The Pros, Cons, and Future of Unionized Positions

The Pros, Cons, and Future of Unionized Positions

By: Daniel Steingold | July 25, 2016

Unionized jobs once made up nearly a third of the total positions in the U.S. That was in the mid-1960s.

Today? In 2014, statistics showed that unionized positions only comprised one in 10 jobs in America.

Perhaps part of the reason that unionized jobs have taken such a fall is because one of the industries in which they’re most prevalent— manufacturing— has seen a massive departure of jobs from America in the past few years.

It is said that just since 2000, the United States has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs.

Still, unionized jobs are popular in many sectors and industries, such as in government. They are popular amongst many workers because a union is amongst other things, often able to negotiate better pay and working conditions.

This post will discuss the pros and cons of a unionized job, while also discussing the future of unionized positions.

Benefits to a Unionized Position

First of all, statistics have shown that unionized positions generally pay better than non-unionized positions.

In 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median weekly income of full-time and salaried workers who were backed by a union was $917.

For non-unionized workers, their weekly income dropped a full $200 to about $717.

In addition, unionized workers are more likely to get substantially better benefits, according to the BLS’ National Compensation Survey. The 2014 edition of the National Compensation Survey found that:

  • 91 percent of unionized workers get paid holidays (versus only 75 percent of non-unionized workers)
  • 70 percent of unionized workers get paid sick leave (against only 60 percent of non-unionized workers)
  • 91 percent of unionized workers got paid vacation, and 51 percent got paid personal leave (as opposed to only 75 and 37 percent, respectively, by non-unionized workers)
  • 79 percent of unionized workers received paid funeral leave and 81 percent received paid jury duty leave (both 21 percent more non-unionized workers)
  • 42 percent of unionized employees received paid military leave
  • 92 percent of union workers received unpaid family leave

In fact, the only type of benefit that the National Compensation Survey studied in which better results were not seen on the part of unionized workers was paid family leave. Even so, non-unionized workers were only one percent more likely to get paid family leave— 12 percent versus 11 percent.

Unionized employees are also thought to have much better job security. They can only be terminated with “just cause”, which means that whatever warranted the firing must have involved serious misconduct.

Oftentimes, unionized employees are able to go through lengthy grievance and arbitration processes, should they feel like they were unfairly fired.

Non-unionized employees, on the other hand, are generally hired “at will”, which means that they can be fired at any time, for any reason— excluding discriminatory reasons, such as ones based on age, race, religion, etc.

To touch a little on the ability of unions to better negotiate, this is usually attributed to their ability to form solidarity.

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Unions typically engage in a process called collective bargaining, which allows for a focused effort towards achieving higher pay, better benefits, and improved health and safety conditions.

Lastly, in a unionized workplace, seniority generally outweighs favoritism in terms of who gets a promotion.

In addition, when it comes to layoffs, union jobs usually also follows the principle of “last hired, first fired.” This is often legally written in terms of employment, helping ensure that those who have experience at the job will not be the first to be cut.

Disadvantages to a Unionized Position

For all of the advantages to unionized positions, there are still a number of disadvantages.

Union dues are often cited as one of the primary disadvantages to a unionized job, as they can often set one back anywhere to a couple of hundred to several hundred dollars a year.

In addition, many unions impose one-time initiation fees.

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While dues help fund the operations of unions, many complain about the use of their dues. Oftentimes, union members feel like they pay too much, and their dues are mismanaged.

Many would argue that union fees are more than offset by increases in pay, but this does not deter others from complaints about how their dues are used.

Another major disadvantage to many with working a union job is that the voice of the majority effectively silences the voice of the individual.

In other words, your union may make a decision that you disagree with, but you’re effectively bound to the decision if you’re part of the union.

On another note, a joint study by Gallup and Healthways found that workers typically feel less trust and partnership towards their supervisors when they work in a unionized job.

The study found across the board that unionized employees were less likely to treat supervisors as a partner, and more like a boss. For non-government employees, 12 percent more employees were likely to see their boss in such a light than not.

The study also used what they called a “Work Environment Index” to make the determination from 149,514 interviews with both unionized and non-unionized workers that the work environment of unionized employees is less friendly.

The biggest disparities in the quality of the work environment between unionized and non-unionized workers was found between non-government employees; the smallest difference was found between unionized and non-unionized local government employees.

The index was developed by looking at four factors: overall job satisfaction, ability to use one’s strength at work, supervisor’s treatment of employees (whether the supervisor is viewed more like a boss or partner), and whether one’s supervisor creates an open and trusting work environment.

The implications of what the study suggests are pretty important for unionized workers. The study suggests that unionized workers are less engaged with their jobs, and that many unionized workers do not look favorably at their superiors.

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It is unclear as to whether workers who look at supervisors in a less positive light are led to seek employment with a unionized firm, or if having a union within the workplace fundamentally changes how supervisors and workers interact.

On a final note, the benefits of seniority in a unionized job are hated by many who are newer to the job. You may feel like you are more talented or a harder worker than a coworker who has been at the job longer, but at many unionized jobs, this doesn’t matter.

Being newer to the job not only means that you’re less likely to get promoted, but you’re more likely to be fired or laid off. Additional perks or benefits may be given to those who have been on the job for longer.

Many experts believe that workers are better off with a union than without, but it is really up to the individual worker to decide whether they want to be in a workplace that is unionized.

The Future of Unionized Jobs

While public opinion of unions was lower during the Great Recession— reaching an all-time low of 41 percent in August 2011— their perception has made a recovery in the past few years.

By June 2013, 51 percent of Americans thought of unions in a favorable light.

It is very important to note that unions are much more popular amongst Democrats than Republicans. 80 percent of liberals and 70 percent of moderate-to-conservative Democrats believe in the power of unions.

Conversely, only 23 percent of conservative Republicans and 44 percent of liberal-to-moderate Republicans approve of unions.

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While there is no exact consensus as to the future of labor unions, some believe that unions will involve into something else.

In order to create further worker satisfaction and engagement— the latter of which is an issue for many unionized employers— many firms may experiment with profit sharing, or even something more radical, such as majority worker-owned firms.

It is expected that the entrepreneurs and innovators of the future will have to experiment extensively in order to satisfy the changing demands of the workplace.

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