Human Resource management must carefully monitor the labor relations and regulations in all of the geographic regions where they hire. A trade union or labor union is an organization dedicated to promoting employee rights and improving employee welfare in a given organization or industry; it’s the fulcrum of labor relations. It is imperative to closely monitor changes in labor relations, both to understand the most recent hiring practices and to ensure compliance with union rules and regulations.

The prevalence of unions, both from a geographic and industry standpoint, often significantly impacts the welfare and wage positions of a substantial number of employees. Unionization has been hotly debated for decades, as unions employ collective bargaining on behalf of employees, independently from company human resources policies. The legislative backing and legal framework is complex and ever evolving.

Most unions in the US are aligned with one of two larger umbrella organizations: the AFL-CIO (created in 1955) and the Change to Win Federation (which split from the AFL-CIO in 2005). Both advocate policies and legislation on behalf of workers in the US and Canada, and take an active role in politics. The AFL-CIO is especially concerned with global trade issues.

In 2016, there were 14.6 million members in the US, down from 17.7 million in 1983. The percentage of workers belonging to a union in the Us was 10.7%, compared to 20.1% in 1983. Union membership in the private sector has fallen under 7%, levels not seen since 1932.

In the 21st century the most prominent unions are among public sector employees such as city employees, government workers, teachers, and police. Members of unions are disproportionately older, male, and residents of the Northeast, the Midwest, and California. Union workers average 10-30% higher pay than non-union in the US, after controlling for individual, job, and labor market stability. It is interesting to note that under current Republican government control, employers do hold an upper-hand, as union rights are diminishing.

Although much smaller compared to their peak membership in the 1950s, American unions remain a political factor, both through mobilization of their own memberships and through coalitions with like-minded activist organizations around issues such as immigrant rights, trade policy, health care, and living wage campaigns. Of special concern are efforts by cities and states to reduce the pension obligations owed to unionized workers who retire in the future. Republicans, elected with Tea Party support in 2010, have launched major efforts against public sector unions in due part to state government pension obligations, along with the allegation that the unions are too powerful. Also interesting to note, states with higher levels of union membership tend to have higher median incomes and higher standards of living. Many scholars, along with the International Monetary Fund, attribute rising income inequality in the US to the decline of the labor movement and union membership.

Just a few weeks away from mid-term elections, writing about labor unions feels very timely. While not as prevalent in the past, labor unions fight to keep Americans in line with cost of living adjustments, to provide families with affordable healthcare, and to provide a safe work environment. Tax cuts were supposed to increase take-home pay; so called, “Trump-care” was to ensure affordable healthcare to American workers. Such policies were supposed to undercut the case for labor unions, but you can judge for yourself the results. It’s time for us to weigh in and determine our path by voting on November 6th, and time to remember that when America was “great,” labor unions had a more prominent role in our society.

Author Profile

Richard Finger
Richard Finger
Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.