines policies about our right to refuse overtime, holiday pay and more. For example, our contract says that if i leave work for the day and my boss calls me back for something, I get a minimum of four hours pay even if the task only ends up taking half an hour. That’s something that I would never get, or even think to ask, for on my own!

    I think the general downside that people believe is that unions protect bad employees, and make it difficult or impossible to fire them. I take that with a grain of salt. In my experience the company wants to blame the union for that, but the reality is that the union hasn’t stopped a firing- the company has never moved to fire anyone. The company is dragging their feet and just uses the union as a scapegoat.

  149. Anne Boleyn's Necklace*

    I just joined the union at my large, public university after the fall of Roe. Not sure how but I have been able to benefit from the union’s endeavors (such as a Covid bonus) without being a due-paying member prior, but I decided to finally pitch in ($40/month). My salaried staff job is pretty secure, but I worry a lot about folks who are hourly, res life folks, and people who generally have less power/social capital/security and wanted to contribute to the leveraging power for those people.

  150. MR*

    I am in a state employee union, and the two most helpful times for being in a union were:
    – State shutdowns. Having someone able to collectively negotiate the process of a shutdown and recall (there is a lot of ranting to be had here about shutdowns themselves, but forgoing that…) took a lot of uncertainty out of what was a really chaotic time.
    – When someone tries to make a political decision/point that drastically changes working conditions. For example, the governor once decided that all state employees would be required to take an unpaid furlough day every week or two weeks. Effectively a 10-20% pay cut. Having the union to push back hard on that, and the contract language already in place, that very public idea died a quick death at the hands of legal realities.
    There are definitely some downsides related to salary bands and the sheer amount of work involved in discipline, but it sure was worth it for those two big issues.

  151. Lifeandlimb*

    I’m sorry, but I origjnally thought the headline read “Let’s talk about onions” and I clicked because I was curious how AMA could work onions into workplace advice.

  152. Electric Mayhem*

    I had always considered myself to be pro-union, but have only had negative experiences. I’m sure they have a positive influence somewhere, in some industries.

    I am in healthcare. When I was in training, there was one trainee who just didn’t care. When she was offered opportunities to learn a new (necessary) skill, she would decline. She didn’t do the work for her role, didn’t bother to see patients, would lie about findings, exams, everything. She repeatedly showed up 2-5 hours late every day, sometimes not at all. On one day when she was 5 hours late (without any notification, and no excuse wen she arrived), her supervisor was understandably upset, and wanted to know why and reprimanded her, she called the union lawyer, who showed up to the hospital the same day and demanded to know why the supervisor was being “mean” to the trainee. The union lawyers fought any and every attempt to get her to do her job or show up on time or at all. Every time she didn’t show up, someone else in her same position had to stay late or be pulled in to fill in. For some reason, the union didn’t seem to care about helping them.
    It’s very hard, but not impossible, to get someone fired from this position. The hospital went through all the required procedures, but the union required that the person be notified of their firing 9 months in advance of the actual termination of the job, which was only 3 months into the job. If they didn’t, they had to pay her for an entire extra year of salary after being fired. The hospital decided that keeping her was so dangerous that they went through with firing her, paid her for the extra year, and were unable to fill her spot for that year, so the other people in her position were forced to work much harder to make up for that loss.

    In another situation, a nurse was verbally abusive to a patient’s family member. The patient had just had emergency surgery in the middle of the night, and the (elderly) family member wanted to stay with the patient until morning when it would be safe to leave (we are in a fairly unsafe area) and when they knew the patient was OK and comfortable. A doctor tried to defuse the situation and suggested that the family member be allowed to stay with the patient until early morning given the circumstances, but did not engage in a verbal altercation with the nurse. The nurse reported the doctor, and the union rep forced the doctor to apologize to the nurse in the presence of the union rep. No one apologized to the patient or the family member.

