If it were up to you, would you choose to belong to a union?

The number of American workers in labor unions continues to fall. Last year the percentage of unionized workers fell to 11.9 percent, the lowest level in more than 70 years. Today’s Question: If it were up to you, would you choose to belong to a union?

  • Sara

    During my career I have been in a union and not in a union. There are advantages and disadvantages on both sides. Without a union I made much less money and paid much more for health insurance, but I had greater flexibility in my job and it was easier to collaborate with co-workers. In the union I made more money, paid less for health insurance, but I had to pay dues and collaborating with co-workers was ridiculously difficult because the union was in the middle. I am the type of person who will do whatever needs to be done to finish a job well, but the union was a barrier. That was the greatest frustration.

    FYI — in my years of union work I met only one person who, I thought, did the bare minimum based on union guidelines. Everyone else always worked their tails off.

  • sarah

    I work as a teacher in a non unionized charter school. Being non union has its advantages and can work well at a charter school, which is run more like a business. However, despite the fact that I am not unionized, I know that the union is still affecting me. When unionized teachers fight for a better work situation, they are fighting for all of us. I am comfortable in my non union school, but I am so aware of what Education Minnesota is doing for me and my profession. I supporty yhe union and show it in a variety of ways.

  • Aaron Miles

    When I worked for the home depot we were required to attend a meeting to inform us about Unions… they were trying to do it in a manner in which they wern’t “anti union” but they clearly were.

  • Yes, definitely. The health system that I work for is non-union, but has recently merged with a large non-profit that has a unionized workforce and we will have the option to join the union in 2013 and I’m looking forward to becoming a member.

  • Clark

    No, though I am not as strong anti union as perhaps 5 or 10 years ago.

    As someone who works in private industry, I have never understood, when the Airlines were losing billions, when the automakers were losing billions, when the state and local governments were broke, why unions would not agree to any concessions. As in Eastern Airlines, they would rather support the union than support the company, which of course meant the demise of the entire airline and everyone lost their jobs. At GM and Ford, the unions had the “job bank” which paid laid off workers 90% of their wages to not work. How could any business survive?

    Featherbedding was and is the unions primary source for adding members though it adds no value for any organization.

    Perhaps if the union bosses were more reasonable and less socialistic but don’t hold your breath.

  • GKJ

    Have been a member of two: one relatively strong branch of SEIU, and one rather weak unit of Education Minnesota. Both really strove to not only better the conditions we worked in, but also improve conditions for those we worked for: the students and nursing home residents. They can be as dysfunctional as any family, but serve an important purpose.

  • Larry M.

    Yes, there is strength in numbers and it seems more and more like the only way to get affordable health care from an employer. Unfortunately when heads of companies make bad decisions and their companies begin to lose money, the CEO’s are never really punished for their incompetence, sometimes they are still given bonuses or at worst million dollar golden parachutes. It is the workers that are often cut or asked to give concessions.

  • Jim

    I am a proud union member in the public sector. As a Tax payer I am glad that there is a union protecting my tax dollars. I am glad that the union protects public workers from being fired for personal reasons or hired just because they have a larger bra size. I can see the pay scale that was negotiated and know that there is not corruption or graft by individuals paying their friends or relatives being payed more. In a teachers union you can not get fired because some parent does not like that you gave a bad grade to their kid or taught evolution. You do not get paid more because you sleep with a corrupt principal. Unions protect workers from evil idiocy. And I am sure there will be plenty of union bashing from the brainwashed “sour-grapes” crowd. If you work in some dangerous place with an evil crazy boss who promotes their friends or those who look hotter, you get paid minimum wage, they jerk you around on hours or working conditions and then fire you for no reason, and don’t like it. JOIN AN UNION!!! If it was not for union we would still have sweat shops and child labor.

  • Gary F


    I don’t want my money going to a political party that I don’t support.

    And, I work hard, I don’t want to get paid as much as the slackers. I’m better than that.

    I’ve worked on straight commission for the last 20 years. I have made a lot of money and in certain years, not so much, but I get paid for my work.

  • Emery

    I would say that we should seek to make our economic institutions as competitive and efficient as possible, which requires that we worry less about the pre-tax and transfer distribution of income. But we should worry more about improving the quality of the skill-building institutions available to lower and middle classes and about creating an effective and sustainable social-insurance scheme. We can afford to do this well if our economy lives up to its potential.

