Pros and Cons of Unions

Joe Weinlick
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In theory, labor unions are a brilliant way to balance the power between employers and employees. Union workers enjoy undeniable advantages, ranging from the tangible benefit of higher wages to the personal satisfaction of knowing their voices are recognized in the workplace. However, leveling the dynamics of the necessarily complicated employer-employee relationship also comes at a cost to both sides.

Membership in labor unions has notably decreased over the last decade, despite its seeming benefits to workers. Further exploration shows that while unionized workers enjoy certain advantages over their non-union counterparts, those advantages can be negated by their potential impact.

Wages, Benefits and Working Conditions

Pro: Unions have the power to negotiate higher wages, improved benefits and better working conditions for their members. This ensures adequate compensation, fair coverage and increased safety for union workers.

Con: Union negotiations can lead to wages and other associated costs being boosted to unreasonably high levels. If the company is not able to sustain the high wages and costs for union workers, then it is left with several options. It can raise prices on the goods or services it provides. It can outsource its labor. It can reduce the number of new hire employees, leaving an insufficient workforce to manage the overall workload. None of these options are desirable to employees, and they can lead to a potentially combustible workplace environment.

Another issue is labor union dues and fees. In some cases, dues and fees offset the higher, union-negotiated wages.

Job Protection and Security

Pro: Unionized employees are guaranteed union advocacy in the workplace. The union, not the employer, has the power to determine disciplinary actions, including termination, which generally equates to greater job security.

Con: Union protection makes it difficult for employers to discipline, terminate or even promote employees. There is also a cronyism aspect to unions. Unions can decide whom they accept into their fold. Therefore, membership in many unions becomes less about skill and competency and more about networking.

Balance of Power

Pro: A union gives workers power through a collective voice. Employers have no choice but to negotiate with unions in order to maintain productivity. The right to strike is the ultimate show of worker galvanization.

Con: The necessary tension between employers and employees resulting from labor unions is often counterproductive. The combative nature of the relationship promotes workplace hostility rather than workplace cooperation and collaboration.

Unlike non-union workers, unionized employees are bound to follow majority rule regarding strikes. This leads to loss of income for the employees and loss of profit for the company. Additionally, striking does not often garner public approval. If labor union workers already earn more than non-union workers, striking makes them seem self-serving.

The pros and cons of labor unions are largely a matter of position and perception. Unions do offer distinct advantages to employees, but decreasing membership suggests that those advantages may no longer suffice in the modern workplace. From an overall perspective, the most apparent benefits are offset by corresponding disadvantages.


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