The benefits (and a few cons) of rallying together with union representation
Regardless of profession, workers have the right to negotiate for better conditions.
For decades, workers in both the private and public sector have joined together to bargain for pay, benefits, and policies that empower them to do their job in a safe and supported environment.
For some employers, the prospect of collective bargaining is a chance to hear opinions and feedback from the other half. Employers may make necessary changes before unionization or collective bargaining can occur – a fortunate move that will save a lot of time for both parties.
But if this doesn’t happen, then collective bargaining can be a very powerful tool to achieving peace of mind and the protection of rights.
The advantages of collective bargaining
Increased pay and minimum salary. Bargaining through union representation can ensure that there is a minimum threshold of pay that must be met by the employer. The factors that compensation are based on (productivity, performance, etc.) are also determined through negotiation. Because salary is worked into a binding agreement, union workers are often paid a higher salary than non-union workers. Union workers are also more likely to receive overtime pay.
Health and vacation benefits. Sick leave, health insurance, and vacation days are all items that can be covered by a collective bargaining agreement. In an example given by the Department for Professional Employees, Coast Guard workers represented by the American Federation of Government Employees bargained for the benefit of working from home up to four days a week. These benefits not only improve work-life balance but the quality of life itself.
Improved safety concerns. Unsafe work environments can lead to accidents, leave, or other hazardous situations. Workers choose to protect themselves and their jobs by negotiating for improved working conditions like comprehensive safety plans, on-site medical staff, and proper equipment use training.
Inclusivity and equality. Another positive aspect of bargaining is that it can promote a culture of diversity. In the entertainment industry, diversity affects not only the performers but the attendance rate. In the news industry, fair representation affects viewership and ratings. Equality is also preserved through negotiation in the form of closing the pay gap. Although there is still work to be done, the US Department of Labor reports that as of 2017, union-affiliated women between the age of 25 and 34 earned a median weekly salary of $864, compared to union men who earned $964.
Grievance protocols. Due process is an important aspect of any collective bargaining agreement. When an allegation is made against an employee, the grievance procedures must be followed as outlined in the contract. Although having a union job doesn’t necessarily guarantee a job indefinitely, it does help when it comes to potential termination, layoffs, and unfair actions made by an employer.
Voices that are valued. Without representation, workers can feel isolated and hopeless. They also might feel that their future is uncertain. Bargaining gives every employee a voice and an opportunity to resolve the issues that mean the most to them. This isn’t one-sided, however - just as worker’s voices are amplified, employers also get the chance to state their concerns and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.
Fair representation. A collective bargaining unit will include representation from various departments, roles, genders, ethnicities, and pay scales. This ensures that everyone is fairly represented, even within the committee itself.
Protection for employees and employers. As I mentioned before, this process isn’t one-sided. Once a contract is put in place and the terms cemented, employees have the peace of mind knowing their rights are protected and employers can rest easy knowing that morale is boosted and therefore, productivity. Bargaining also not only opens up the possibility of cooperation, it gives both sides the opportunity to ratify or amend those terms in the future.
The disadvantages of collective bargaining
Of course, there are some cons to this list of positives. Some of the most common concerns about collective bargaining are:
Loss of productivity. Since collective bargaining is a lengthy and time-consuming process, workers might need to take days off or spend their workday on union-related activities. In the meantime, productivity and performance may suffer.
Dues payments. Most unions require payment for representing members. Some unions charge a flat fee while others may take a small percentage of a worker’s paycheck. These dues can add up, so it’s best to weigh the pros of joining a union before committing to this kind of spending.
Rising tensions. Bargaining can bring up a lot of issues – not all of them pleasant. Although employers are legally not allowed to punish workers who participate in union activities, it may shift the dynamic between both sides. Additionally, tensions may arise within the bargaining unit itself as workers must get used to thinking about the needs of a whole group, rather than their individual goals.
As you can see, both employers and employees must be prepared to deal with any ramifications of going down the “rabbit-hole” that is collective bargaining – although the benefits of the process seem to far outweigh the negative.
We’ve assisted with many union elections over the years, and are happy to say that we’ve helped hundreds of union officials carry out their most important decisions. If you are seeking a voting solution to help you with negotiations or union contract ratifications, check out our union voting examples page to learn a little bit more about what we do.