  • rich

    Whatever “ideological and political infrastructure” you come up with to ensure a robust safety net, it will be attacked with the same vigor as unions are now – because they will threaten the same interests. Anything that requires “spreading the wealth” will be demonized as big government socialism.

  • Lucas

    I actually just chose to join the teacher’s union last week. I did it because I think it gives me an opportunity to influence the conditions under which I work. It gives me a voice. This country has made a dangerous shift toward erasing the middle class–something the unions helped create. Our brand of capitalism has become so greedy it is unsustainable. Although not perfect, unions help balance the level of greed and stop the hording of wealth at the top. Anyone who complains about unions giving slackers an unfair share of the pie should probably choose to work 7 days a week without a pay raise, because without unions, we would all still be doing just that.

  • P. Nielsen

    I would choose to join a union, or to support forming one, simply because that is the major reason this country prospered in the last century. It has not and is not enjoying that same prosperity because corporations have been able to stave off unionization by threatening and intimidating their employees and the NLRB does not enforce labor law. Labor history is not taught in schools and so younger people have no clue why they enjoy the “rights” they have in today’s workplace, weak as those regulations are. My grandfather worked at Ford both before it was organized by the UAW and after. Our family’s quality of life and security were much improved as a result of that unionization and has remained so even though Papa’s been gone over 40 years now. He would be extremely saddened to see how the things are in this country today. Most of my working time was spent in the public section and I was a member of AFSCME for 30 plus years, and as a result was able to have a secure future. If there were no unions or regulations and laws fought for by the unions, then workers today would be working pretty much under the same conditions as those back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. History does repeat itself, and we are seeing that over and over again as political parties beholden to corporations and their lobbyists, fail to enforce labor laws, do everything in their power to keep workers of all stripes from organizing and joining unions, and on it goes. I paid my union dues gladly and would do so again.

  • Donna

    I started my teaching career in a private high school. When I was hired as a high school counselor in a large suburban school district, I joined the union because the cost was relatively the same whether you were a member or not. I didn’t really understand the role of a union since the president of my private high school was always working to improve benefits and salaries for teachers. However, I discovered the importance when several years after I began work, I was harassed by administrators and my job was threatened because I facilitated a gay/straight alliance and supported the group’s quest to be treated as other groups in our school were treated. When I sought my union’s advice and help, they were quick to respond. I was provided with legal advice from a union lawyer and support from the union leaders. I still have my job today and still facilitate the group and the students have their equal rights.

  • Ben

    No. I’d rather have more money in my pay check and not see money that could be mine going to union bosses and to policical parties and candidates. I think workers should also be rewarded based on performance, and not solely on years worked or how long you’ve been in a union.

    Unions have served their purpose, but the need no longer exists. Businesses are not perfect, but they do not exploit and cheat employees as they did years ago when unions had a purpose. Our current society and media coverage encourage businesses to be nice and punishes them when they are not. Employees now have ways to unite their voices without joining unions. Unions today are more about power and money (for the union and politics) than about fairness for employees.

    Human nature is to want more than you currently have. We will always see this characteristic displayed by both business and their employees. You can’t reglulate or legislate human nature.

  • Chris Oinonen Ehren

    I’m currently a stay at home mom. The idea of a mom union tickles me to death. You couldn’t strike for greater pay, but perhaps if there was a defined job description the family would know what to do when you were sick, and if you had agreements with your family, (lol) they’d know what to do when you were sick, as in, someone needs to start a load of laundry, someone needs to pull something out of the freezer in the morning to thaw, or Dad needs to stop on the way home for take out, the dishwasher must be filled and started, etc. They wouldn’t necessarily be collective bargaining but maybe they’d give you ideas at union meetings, give you some traction with your spouse “all the other union spouses are doing this”. Maybe within the union there’d be a way to trade babysitting or other resources, families could buy life insurance for the head caregiver as part of the union, instead of paying spouse rates through the breadwinner’s work, or individual rates, and health insurance, and other benefits could be bought at the group rate that currently just aren’t available for moms that don’t work for an employer. The same for work at home moms that are entrepreneurs and part time workers so they can work around their kids schedules – often they can’t get benefits either, they could use a union to help with group rates for things, and networking- need an accountant for your home business? Look around for a mom’s union accountant. Need a sitter? How about a mom’s union sitter? Need a carpenter? A dog sitter? This union could be expanded to include people taking care of their aging parents or disabled spouses or things like that.

