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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

What unions do and what it means to join them

Union membership among young workers today is incredibly low. Strike scholars speak of a worldwide trend towards the so-called dismemberment of the youth.

In 1980, 80% of the British workforce was covered by collective bargaining agreements between employers and unions. By the 2000s, this figure had fallen to about 30%. And the numbers continued to fall, especially among young people. UK government statistics show that in 2021 only 4.3% of workers aged 16 to 24 were union members. This figure rose to 19.8% for the 25 to 34 age category.

In the introduction to the 2015 compendium Young Workers and Trade Unions: A Global Perspective, scholars Andy Hodder and Lefteris Kretsos explain that it’s not so much that young workers have a more negative view of unions than their older counterparts. Rather, they tend to work in positions and industries where union representation does not exist. Most importantly, for the most part they do not know what unions are, what they do and what they have done to change the world of work.

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of your mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet, or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore questions and provide answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

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What do unions do

Unions give workers a voice—both individually and collectively—regardless of their employer. Employers are more likely to engage in consultation and negotiation with their employees when employees can speak as a unit. Simply because it is more efficient and ensures the legitimacy of the outcome of these negotiations.

A Factory Worker In Protective Gear Looks At The Camera.
Unionized workplaces have been proven to be safer and healthier for workers.
ShritanaN | Shutterstock

The strength of workers is in numbers. They can band together to provide resources to enable their union to negotiate on their behalf. The vast majority of collective disputes are resolved without any strikes. But being able to participate in such collective action if needed can be vital, as many worker groups are discovering this summer.

It was precisely what was agreed upon that led to a number of procedural and substantive benefits for the workers. First, unionized jobs have been shown to be more equitable than non-unionized jobs. Wage differences between different workers are smaller.

Unionized workplaces are also a healthier place to work. Workers are less stressed and more attention is paid to keeping working hours within normal limits.

Similarly, unions have been shown to make workplaces safer. Fewer accidents and deaths because workers in unionized workplaces are more likely to get the equipment they need to work safely, whether it’s ergonomically rated workplaces or clothing to protect against harmful substances.

And then there’s the question of payment. Union members still earn more than non-union members. Some recent pay agreements negotiated by unions, such as those led by Unite on behalf of airport staff, dock workers and automakers, have outpaced current inflation rates.

Finally, unions can lobby governments to push for more workers’ rights to work. They are also working to ensure that any existing rights are not revoked.

Research shows that these benefits lead to happier, more satisfying, and productive work, as well as more democratic and fair outcomes in society. This, in turn, is an advantage for employers.

How unions stand up for workers’ rights

Some experts, including American economist Diana Ferchtgott-Roth, argue that unions are no longer needed. “Workers don’t need unions because the economy is booming and workers are facing a market for their skills. They also do not want to pay substantial union dues,” Furchtgott-Roth wrote in March 2022.

While workers now have more individual rights in the law regarding minimum wages, discrimination, holidays and working hours, many of these things we now take for granted were achieved by union members acting collectively.

And still most workers do not know what their rights are or how to secure them, and some are afraid of it because of fear of retribution. This is especially true for people who are just starting out in their careers, who research shows are increasingly finding themselves in the most precarious and unreliable positions.

A Cyclist On A Bicycle With A Delivery Box On His Back.
Young people are increasingly employed in precarious jobs and non-union sectors.
Daisy Daisy | Shutterstock

In 2009, labor relations specialist Linda Dickens noted that unions remain “effective positive intermediaries” to ensure that the rights of workers enshrined in our laws can be translated into change in the workplace. In other words, collective action is still the best way to ensure that the rights of individual employees are respected and protected.

Non-union organisations, such as the UK Citizens Advice Bureau, where many people turn to for help at work, are so under-resourced that they recommend union membership as the most effective way to resolve complaints in the workplace.

Although union membership has declined significantly over the past 20-30 years, this does not mean that non-unionized workers do not want to join unions. It often happens that they do not have access to trade unions. Some employers have also made it clear that they are anti-union.

The average union member is no longer a blue collar male but a white collar female. Indeed, the highest levels of union membership are found among teachers, health workers, social workers and civil servants.

Members come from a wide range of contemporary professions, including journalists, actors (eg Benedict Cumberbatch), writers, lawyers, doctors and musicians (eg folk singer Jonah Fife). They see no conflict between unions representing their rights and their ability to succeed in their careers.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
World Nation News is a digital news portal website. Which provides important and latest breaking news updates to our audience in an effective and efficient ways, like world’s top stories, entertainment, sports, technology and much more news.
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