Labor Relations

Understanding the Pros and Cons of Labor Unions

The recent resurgence of the U.S. labor movement has employers and employees asking about the pros and cons of labor unions. Here’s what you need to know.

Worker interest in unions has grown in recent years. Many employers are now asking themselves what they need to know about this recent re-emergence of the U.S. labor movement. 

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 16.2 million U.S. workers were represented by a union in 2023 — an increase of 191,000 from 2022. Evidence also suggests that another 60+ million workers wanted to join a union in 2023 but were unable to do so. These figures make it clear that the potential for unionization looms in many sectors that have not historically given it much thought.

Common Union vs. Non-Union Perspectives

While workers unions have played an important role in the development of American industry and our broader economic trends, many more workers remain against unions and are not interested in joining or paying for participation. Both perspectives are rooted in certain priorities, and have led to legal developments such as Right to Work laws and Union Security Agreements

In general, employers prefer a non-unionized workforce for more freedom to create a competitive environment, promote workers based on merits, and decide their own policies. Employees tend to be more split with union vs. non-union proponents. Pro-union employees hope collective bargaining will yield better wages and working conditions. Anti-union employees are wary of creating workplace tension, giving up control of their own decisions to the union, and the requirement to pay dues. In the event of arbitration, the outcome is decided by a third party and there is no guarantee it will satisfy the priorities of either side.

Pros and Cons of Labor Unions

The chart below explores the pros and cons of labor unions and a unionized workforce for both the employees and their employers.


Pros of Unionization

Cons of Unionization

For Workers

  • Workers may receive higher wages
  • Potential for better benefits
  • Regulations on working conditions
  • Negotiated protections can provide job security for workforce
  • Portion of worker income goes towards union dues
  • Workers enjoy less autonomy and must abide by union rules
  • Union rules may favor seniority, slowing advancement and making newer employees more likely to get laid off
  • Risk of unpaid stoppages of work that are outside of the worker’s control
  • Discourages worker individuality — unionized employees are bound to union decisions even when they disagree

For Employers

  • Contracts allow employers to predict future operational costs more accurately
  • Unions may provide professional development, increasing worker skills
  • There is a formalized process for disputes and complaints
  • Unions can help set broader economic trends
  • May create tension in the workplace or an adversarial union relationship with management
  • Harder to promote great workers and dismiss unproductive ones
  • Increased risk of strikes that will disrupt business
  • Reduced business competition due to the burden of higher wages and benefits
  • Higher costs for employers can lead to higher prices for consumers — a “vicious cycle”

Be Prepared For the Risk of Strikes, Grievances, and Arbitration

The core concept of a union is an attempt to facilitate a more structured, transparent, and productive relationship between employers and their employees, but unionization can sometimes have the opposite effect.

When union grievance talks and collective bargaining negotiations break down, the results can harm both the company and the workforce. However, employers should also know that their overall relationship with unions can be smoother with support from the right workplace environment, employee relations initiatives, and labor relations management tools.

LaborSoft provides the all-in-one labor relations case management system you need on a cloud-based system that can be accessed from anywhere. Every aspect of LaborSoft has been designed with the modern labor relations professional in mind. Get in touch with our team today to learn more or book a free demonstration.

New call-to-action

Similar posts

Stay informed, never miss a post!

Stay up to date with the latest industry news, posts, and resources from LaborSoft.