Are unions a big factor when employing staff in the US?

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Are unions a big factor when employing staff in the US?

  • Employees, freedom of contract, Holland & Knight LLP, Regulation, Statistics, strike, Unions

Below are some clues from Christopher G. Kelly & Howard Sokol from Holland & Knight LLP from our “Employing Americans” event in March 2015


The Basics

  • Most employers in the United States have a direct relationship with their employees (i.e. no union representation).
  • Even when unionized, a company’s basic management entrepreneurial decisions are not subject to negotiations with the unions.
  • The benefit is an environment in which management has maximum flexibility in dealing directly with its employees.
  • A private employer’s relationship with a union is governed by federal law (principally, the National Labor Relations Act), state law, and the collective bargaining agreement.

The Numbers

  • In 2014, the union membership rate was 11.1%, totaling 14.6 million.
    • In 1983, total union membership rate was 20.1% of the total workforce
    • Public-sector workers had a union membership rate of 35.7%,
    • Private-sector workers, just 6.6 percent%.
  • Among states, in 2014
    • New York had the highest union membership rate (24.6% percent),
    • The next highest were Alaska (22.8%) and Hawaii (21.8%)
    • North Carolina had the lowest rate (1.9%)
    • The next lowest were in South Carolina (2.2%), Mississippi and Utah (3.7% each).
  • Among occupational groups
    • Highest unionization rates in 2014 were in education, training, library and protective service occupations (35.3% each)
    • Lowest unionization rates were in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (2.5%)

(Statistics by United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The Bottom Line

  • Even with respect to the small percentage of the workforce that is unionized, federal labor law has as its underpinning the principle of freedom of contract. Neither the employer nor the union can be compelled to make an agreement in the absence of their own willingness to do so.
  • The employer is required to bargain in good faith, and economic leverage is the driving force in motivating parties to compromise their differences.
  • Employees are permitted to strike in order to put pressure on their employers to give in to their demands. Employers are permitted to hire permanent replacements for striking employees

The Process

  • The process of certifying unions is heavily regulated.
  • Generally, unions organize on an individual employer basis and must obtain the support of a majority of the employees voting in a representation election.
    • Intended to educate the employees and assist them in making an informed decision..
  • In the U.S., opposing a union’s representation efforts can be a very expensive, complex, and time-consuming process.
  • The foregoing discussion on union relations applies to the laws governing private sector employers other than those in the airline and railroad industries which operate within a different statutory framework (under the federal Railway Labor Act) that has some significant differences (when compared to the National Labor Relations Act).

See full article here: Employing Americans from initial interview to retirement party

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