Unions represent bargaining unit employees to negotiate better work conditions, procedures and incentives, which can create benefits for the employees as well as for the company. Unions typically group workers with similar job functions in the same bargaining unit. This creates bargaining power that the union uses to negotiate compensation and benefits across an industry.
A bargaining unit requires a minimum of two people. The Federal Labor Relations Authority regulates and sets standards for bargaining units; it certifies bargaining units and determines what groups qualify as a bargaining unit. The same union can represent people who belong to different companies. For example, truck drivers typically belong to the Teamsters Union even though the individual truck drivers work for different companies. It is also common for more than one union to represent employees in the same company. For example, a hotel might have one union that represents the housekeepers and another union that represents the banquet servers.
There are restrictions on certain types of employees becoming bargaining unit members, based on employee duties. For example, supervisors, confidential employees and national security personnel typically cannot form collective bargaining units. Additionally, most unions require members to pay monthly or annual dues to support the collective bargaining unit.
For bargaining unit employees, the union is a tool that allows the employees to express needs and fairness issues related to their employment, generally specific to the duties of certain types of jobs. Through the union, the employer can hear the needs and concerns of the employees in an organized manner as part of contract negotiations. The employer and the union can then explore together the advantages and costs of implementing any changes. Bargaining units also protect employees from possible employer abuses by covering members under a set of agreements. Employers can also use unions to help control certain issues before they become detrimental to the company.
Types of Bargaining Units
There are two major types of bargaining units. The first is a craft unit -- also known as an inclusive or horizontal union -- which consists of people who share a craft. For example, a craft unit would cover nurses, engineers and teachers. The second, a vertical or wall-to-wall unit, consists of employees in production and maintenance areas.