  • Pauly

    @ Gary F

    I’m not as hostile to unions as libertarians generally are but I think libertarians would remove all restrictions on free association but also remove all restrictions on employers including requiring states to negotiate with unions. Libertarians acknowledge that a free society doesn’t necessary cure poverty so they’re willing to use government to provide the least controlling assistance possible, transfer payments.

  • Monica

    Sadly, I would not. Having to supervise staff in a union environment has shown me that the union only protects the poor performing employees. With the progressive discipline rules that I have had to follow, I have had staff in a medical setting that I had to spend months documenting their mistakes. In a non-union environment, a poor performing employee would have been gone six months earlier. Meanwhile, after months of mistakes and countless hours of work for myself and the medical provider to document the mistakes, the union will still grieve the termination. And we will have more meetings with the union and still would go to court. This is not a good use of the doctor’s time, the patient’s money, or the good employee’s union dues.

  • GregX

    Union dues are an insuracne policy against tyrnaical employers. Do I enjoy paying it .. not particularly – but like car, home, life insurance – I pay because it provides a peace of mind knowing that should something go wrong… I have some level of protection. Unions would not entirely needed if their were some reasonable national employment laws – however – we have states rights and … erratic application of rights within states. Unions help corral the erratic variatinos. With the coming decade overloaded with unemployed citizens – companies will have NO incentvie to treat workers farily or even reasonably. We see this happening already. I thnk 2-4 more years of this shabby behavior – and there will be a working class whiplash against the corporate over-reach. They’ve killed wages, benefits and now are eliminating workers rights. I think they have gone to far.

  • GregX

    Monica – based on your descritpion – I’d say your company’s inbound employee interview process is pretty weak. Especially if you are implying that this is a regular occurance. Look at management if this problem persists.

  • Stuart Henry

    In the big picture, the decline of a unionized work force has been terrible for the American working and middle classes. For the last 30 years, we have embraced almost unfettered individualism, the result being huge income inequalities, stagnant or declining living standards for the majority of Americans, and a housing crisis that may take a generation to resolve. And we have not really seen the effects yet of the biggest experiment in individualism, the reliance on 401K’s as the sole source of one’s retirement income. Given how often I hear that Americans have not saved enough for retirement, I conclude that a greater percentage of the elderly are going to be driven into poverty.

    The loss of pensions, job security, and a political system, in which the concerns of non-affluent Americans actually have a voice all tie to the decline in unions as a force in American political and economic life.

    European countries seemed to have dealt with the challenges of a global economy, while maintaining a much stronger safety net (not to mention much lower health care costs). Healthy unions are a part of their solution.

  • Ed

    Some companies deserve Unions some don’t, it all depends on what value owners/managers place on their people and how they want them to be involved in the success of the enterprise.

  • Margaret Doheny

    My union experiences have been very positive and I strongly support their existence to better our lives.

    During my career I was a member of a union of Professional workers. If I had not had this help, I know I would not have decent health coverage and certainly fewer raises. As it was, as a public worker, we often weren’t given a raise or a very tiny one when times were hard for the government-but our union worked with management to get by. Unions matter for bringing workers reasonable wages and benefits-they lift our boats!

  • GregX

    Clark asked ” when .. airlines … automakers were losing billions, when the state and local governments were broke, why unions would not agree to any concessions. ” ======================================= I think there is plenty of information on that topic. On one level neither side was ever held accountable for their actions. Corporations were spending shareholder money on very speculative developments and , when unions stood up, mgmt dealt with it quickly instead of effectively. In addition, managment rarely fulfilled the long-term obligations of their contracts. the unions – were always trying to recover that “un-honered prior promise”. the corporations could have solved the problmem’s day one by giving the unions the shares they were giving to execrutives. Had they done something like that – the unions , as shareholders, would have had a new wrinkle in their relationship to guide their behavior. BUT mgmt wanted nothing to do with employee-owners.

  • Steve the Cynic

    “Unions have served their purpose, but the need no longer exists.”

    If unions ceased to exist, Ben, the need for them would return.

  • Patti T.

    Yes. My family has a long history of Union involvement. I began working in 1952 and joined the Communication Workers of America. Over the years and in various jobs I have joined the Hotel, Motel, Bartenders, Waitress/ Waiters Union, United Steelworkers of America ( while working in a Taconite production plant.),. Even when I was working in a non-union house I would keep up my union dues. I knew the background and history of the Union movement and when I say “involved” I mean serving as a shop steward, grievance person, etc. and really learn what your Union does for you!

