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Although union members typically enjoy higher wages, membership in a union has both monetary and nonmonetary costs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2014 median weekly pay for full-time workers belonging to a union was $970, compared to $763 for their nonunion counterparts. Nonetheless, you must pay to belong to a union. You'll also lose autonomy by joining, and you may suffer additional disadvantages.
Fees and Dues
The financial costs of union membership include dues and, in many cases, fees for joining. Union membership dues start at approximately $200 a year, and many unions charge more, according to Larry Keller of Bankrate.com. For example, membership in the Teamsters Local 853 costs between $17 and $85 per month as of 2015. Monthly dues for the chapter generally are equivalent to your pay for two-and-one-half hours of work. The chapter also charges an initiation fee ranging from $75 to $600, depending on your wage level.
Loss of Freedom
If you belong to a union, you lose the ability to negotiate pay or benefits for yourself. In some cases, what the union bargains for collectively may not be in your best interest.
As a union member, you're not free to decide for yourself whether or not you want to strike. In fact, you can be subject to a fine or other union discipline if you choose to work. Your employer has the right to hire other workers during the strike, but you have no guarantee of being called back immediately afterward or of receiving back pay.
Worker Against Worker
Union rules sometimes pit workers against each other, according to Fox News. When unions demand higher wages, employers with limited funds may have to cut staff to pay higher wages.
Union rules typically guarantee job security based on seniority, so a productive newer worker can be laid off while a less-productive worker with seniority stays. That's bad for you if you're new to the business.
Workers Against Bosses
Some unions have a history of adversarial relations with employers. As a result, unionized workers often experience a less cooperative environment with employers than nonunion workers, reports the Bankrate.com article. For example, supervisors may treat unionized workers more as underlings and less as partners, and workers may feel that their employers trust them less.
Closed shops, where workers must join a union before being hired, are no longer legal, states the U.S. Small Business Administration. In states without right-to-work laws, however, unions can require employees to join within a specified time after being hired. This is called a union shop.
If your state doesn't have right-to-work laws, you can be required to pay a portion of the union dues even if you don't join the union, according to legal website NOLO. This portion, the agency fee, pays for services such as negotiating contracts. However, you save the portion that goes for political costs by not joining.
Whether or not they join the union or pay fees, by law nonmembers receive nearly all of the same contract benefits as union members, states Rick Ungar in a November 2012 Forbes article. Unless you're required to join, you gain little advantage by doing so.
- Bankrate: The Pros and Cons of Union Jobs
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics News Release: Union Members -- 2014
- Fox News: Why Unions Are Harmful to Workers
- Teamsters Local 853: Frequently Asked Questions
- Forbes: 'Right-to-Work' Laws Explained, Debunked and Demystified
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Unions -- Right-to-Work States vs. Non Right-to-Work States
- NOLO: Right to Work, Union Shops and Union Dues
- Mackinac Center for Public Policy: Disadvantages of Union Representation
- National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc.: What If I Want to Work During a Strike?