The Pros & Cons of Labor Unions

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When you join a union or work for a company that has a collective bargaining agreement, you typically gain increased compensation, better job security and benefits that come with seniority. On the other hand, union members pay dues, lose some autonomy and have more limited rights without seniority.

United Auto Worker labor union leaders applauding at a conference.
(Bill Pugliano/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Unionized workers make 30 percent more than their non-union peers, and also have much better health insurance coverage as of 2015, according to Union Plus. Unions benefit from collective bargaining power, which allows them to negotiate higher wages and benefits than individual workers could get alone. Employers can't afford to lose hundreds or thousands of workers, while one employee is often expendable. Unions are also more equipped to get diverse benefits to cover a broad range of workers, including domestic partner or same-sex benefits.

Overall job stability and security is normally better with unions. A primary purpose of unions is to protect workers from random or unfair termination. Grievance processes ensure union workers have a chance to appeal unfair working conditions, demotions or terminations that violate the collective bargaining agreement, while non-union or at-will contract workers face the potential for termination at any point. Senior or veteran employees have enhanced protection in unions, notes Bankrate. Whereas top-earning senior employees are often the first to go when companies lay off employees, union contracts typically require that more recent hires go first.

Union members pay dues -- often several hundred dollars per year -- to participate, which may offset some or all of the wage benefits gained through collective bargaining. An upfront initiation fee adds to the costs for a new employee, who has the lowest overall protection as a union member. In addition, union leader salaries and administrative fees are covered by the dues, but members often have limited authority over how their funds are allocated.

While you gain a sense of belonging and collective strength through a union, you also lose some autonomy. Independent-minded workers may prefer more authority and control over their employment relationship and compensation. New employees in particular might have greater control over their work relationship alone than in a union. Job promotion structures also favor senior workers in a union environment. Finally, union managers are more likely than non-union supervisors to treat subordinates as a "boss" rather than a partner or supporter, according to Fox Business.

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