  • davidz

    Yes, I would. Alas, my industry (software development) is not unionized at all, even though we enjoy so many of the benefits reaped by unions of yore (our 40 hour week, weekends off, benefits, etc).

    I have a vacation day today, thanks to the union leaders of the past. For their sacrifices, I am thankful.

  • Mark Kearns

    As a recently retired teacher (38 years), there is no doubt in my mind that my career would be no where near as rewarding had there been no union. I’m old enough to remember how things were before teachers were allowed to organize. Teaching was and advocation—something women did for a years prior to raising a family. One only has to look at wages, benefits and work conditions before and after the unionization of the teaching profession. Fifty years ago, a family could not exist on a teacher’s salary. Now—-at least until recently (i.e. see what’s happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, etc.)—-teachers are recognized as true professionals and compensated accordingly. Also, compare/contrast the success of students from states that have teachers’ unions and ones that don’t. The record (high scholl graduation, ACT, SAT, etc.) is clearly in favor of those states that have unions.

  • Chris Nolan

    Unions are needed now as much as or more than they were in the Gilded Age–which, along with the 1920’s, was one of the two other times in U.S. history when the gap between the rich and the rest of us was as great as it is now. And working people, union or not, need to stop vilifying their overseas counterparts and recognize that defense of labor’s right to organize should transcend international boundaries just as capital now does. If the right of the world’s working people to unionize were protected in international trade agreements with the same zeal as access to markets, infra-subsistence wages would be less common, making it less attractive for businesses anywhere to offshore native jobs. It’s about time the Internationale gave God Bless America a run for its money in the popular culture.

  • Jamie

    “why unions would not agree to any concessions.”

    Unions have been agreeing to all kinds of concessions for decades.

    “don’t want my money going to a political party that I don’t support.”

    You don’t have to allow your union dues to go to political parties you don’t support. You just tell the union. It’s the law.

    “I work hard, I don’t want to get paid as much as the slackers.”

    There are slackers in both union and non-union workplaces. I’ve seen MORE slackers at the NON-union workplaces I’ve been employed at, while I work with many, many hard-working, creative, innovative UNION employees in my current job.

    “I’ve worked on straight commission for the last 20 years.”

    Are you suggesting that everybody work that way? There are very few jobs that that could work for.

    “think workers should also be rewarded based on performance”

    Union workers have regular performance reviews just like non-union workers. Sometimes there are small cost-of-living raises that union workers get (though not much lately) that are not performance-based. But union workers have to meet performance measures to get merit increases just like non-union workers do.

    “Businesses are not perfect, but they do not exploit and cheat employees as they did years ago”

    You’re living in a dream. As I said, I’ve worked in both kinds of workplaces, and I know from experience that supervisors, managers, executives, and owners “cheat” employees in every way they can at non-union shops. Even as a union worker, I see management abusing employees, but fortunately there’s SOME protection for them through the union.

    “Unions today are more about power and money (for the union and politics) than about fairness for employees.”

    Again, you’re living in a dream, or in a Republican-created mythical world. It sounds like you’re drinking a LOT of that Republican Kool-Aid.

  • Kurt

    No. Unions used to protect workers against the abuses of management, today they exist to insulate workers from having to do their job. Employees that would be fired anywhere else( with good reason) are protected by unions.

  • Carl

    I am glad I belong to a union as a public worker. It protects our rights, gives us respect and a voice. Active members and locals are what make a union strong. The power is in the active numbers!

  • David A. Cooley

    Absolutely, I would join a union in a heart beat.

    Thou I’ve never had the opportunity to join one I was there on the line with those at the recent Wisconsin rally’s. Though some commenting above argue otherwise Corporate America is no better than government when it comes to competence. Where are the corporations in stepping up to the plate in hiring and getting the economy going? They will be the last to hire, unionized or not.

  • Janet

    I live in Wisconsin and I have to choose between contributing to a union or not. I chose to join and pay my dues, because I know that without the union of employees there’s only the administrators and management of the business with any input into my working life. Since business is largely concerned with profit and gain, it isn’t in management’s best interest to look out for me. It’s up to me and my co-workers to keep management from overlooking my working conditions, my income, my well-being. It can’t be a conversation if there’s only one voice; I want to have a voice.

