AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Union 101

What is a union?
Broadly defined, a union is a group of employees who come together voluntarily with the shared goal of improving their working conditions and having a voice at their place of employment.

The union difference
Union members earn better wages and benefits than nonunion workers.

  • On average, union workers’ wages are 30 percent higher than nonunion workers. Union wages are even higher for women and people of color.
  • Sixty-eight percent of union workers have guaranteed pensions, compared with 14 percent for nonunion workers.
  • More than 97 percent of union workers have jobs that provide health insurance benefits.
  • Forty-six percent of union workers receive full pay while on sick leave, compared with only 29 percent of nonunion workers.

Unions help the employers by creating a more stable, productive workforce, with workers who have a say in improving their jobs.

Collective bargaining
Collective bargaining is a formal process that gives you a voice in decisions that affect your job and your profession. It provides you and your colleagues with a special relationship to your employer in determining salary, benefits, hours and working conditions. More important, collective bargaining gives you a contract that puts these guarantees in writing, while also protecting you from unfair treatment.

The legal right to collectively bargain is controlled by the state. The majority, but not all, of AFT locals have won collective bargaining rights. Some locals are in states that do not have laws allowing collective bargaining. Instead, these locals have various types of agreements that approximate collective bargaining. The most common is called “meet and confer.” This is a process whereby the employee organization and employer come together to discuss and agree upon issues predetermined to be “up for discussion.” However, whereas collective bargaining results in a legal contract that binds the employer, in most meet-and-confer situations, the employer is not legally bound by the agreement but rather by a sense of “fair play.”

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