The continuing benefits of being in a union

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Starbucks in Northwest Las Vegas. Photo by Kalin Sipes.

Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the union membership rate was at an all-time low. Although these results are disappointing, there is room for hope. 

While the membership rate was down, the total number of unionized workers in the U.S. increased. This means both that economic pressure (due to inflation and other issues) has forced people into less secure work and that people are increasingly recognizing the benefits of being a part of a union.

Despite all the tired anti-union propaganda that companies love to repeat that claims unions lead to lower pay, the fact is pay for union members tends to be much higher, easily offsetting any union dues. Another claim made is that unions prevent you from ‘advocating for yourself,’ when in fact there’s currently no means of advocating for yourself without a union. 

People are increasingly aware of the benefits of unionization. In an era when employers are shorting people in terms of pay, healthcare access, parental leave, assigned hours (both too low and too high), benefits, and workplace safety, being a part of a union is the most direct means you can have for correcting those issues.

The most important benefit of unions is simply that being a part of one gives someone the means of collectively addressing workplace issues. 

Without a union, some workplace problems likely will not be addressed. However, even if they are addressed, the issue is often only fixed for a single person, and there’s nothing preventing management and other admins from reverting back to the old standards when they see fit.

With a union, workplace problems can be formally addressed, and the collective power of a union allows workers to negotiate for benefits far and above what any individual can achieve. This includes coverage for childcare, prevention of workplace harassment and abuse, and forcing employers to assign reasonable work schedules for employees. 

The standard claim that unions can help increase your pay is just a drop in a bucket. Every aspect of working can be improved through union membership. Being in a ‘bad’ union is better than being in no union at all. 

At least with a ‘bad’ union, one has a means of making it better (through elections and other means). If one has no union, then the best way of addressing problems at their place of employment is by starting one.

The expansive benefits of union membership have led to an increase in the kinds of industries that have been unionizing as well as the means by which they have achieved unionization. 

Starbucks employees, graduate workers, employees in higher education (such as WUGWU at Washington University), video game developers/testers, and others have all come to the conclusion that being able to collectively decide your working conditions is better than having those conditions forced on employees by managers or higher administrators. 

Increasing numbers of union workers come with benefits for non-union workers too, as employers are often willing to increase pay and other benefits when they feel that unionization is likely. 

This comes to show that employers recognize the benefits of unions for employees. However, if employers are willing to give their demands out of fear of unionization, it’s not hard to imagine that unions could gain even more benefits.

Ultimately, all workers benefit from increasing union membership. It is in the best interest of employers nationwide that recent trends continue and union membership continues to increase in the U.S.

-Nevada Graduate Student Workers (NGSW)

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