    Most of the people I work with are wonderful. But there are a few truly bad eggs, and they are unjustly protected by unions, who make it nearly impossible to fire them. The employees have been reported, even for racist behavior toward patients (!), and nothing changes. The employees who are good are frustrated by their union’s support of the poor workers, and the good ones have to tolerate their disruptive behavior and pick up the slack.

    In addition, when I was in the union, we had a healthcare plan with no prescription coverage (before the ACA). The union provided $200 per year to cover costs, but it didn’t even cover 1 month of my medication. The employees in similar positions who were not unionized had full prescription coverage. I spoke to my union rep about the problem to try to get her to advocate for us, and she was completely, shockingly, clueless. She didn’t seem to understand why prescription coverage might be necessary, or why $200 was pathetically low. It never went anywhere. I eventually changed to be in one of the non-unionized positions just to get the prescription coverage.

    1. NorthBayTeky*

      It’s not really the union protecting them. All these disciplinary issues you described can have consequences attached to them. It’s lazy managers that are not documenting lazy workers that flout the rules. That is not on the union.

  153. Thfan*

    I worked for the largest organization in my state, 12,000+ employees. There was no union. In fact, their formal employee orientation focused primarily on the fact that they were non unionized and strongly implied that oppositional views were not welcome. It felt like a veiled threat. During my time working for the company, I observed terrible treatment of hard working, valuable coworkers by top heavy management with way too much power. These employees had no protection. Truly an organization who’s employees would benefit from a union.

  154. Squirrel Nutkin, former UAW member*

    The grad students (and I among them) tried to unionize when I was in grad school in the early ’90s — we organized as United Auto Workers, local 2165 (“The University works because we do.”) We went on strike for a couple of months for recognition and the right to bargain. Thank you very much, Teamsters, for respecting our picket lines; electrical workers (IBEW, I believe), we saw you cross our picket lines. Jerks.

    The @!#$#%s who ran the University wouldn’t budge and withheld our paychecks until we turned in grades for the semester, but other than that, blowback differed by department. The Humanities and Social Science faculty were generally sympathetic and not punitive. Some of the Science faculty were not sympathetic and more punitive.

    One of my fellow students who refused to go on strike was a former air traffic controller who had been fired as Reagan’s response to the air traffic controllers’ strike. His bitter cynicism turned out unfortunately to be well founded. After we ended the strike, we took our demand for union recognition up to the Public Employees’ Relations Board (we were at a state school), which took several years to refuse to recognize our right to organize.

    I work at a school that has a unionized faculty now, but our former union president was WAY the heck too cozy with the administration. She completely rolled over and failed to demand that COVID precautions in the classroom continue and she did not even do the bare minimum of polling the faculty to see how we felt about mask-optional classrooms (spoiler alert: not good) and whether we’d be willing to strike over this most basic health and safety issue. I have lost all respect for her. Sell out.

  155. Charizard*

    Personally, I didn’t enjoy working for a union when I did. The biggest reason, while ideally fair, was that every little thing was based on seniority. And while that can be good in some instances it doesn’t seem fair when you work very hard and the person senior to you doesn’t but gets more benefits based on having been there longer. It sort of makes you not have any motivation to actually do a good job.

  156. Some Dude*

    I’m not a union worker, but my parents were, in three different careers, all public sector. There were a lot of good things – when it comes to balancing worker health and the bottom line, a union can be helpful to ensure worker health is considered. However, I also heard stories of people working the system, basically doing the bare minimum and sticking around because they had the union to protect them. I’ve seen this myself first hand when being a non-union person in a union shop (I was a temp). Most people were awesome, but there would be that person who would totally work the system to do almost nothing. This can happen in non-union cases, too, of course, but if you have a super protective union it makes it easier.

    Locally, there is a small retail operation that unionized and reading between the lines in the stories that have come out of it it sounds like a couple toxic employees are weaponizing the union to be big old jerks. So they can be awesome, but if non-awesome people are in charge they can be non-awesome.

    There was a local retail establishment that unionized, and reading between the lines of stories coming out of it it seemed like there were a few pretty toxic employees who used the union to be big old bullies.

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