Don’t be surprised if you don’t see those brown trucks on the roads or your Amazon orders are delayed. The United Parcel Service (UPS) and the Teamsters, the union that represents 340,000 UPS workers, have been in negotiations for several months but recently have stated a strike is unavoidable. And last month, in what is called an “Unprecedented Show of Solidarity” the major labor unions – including the AFL-CIO which represents 60 unions and more than 12.5 million workers – early endorsed Joe Biden for President in 2024. Right now, labor unions seem to be everywhere. So what are labor unions and how to they work?
Labor unions, also known as trade unions, are organizations formed by workers in various industries to collectively represent and advocate for their rights and interests in the workplace. The primary purpose of labor unions is to negotiate with employers on behalf of their members to establish fair wages, working conditions, and other benefits. Basically, they collectively bargain for the group as a whole so that individual workers do not have to do so.
How Labor Unions Generally Work
Workers who share common goals and concerns within a specific industry or workplace come together to form a union. This usually involves a process of organizing and obtaining support from fellow workers. In 1935, the United States Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (the “NLRA”) that established workers right to unionize, created the National Labor Relations Board, established unfair labor practices, and set forth rights and obligations with respect to labor strikes. It’s the NLRA that sets up the framework that allows a union (or labor organization) to be established.
Labor Unions and Collective Bargaining
Once a union is established, it becomes the representative of the workers. It acts as a collective voice, representing the interests and concerns of its members in dealing with employers.
One of the essential functions of labor unions is collective bargaining. This process involves negotiations between the union and the employer to establish or modify employment conditions, such as wages, working hours, benefits, and workplace policies. The goal is to achieve a mutually acceptable collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that governs the terms and conditions of employment.
When negotiations between employers and the union reach an impasse, unions may resort to strikes or other forms of industrial action to exert pressure and draw attention to their demands. Strikes involve workers collectively refusing to work for a period until an agreement is reached.
Additional Roles of Labor Unions
Labor unions also handle grievances on behalf of their members. If an employee feels they have been treated unfairly, the union can step in to resolve the issue through discussions with the employer, mediation, or arbitration.
Unions often engage in advocacy and lobbying efforts to influence legislation and public policies that affect workers’ rights and interests. They may campaign for improved workplace safety regulations, workers’ compensation, or other labor-related issues.
Labor unions may also provide various member services, such as legal representation, educational programs, training opportunities, and access to healthcare or other benefits. These services aim to support and enhance the well-being of union members.
It’s important to note that labor unions operate differently across industries, and their power and influence can vary. Some unions are industry-specific, while others are organized at a broader level, representing workers from different sectors. Union membership is typically voluntary, although certain industries or regions may have collective bargaining agreements that make union membership mandatory for all employees within a specific category.
In conclusion, as the negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters continue, the ongoing conflict highlights the significant role and influence of labor unions in shaping employment conditions. Whether it’s the disruption of Amazon deliveries or the broader implications for workers’ rights, understanding the function and impact of labor unions is crucial in navigating the evolving landscape of the modern workplace.