What is a trade union?

A trade union, labor union, or simply union is a group of workers that collectively tries to improve or maintain their wages and workplace conditions. Unions provide assistance to their members. Even though the majority of trade unions are independent of companies, organizations, and other employers, they work closely with them.

Trade unions strive to protect the interest of their members at work by negotiating agreements with employers, getting the best deals possible when redundancies take place, and discussing workers’ concerns. They also accompany their members at grievance and disciplinary meetings.

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus defines a trade union as “an organization that represents the people who work in a particular industry, protects their rights, and discusses their pay and working conditions with employers”.

Joining a trade union

If your workplace has a trade union and you want to join, you should ask a representative. In your company handbook, you’ll be able to find contact details. Information is also available on the union noticeboard and their website.

The union rep will let you know whether you can join, i.e., whether you are eligible. If you are, you will need to fill in an application form.

The British Government says the following about membership subscriptions on its website:

“Your union will charge a union membership fee (‘membership sub’) to finance the work of the union. This can be the same amount for all employees or based on how much you’re paid.”

Advantages of belonging to a trade union

List of Benefits of Trade Union Membership
Image Created by Market Business News.

If you are a member, unions say you will probably enjoy higher pay than your non-union counterparts. You’ll most likely also have better benefits and a voice on the job. You will have strong representation regarding your:

  • Wages
  • Working hours
  • Benefits, including tuition reimbursement, vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.
  • Conditions in the workplace.
  • Health and safety in the workplace.
  • Work-life balance.

According to UnionPlus.org, there are more than sixty trade unions in the United States, representing millions of workers across the country.

Collective bargaining

Trade Union representatives and employers negotiating - an example of Collective Bargaining
Image created by Market Business News.

The term collective bargaining refers to the negotiation of working conditions and wages by an organized group of workers, i.e., a trade union. Employees can usually achieve more together than individually. When workers band together, they have a better chance of getting proper or decent wages and being treated well in the workplace, say trade unions.

The TUC (Trades Union Congress) in the United Kingdom makes the following comment:

“Collective bargaining is the official process by which trade unions negotiate with employers, on behalf of their members.”

“Collective bargaining is only possible where an employer recognizes a trade union and between them they decide on the scope of negotiations.”

If a worker is a union member and their employer recognizes the union for collective bargaining, pay increases and other improvement in their working conditions should be incorporated into their contract of employment automatically.

Union membership worldwide

Image showing percentage union membership in several countries.
Image created by Market Business News.

As you can see in this bar graph, the percentage of workers who belong to a union varies considerably from country to country.

In Italy, a significant 32.5% of the workforce are union members, the highest among the countries listed, while France has the lowest at just 8.9%.

Over the past century, and especially in the last fifty years, union membership has seen a general decline worldwide. This is mainly due to globalization, the growth of the gig economy, changes in labor law. People’s and governments’ economic priorities have also changed.

Video – What is a Trade Union?

This video, from our sister YouTube Channel – Marketing Business Network – explains what a “Trade Union” is using easy-to-understand language and examples: