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Member’s son shows keen appreciation of unions

PEF-Logo-shield-floatingLensFlaresmallStudents who apply for union scholarships are often asked to submit essays about the value of unions and organized labor.  In June, PEF received a request from Executive Board member Helen Esposito to share an outstanding example of such essays that was submitted by the son of a member of PEF Division 281 at the state Labor Department in Binghamton.

The following essay by Nicholas Burns was submitted to the Division 281 Scholarship Committee.

The Benefits and Importance of Labor Unions

There are labor unions in the United States for many types of jobs. Unions represent workers in trade positions, like carpenters, iron workers, electricians or plumbers. Unions also represent administrative and civil service professionals like my Mom (Nicole Rogers), who is a supervising labor services representative with the New York State Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance Division.  There are also labor unions that represent professional athletes, like football or hockey players. Regardless of the type of worker that is represented, the purpose of the labor union is generally the same: to provide the workers, who are members of the union, with representation and protection as a collective group.

Representation can be in the form of salary and/or benefit negotiations. A union leader speaking for an entire group of workers can be much more forceful and successful in obtaining wage increases and benefit improvements than any single employee could get on their own.  A union can also provide training to workers as a group, that an individual might not have access to.  The end result of a union’s negotiations with an employer is called a “collective bargaining agreement.”  This is basically a contract that the employer must follow in dealing with their union employees in a fair manner that has been agreed upon by both sides.

Protection can be in the form of helping workers avoid unjust actions by their employers, such as being fired without a good reason.  A non-union worker, in most cases, is considered an “at-will” employee and can be fired at any time for any reason, or for no reason. On the other hand, an employer must have “just cause” to fire a union worker.  Unions also serve to protect their members by requiring employers to maintain safety standards in the workplace.  Without the back-up of a union, a single (non-union) worker would be hard pressed to force an employer to make changes to an unsafe work environment. The employer could simply fire that worker and find another one that wouldn’t complain.  Being a part of a union ensures that this unjust outcome doesn’t happen.

In 2015, the United States Department of Labor estimated that about 15 million workers belong to labor unions.  Though some of those workers are in the private business world, many more are in public-sector jobs.  According to www.unionplus.org, a union worker, on average, makes a wage 30% higher than a non-union worker.  As well, 92% of union workers have health benefits, while only 68 percent of non-union workers do.  Finally, a union worker is much more likely to have funded retirement benefits or a guaranteed pension, than a non-union worker.

Clearly, it can be seen that unions serve an important purpose in not only protecting workers on a day-to-day basis, but also in benefiting workers, employers and the community in general in more long-term ways. Better wages for 15 million workers definitely enhances the overall economy by keeping money circulating. More and better health/medical benefits lead to a more productive and present workforce.  Better training opportunities also improve the quality of the workforce available to employers, which can make a business more successful by providing higher quality products or services.  Successful businesses are (or should be) much more willing to make improvements to their job sites and processes, because they are aware that they owe their success, at least in part, to their safe and happy workforce.

Without the benefit and protection of labor unions we could easily be back to the days of poverty level wages, sweatshop working conditions, child labor and unmanageable work hours.  This was the reality of the working world before unions came into existence and gave employees a voice.

Table of Contents – July-August 2019