A union -- more specifically, a labor union -- is a business that represents a group of workers on the job with their employer. Unions enable employees to negotiate with management regarding wages, hours and workplace conditions. This negotiation is known as "collective bargaining" and results in a contract, or collective bargaining agreement, outlining the conditions both parties agree to. Union dues are membership fees that support union organizing efforts and other activities that enable such collective bargaining.
Union dues pay for office space, staff, office supplies, equipment and organizing and research expenses. Unions also use members' dues to cover the costs for accountants to examine an employer's financial records. Union offices may help members get perks such as discount programs with credit cards and legal assistance.
Negotiation and Grievances
Contract negotiations are the most visible of union activities, and members' dues pay for negotiating employee benefits, pensions, work site conditions, training, grievance procedures and time off. Union dues cover specific grievances and other problems union members have.
Government Activities and Legal Compliance
Union dues help the union maintain a presence with lawmakers at the state and federal level, giving members a voice in workplace matters that affect them. Unions are required to file a financial report with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which assures members that their dues are accounted for and a matter of public record. DOL has an online repository where you can search for a specific union and view its annual financial report and collective bargaining agreement.
Union dues help members in the event of a strike. Although the majority of disagreements are settled without a strike, it can happen if the union and management cannot agree. When union members vote to strike, they don't receive their regular pay. Many local unions have established a strike fund, which is intended to help its members during a work stoppage. Payment from the strike fund is typically determined by either wages or a portion of dues.