Labor unions have been around since the industrial revolution of the 18th century when staggering numbers of women, children, immigrants and rural workers began taking factory jobs. The first unions were loosely organized to allow workers to leverage their numbers to encourage employers to improve working conditions or compensation.
Most of today's labor unions are highly organized, but they still share those same goals. Modern labor unions use collective bargaining to achieve improved conditions and wages in addition to representing union members who have had their contracts violated. Often they are also politically active — lobbying for their position on issues like immigration, trade, health care and minimum wage rates.
In the 1950s almost 30 percent of Americans belonged to a union. Though the numbers aren't that high today there are still many professions where you should be aware of union presence, whether or not you choose to belong to one. Below are the top three career groups currently associated with unions.
Transportation and communication utilities jobs
Transportation and communication utilities are some of the fastest growing job fields. Not only do these industries offer great benefits, solid career paths and awesome perks (if discount airline tickets or free television packages aren't "awesome perks" then our dictionary has the wrong definition for awesome), but there are also a number of unions available for these professionals.
Some of the transportation and communications unions are:
- Communication Workers of America (CWA)
- Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU)
- Transportation Communications International Union (TCU)
Construction jobs cover a wide variety of professionals. Electricians, plumbers, forklift drivers and construction workers are all included in this industry, as well as many other construction trade professionals. Being aware of how unions impact the construction industry can help you navigate your construction job, but if you plan on advancing your career being bilingual is even more essential. The workforce includes a large number of Spanish-speaking workers, and supervisors need to be able to communicate safety information and job details to all their team members.
Construction unions are often grouped by trade, for example:
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
- International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC)
- United Association of the Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA)
Public and government jobs
As of 2010 more than 35 percent of public employees belonged to a union. Public and government positions include teachers, firefighters, postal workers police officers and librarians. Most government jobs offer benefits, and many of them are slated for average or better growth over the next decade.
Some of the top public employee unions:
- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
- American Federation of Government Employees (AFL-CIO)
- National Education Association (NEA)
A decision about labor union membership is something you may never encounter; it depends almost entirely on your industry. But learning whether or not unions are an active part of your profession let's you weigh the options and decide what's right for you.