How to Get a Union Job
Are you interested in a job in which you'll belong to a labor union? Unions are found in every industry, and many union jobs pay well. They strive to ensure higher wages, shorter work weeks, and safer work environments for their members. Joining a union gives members good wages and benefits, as well as some protection against arbitrary firing, so union positions are attractive to many workers.
Benefits of Belonging to a Union
Union workers typically have better wages than non-union employees in comparable jobs. For instance, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median weekly income of a non-union worker was $860 in 2018, as compared to $1,051 for a union worker.
Non-union workers earned only about 82% of the wages garnered by union employees. Thus, union workers earned an average of about $10,000 in increased wages over the course of a year, due to their belonging to a union.
High Paying Jobs
In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, this earnings difference was influenced by other factors too. Greater distributions of union members than non-union employees exist in some higher-paying areas within occupational, industry, age, firm size, and geographical region categories.
For example, the overall average rate of workers represented by unions was 10.5%, but in protective services and education, the rates of union membership were 33.9% and 33.8%, respectively. Men, who traditionally receive higher compensation in this country, were more likely to be members of unions (11.1% for men versus 9.9% for women).
Union employees also have access to better benefits. In 2018, 94% of union workers had access to medical and retirement benefits, while only 67% of non-union employees had medical benefits. Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, so healthcare benefits are a huge asset to employees.
Non-union workers are usually "at-will" employees, meaning they can be fired for virtually any reason at all, as long as it is not based on discrimination regarding gender, ethnicity, race, or religion. If an employer decides they do not like your hair length or if you come in five minutes late, they have every right to fire you immediately.
Union employees, however, have greater job security. To fire you, there must be a legitimate cause. There has to be evidence of actual misconduct or poor performance, and there is typically a process that takes place, including arbitration with union leaders.
Union members also have strength in numbers. If conditions are getting dangerous or hours are too long, they can work together to lobby company leadership without fear of retaliation.
Common Occupations and Industries for Union Workers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupations with the highest concentration of union workers include:
- Protective service occupations: 33.9%
- Education and library occupations: 33.8%
- Construction and extraction occupations: 17.1%
- Installation maintenance and repair occupations: 15.1%
- Transportation occupations: 14.5%
- Community and social service occupations: 13.8%
- Production occupations: 11.9%
- Healthcare practitioners: 11.4%
The industries with the largest numbers of union workers include the federal, state, and local government sectors, utilities, transportation, telecommunications, construction, educational services, motion pictures and sound recording, and manufacturing. There are many different types of jobs available within each industry.
How to Join a Union
Unions Affiliated With a Company
If you’re employed by a company that is affiliated with a union, ask the human resources department at your employer or the national office of the union for the contact information for a local union representative.
- Research the dues and benefits of joining the union.
- Secure and complete the paperwork (or online documents) for joining the union and having your dues deducted from your paycheck.
In construction and other trades where you might work for a union contractor, independently, or on a project basis, identify the local chapter of the union for your field.
- You may need to apply to be eligible to join the union.
- Ask about the requirements for joining and whether you need to participate in a formal apprenticeship program.
- Meet with a representative to learn about dues and how the union will connect you to projects.
- The union representative will explain the process to you.
- Ask to speak with other local members if you have questions or doubts.
- If you're accepted, complete the required membership documents, and you'll be all set.
Tips for Finding a Union Job
Union jobs can be more difficult to find than other forms of work. When the economy worsens, more people seek union work for greater protection, particularly when layoffs become more common.
Union workers have higher wages and more power to influence company leadership than non-union workers typically do. Because of these factors, competition to join a union can be stiff, so you may need to spend time networking with union members and representatives to get hired.
Research Apprenticeship Programs: Apprenticeship programs are common within skilled trades for labor union occupations like plumbing, construction, carpentry, electrical, and pipe fitting, and are an excellent way to acquire training and gain access to union jobs.
- Search online for apprenticeships in your state by using keywords such as, “apprenticeships Illinois” or “apprenticeship programs New York.”
- Contact unions in your field and geographic area of interest and inquire about apprenticeship programs.
- The United States Department of Labor offers information about apprenticeship programs for union and non-union workers through its website.
- Apprenticeship.gov has a searchable list of available apprenticeships you can use to find opportunities near you.
Use Union-Specific Resources and Job Banks. There are union-specific job banks and resources you can use to find apprenticeship and job opportunities.
- The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a national trade union center and the largest federation of unions in the United States, posts union listings by industry on its website.
- Visit the websites of other unions to find job postings or inquire about opportunities through union officials.
- Unionjobs.com is an excellent source for union jobs, including positions working directly with the administration of unions.
- The Center for Union Facts (CUF) has a database of information on national and local labor unions in the United States.
Apply Directly to Companies Affiliated with Unions. One of the easiest ways to get a union job is to look for major employers and companies that work with unions already. You will typically find that information right on the company website or by inquiring with neighbors, family friends, members of your church group, and other contacts.
Check Job Boards: Many union employers will post job listings on other major job search sites, such as CareerBuilder, Indeed, or Monster. You can also attend labor council meetings in your county to meet union leaders and find out which companies are hiring.
Get Some Experience: It will be easier to gain access to an apprenticeship or union job if you have some experience in your target field. Consider working as a laborer or assistant for a local non-union trade worker in construction, plumbing, or another area of interest to gain exposure, build some skills, and prove that you have a genuine interest in the field.
Attending a trade school program is another way to get the basics you’ll need to get hired.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Union Members Summary," Accessed Nov. 14, 2019.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employee Benefits in the United States - March 2019," Accessed Nov. 14, 2019.
Economic Policy Institute. "How Today’s Unions Help Working People," Accessed Nov. 14, 2019.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Union Affiliation of Employed Wage and Salary Workers by Occupation and Industry," Accessed Nov. 14, 2019.