What is a Labor Union? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rayna Cummings

Rayna has taught Elementary Education for 12 years (in both 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades) and holds a M.Ed in Early Childhood Education from The Ohio State University

As a employee, you have working rights. In this lesson, you'll learn about how workers gain equal working rights through membership in a labor union, how and when labor unions began, and labor unions in our country today.

Doing Your Chores

It's not fun to have chores to do around the house, but the money or incentive you receive for doing them is probably worth it. What if your parents made you do chores from the time you woke up until the time you went to bed for very little allowance? That would be awful!

But what if you and your friends could form a group to choose what chores you wanted to do and how much money you'd receive for each chore? How cool would that be? This is similar to how labor unions began with workers more than a century ago.

Labor union poster for workers
labor union photo

Labor Unions

A labor union, or union for short, is a group of workers who come together to protect their working rights and working pay. The labor union decides to revolt, or rebel, against its employer through strikes and negotiations. Strikes are where labor union workers decide to protest against unfair and unreasonable working rights. During strikes, labor union workers protest and picket with signs demanding better working rights and pay from the employer.

Labor union workers striking against their employer, Sears
Labor Union Strike

Can you imagine seeing thousands of workers marching up and down the sidewalk holding signs and yelling?

When Labor Unions Began

Labor unions began in the late 1800s during a period called the Industrial Revolution. During that time, factory workers, mill workers, and miners were working many hours with little pay in environments that were often unsafe. Would you want to do your chores daily in such conditions as these workers?

At the time, the government did nothing to help these workers. The workers decided to come together, forming unions to revolt against unfair working conditions and poor pay and striking against their employers. Some of these strikes became dangerous, so the government finally stepped in and created a better working atmosphere for the employees.

Labor Unions Today

Labor unions still exist today and have developed into larger organizations. The main occupations that offer labor unions are the police force, educators (teachers), and firefighters. However, there are many labor unions in other professions throughout our country.

Let's take a look at three of the largest labor unions currently in the U.S.

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