What Is the Purpose of a Union in the Workplace?

by Owen Pearson; Updated September 26, 2017

A labor union is an organized group of workers, typically under the direction of a union manager. Unions typically are affiliated with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, which oversees and supports union activity across a wide range of industries, including education, manufacturing, skilled labor and entertainment. A workplace union serves important purposes.

Pay Advocacy

Unions advocate fair pay standards for unionized employees. A union worker can earn as much as 20 percent more than a nonunion employee, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Unions help promote equality of pay by advocating greater pay increases for low- and moderate-income workers than for high-income earners, and by promoting pay increases for blue-collar workers rather than white-collar employees. The advocacy efforts of workplace unions also encourages higher pay for nonunion members.

Nonwage Benefits Advocacy

Unions promote the availability of nonwage benefits and compensation for union members. They encourage employers to provide health insurance benefits to protect union members against large financial losses from medical bills and hospitalizations. Unions also promote other nonwage benefits such as pensions and paid leave for workers. The Economic Policy Institute says that the greatest advantage a union provides to its members is the improvement of benefits packages.

Working Conditions

A workplace union gives its members a voice to promote safe working conditions. These organizations help employees encourage employers to provide safety equipment to protect workers against injuries and accidents. Unions also promote the limitation of required overtime and swing shifts, which prevents accidents attributable to employee fatigue.

Workplace Regulation

Workplace unions play an essential role in the development of regulations designed to protect and properly compensate employees. Unions played an important role in the development and enactment of legislation that created the Social Security Act and National Labor Relations Act of 1935, as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Unions also promote the enforcement of workplace regulations to prevent the unfair treatment of employees.

About the Author

Owen Pearson is a freelance writer who began writing professionally in 2001, focusing on nutritional and health topics. After selling abstract art online for five years, Pearson published a nonfiction book detailing the process of building a successful online art business. Pearson obtained a bachelor's degree in art from the University of Rio Grande in 1997.