Union membership can offer some important benefits to workers. In this lesson, we'll discuss the purposes of a union, the roles members may play in a union and the effects of union representation in an organization.
Union - Definition and Purpose
Zoey is a teacher and a member of a union. A union is an organization of workers who join together to advance their common interest for better pay, benefits and working conditions. The purpose of Zoey's union is to act as the exclusive representative of Zoey and her fellow members in dealing with her employer.
The union allows Zoey and the other teachers to bargain collectively rather than individually with the school district for the best wages, benefits and work conditions possible. Employees who are able to bargain as a group have a stronger bargaining position than those that must bargain with an employer alone - there's simply strength in numbers.
Roles of Members
A union is like any other organization with members that serve different roles. Let's look at some of the roles that members of a union can fill.
Zoey is part of the general membership. This may not sound important, but unions are democratic organizations and all members have power within the organization. The general membership makes general policy decisions through voting. Zoey and other general members will also elect the union's executive officers who manage the day-to-day operations of the union.
Elizabeth is one of the officers of Zoey's local union, elected by Zoey and the other members. Elizabeth serves as the president of the union and manages its day-to-day affairs. Zoey's union also has a secretary that keeps records of the union's meetings and a treasurer that manages its financial transactions and collection of dues. Other unions may have additional types of officers, such as auditors and vice presidents.
Dave is a shop steward. Shop stewards, like Dave, are down in the trenches. They are responsible for receiving and processing member grievances. He will attempt to settle the grievance between the union member and the employer. In fact, shop stewards are often the first point of contact employers have with the union. Shop stewards are also responsible for educating members on the importance of the union, its policies and what it does for the membership. Some stewards are also responsible for collecting member dues and recruiting new members.
Zoey's union also has a few committees. Committees are focused on specific functions or needs of the union. Zoey's union has a grievance committee that settles disputes between workers and management if the shop steward can't do it alone. There's also a negotiation committee that is involved in the union's negotiations with the employer and a legal committee that deals with legal matters facing the union. Of course, other unions may have fewer or more committees depending upon their needs, such as finance committees and education committees.
Effect of Unions on HR
Dealing with unions is part of the labor relations function of human resource management. The union is the exclusive representative of Zoey and the other teachers, and the school administration must deal with the union in matters concerning Zoey and the other teachers. In fact, failure to respect the union's representation of its members is a violation of law as an unfair labor practice. Employers must also abide by the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement, which governs the employer-employee relationship. For example, HR must follow any disciplinary procedure agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement.
Let's review what we've learned. A union is an organization of workers who collectively bargain with employers for better pay, benefits and conditions of employment. It is a democratic organization where the general membership determines overall policy and elects officers. Officers run the day-to-day operations of the union. Shop stewards handle the initial stages of negotiation of grievances and also help educate and recruit members. Committees may also be formed to focus on specific tasks and needs of a union.
If the company employs union members, special care must be taken. The interaction between the employer and the union is often referred to as labor relations. It's important to remember that the union is the exclusive representative of its members, and employers must work with the union in employer-employee relations. Employers must also be certain to honor the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement that governs the employment relationship between a company and union workers.
After this lesson, you'll be able to:
- Define union and identify how a union is generally organized
- Describe the various roles of union members, including that of a shop steward
- Explain the special considerations a company must take when it employs union members