If you’ve never worked in a union environment, you may not know the difference between a union and a non-union workplace. Some of the nuances that distinguish union from non-union workplaces are quite complex, the reality of the difference comes down to who defines the work culture. In a non-union work environment, the employer holds the majority of power. This means the employer determines work expectations, sets wages, determines work schedules, and maintains independence over discipline, promotions, and other aspects of work culture. On the other hand, in a union environment, employees have more control. Through their union, employees can negotiate workplace contracts that include details about work expectations, wages, schedules, discipline, promotions, etc. But, what else do you need to know about union and non-union environments?
Let’s start by discussing some of the pros and cons of working in a union environment. Wages, benefits, security, and support are some of the reasons employees prefer a union environment. Some estimates indicate union workers earn on average $200 more per week than non-union employees. Additionally, union workers tend to receive medical benefits more often than non-union counterparts. More than 90% of union workers are entitled to medical benefits compared to less than 70% of non-union workers. Moreover, union employees’ spouses or domestic partners are more often included in this benefit coverage compared to non-union employees.
Another benefit of working in a union environment is job security. In a union environment, the only way an employee can be dismissed is for just cause – this means they must exhibit serious misconduct (e.g. theft from the employer) to be fired. Additionally, the support union employees receive from their peers allows for collective action if a worker feels they are being treated unfairly. Sometimes, tare even rules in union workplaces to protect more senior staff from being overlooked for a promotion or a transfer to a new position.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to working in a union environment. For example, all union members are expected to pay union dues which can cost up to a few hundred dollars per year. There is also the fact that as a union member, you are part of a collective and you lose some of your autonomy. Whether you agree with union decisions, you are bound to the employment contract they negotiate. And, perhaps most unfortunate, many union workers report supervisors tend to be less collaborative. This resulted in unionized workers feeling less trust, support, and partnership with management.
So, while outlining the basic differences between union and non-union workplaces is relatively straightforward, it is clear there are some underlying differences that must be carefully considered if you are entering a union or non-union workplace. Plus, every union is different, so do your research and choose a workplace that fits for you and your values.