National & International Unions: Structure & Organization

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  • 0:04 Unions
  • 0:54 National Unions
  • 3:14 International Unions
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Loy

Dr. Loy has a Ph.D. in Resource Economics; master's degrees in economics, human resources, and safety; and has taught masters and doctorate level courses in statistics, research methods, economics, and management.

What's the difference between a national and an international union? You will learn this, touch on how and why unions merge, and get more insight into union conventions, leadership, administration, staff, dues and fees, and political activity.


Unions are formed when workers join together as a group to negotiate work-related issues. Unions can be categorized into national unions and international unions based on the scope of their influence. National unions are run by members from one country who work in different trades and occupational categories who have come together to attempt to increase the power of labor in their country. Priorities for national unions are wages, benefits, and safe working conditions.

International unions are similar to national unions in that they work to improve safety, benefits, and wages and also have advocates and conventions. However, they also look to deal with global issues, such as poverty, trade, inequality, terrorism, and human rights. Let's follow Liam, the owner of Candi Pipeline Company, as he grows his business and deals with both national and international unions.

National Unions

Liam's company is based in Cody, Wyoming. He is experienced with labor unions because he joined his local Pipeliner's Union when he was learning his trade. Now, as an owner, he's learned to work with the national union from a different position. He even attends the national convention, where he talks with elected delegates from local unions. These are organized by national officers and focus on current trends like work-life balance and elder care. The goal of a national convention is to develop a list of priorities, elect officers, and draft a work plan for the upcoming year.

National union leaders are elected because of their experience and expertise. They must be very familiar with national and state laws that affect an occupational category or industry. For example, collective bargaining rules, the way that unions and companies negotiate contracts, vary by state in the United States. It's important that union representatives are well versed in what can and cannot be done in different areas of the country.

Lobbyists are also an important part of national unions and the political process. Lobbyists represent unions and try to convince government officials to vote one way or another to support their initiatives. What is legal for lobbyists to do in the United States is likely very different in other countries. Right to work laws are an excellent example because certain U.S. states have given employees the right to join or not join a union.

Unions are against right to work laws because they have a downward effect on membership numbers. Historically, unions could force employees to become members of a union and pay union dues and fees. Wyoming, where Liam is based, is one of the states where right to work laws have ended these practices. In some countries with strong labor laws, membership in a union is required for employment.

As Liam expands, he needs to learn more about international unions, including how national unions merge to have more say on an international level. Having this influence is important for international unions to maintain the rights of their employees across borders. Smaller, national unions often find it necessary to merge into a larger, international union because it increases the union's funding potential.

For example, the Pipeliner's Union is considering merging with an international craft union of welders. Let's look into Liam's situation from an international view and see how he's dealing with these potential changes.

International Unions

Even though national unions appear to have declining membership, international unions are growing. Liam recently went through an expansion to offer services in Latin America. As the natural gas industry grows, he knows there are untapped markets he needs to take advantage of quickly. The global perspective is new to Liam so he decides to hire an international liaison to help him understand the changing pipeline industry.

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