  • steve

    I am proud to be apart of our union @ work. I’ve seen vindictive managers try to force multiple good employees out the door, either to hire one of they’re cronies or just because they didn’t like the individual because he/she spoke up to management to either save the organization $ or resources. I’ve even seen these same managers try to force a fellow employee out the door after being seriously injured at work, he nearly died and had to fight like hell to get back to work, our union was very helpful to him in his wishes to return to work with dignity.

  • Tony

    Yes I would. The state of the world for American workers is dismal.

    Tragically, unions as they exist right now are ineffective.

    Perhaps that may change.

  • Wade

    No way NEVER. I hate it that they even try to contact us and and proud that the wife opted out.

    Unions are little more than a cancer to modern capitolism. All the do is protect, support and promote the lazy and incompetent with seniority as well as overpay them for a half-azz job not so well done.

  • Kevin VC

    I have been in a union.

    Been in a union at a grocery store and one without one… The one with a Union was better managed as a store, management was less moody, and you were paid more.

    The one without one paid about 1/3 less per hour.

    Even when people complain about union dues, that is nothing compared to the loss difference in wages.

    And having someone you can talk to when things are odd with management was just nice.

    Union members often give you advice many management types never have the time for, and honestly it just felt better as a employee. And out work showed more pride and effort. Quality was definitely there as well.

    Unions do a lot of work for very little money. And seeing the benefit first hand I do not see why not. It also keeps the money in the hands of those doing the work, not just owners and management with NO consideration of those who helped make the success a success…

    So if given the chance I prefer a union shop to one that is not.

  • JBL

    I definitely would join my union again. For all those who want to get rid of unions, I have a piece of advice: If you want to kill a union, be a good boss. Until a management culture of respect and fairness prevails in this country, unions will be essential to protect the rights of working people.

  • Oz

    @ 5:00 steve:

    //I am proud to be apart of our union @ work. I’ve seen vindictive managers try to force multiple good employees out the door, either to hire one of they’re cronies or just because they didn’t like the individual because he/she spoke up to management to either save the organization $ or resources. I’ve even seen these same managers try to force a fellow employee out the door after being seriously injured at work, he nearly died and had to fight like hell to get back to work, our union was very helpful to him in his wishes to return to work with dignity

    In the event of not having a union to back you, you could always count on those others who were wrongly and illegally treated while being under a dysfunctional management. You might be surprised as to how many will step up to the plate when it comes to exposing a rotten egg within the company.

  • Chris

    Yes. Next question.

  • Carl Sack

    This fall I am a full member of a union for the first time, despite wanting to be in one for years. People of my generation (I am 28) often have a hard time finding full-time or permanent employment in sectors traditionally organized by unions, and high turnover in the service industry is one factor that makes organizing there difficult. This absolutely does NOT mean that many young people would not want to be in a union if given the opportunity. Unions dramatically improve working conditions by enforcing humane work standards and often gain livable pay for their workers when the market alone would keep them in poverty. What many Americans don’t realize was that it was young people in the workforce in the 1920s through 40s that built organized labor from the ground up through strikes. Now the big factories are gone, but the will for better wages and working conditions is there more than ever. When we find the right set of tactics that work in today’s volatile economy, we will rebuild organized labor.

  • Patrick

    Yes, I belong to a union. Without our union, we would never have received safety equipment and safety training to do our jobs wich is to supervise offenders in the community. We’ve been able to protect programs and positions that have in turn, protected public safety. With our union, we have a seat at the table, without it, we would be on the menu.

  • Lisa T

    Absolutely! And without a doubt!

    Our country was founded on the belief system that every person has value and voice regardless of income or “class.” Organized labor groups are the only way to be sure that founding value continues.

    We cannot go back a system of the elite and the oppressed. We have a long way still to go in this country, but organized labor groups is an important key.

    If you don’t think yours is representing your interests – then it is each members’ responsibility to show up and stay involved with the process.

    Our country is a union and we live by majority vote. Some will not get their way – sometimes just less than half, but the only way for the all to be heard is to keep checks and balance on the money controllers and the decision makers.

    Sometimes we will need to recreate/reoranize/rework our system to meet the challenges of this day, but the focus must always be the good of the masses and the long term “right.”

  • i have been on my job for 2years and i want to know do i keep my weekends off when you are in the unoin