14 Secrets And Stories About What It's Like To Work For A Unionized Company

    "Unions are only as good as their members."

    Workers unionizing at companies like Starbucks, the New York Times, and REI have been making headlines lately. Though unions have gained traction during the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2021 only about 10.3% of workers belonged to a union. Yet many more workers are curious. In 2018, researchers at MIT found that 48% of Americans would join a union if they could.

    To learn more about what unions can do for workers, we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share what their experiences in unionized workplaces have been like. Here are their stories:

    First, some people had nothing but good things to say about their unions:

    1. "I am a retired New York City teacher and a member of the United Federation of Teachers. Unions protect us from unscrupulous managers. They work on our behalf to provide us with decent medical care and pay. Our pension is generous, and we have the opportunity to invest in a pension supplement. Being in a union keeps non-union businesses on their toes. The last thing they need is a union coming in. So they provide for their employees properly."

    Teachers marching with signs that say we believe quality schools are union made

    2. "As an adult, I have mostly worked in retail for meager wages. Oftentimes, I worked two jobs just to get by as many retail operations will only give part-time hours, even when they are understaffed. In 2019, I moved to Washington to finish up my bachelor's and got a job at a nearby grocery store. At the time, minimum wage in Washington was $12.70 an hour, so I expected my starting wage to be $13.50 or something in that range. After I was hired, I found out that my department had a union, and my actual wage was $21.05 with a guaranteed $0.55 raise every six months."

    "On top of that, I got an extra $0.20 an hour for working after 8 p.m., an additional $0.50 for working after 10 p.m., and an extra $1.00 for working after 12 p.m., meaning if you worked the overnight freight shift you made $22.75 an hour. On Sundays, we got an extra dollar, and on holidays, we got paid time and a half for working and an additional eight hours pay whether we worked or not. 

    I think membership cost around $150 to join up, but it basically paid for itself. Sometimes it could be frustrating to get ahold of the union rep; we would have to call and text for weeks to get a response. Now, I am living in a different state doing the same job with no union, and I make $14 an hour, which is actually significantly more than most of my co-workers who have been there for years. Unions will fight for a living wage and better working conditions for all workers, and negotiate benefits like healthcare and a 401(k). Unions are the only way to get treated like an actual person in the retail environment."


    3. "I worked for the Post Office for 31 years, and I'm so thankful for the union. I have a retirement that I can live off of. I have health insurance, and I also had a living wage. Everything was not always perfect, but without it, I have no idea where I'd be."


    4. "I joined a union electrical apprenticeship after completing college and spending 15 years working corporate office jobs that never paid me a truly livable wage. Upon completing my five-year apprenticeship, I will be making over three times the highest-paying office wage that I had earned."

    Electrician looking at wires with a flashlight on a job site

    5. "I'm a member of a teachers union on the verge of striking (or maybe striking by the time this article is written). Our union is stronger than ever! We have been working without a contract for over a year because the district is slow to negotiate with us. We haven't taken more than a 2% raise per contract in 20 years. (Inflation is 6-7% on average). We the teachers are the union. We are working hard to negotiate for professional-level wages, more mental health support for students, smaller class sizes, recruitment and retention of educators of color, and more."


    Others expressed gratitude for their unions, but pointed out that, like any group of human beings, they aren't perfect:


    6. "I work for local county government that has union representation. I think union representation is extremely important for lessening wage inequality and improving work conditions. I would just be careful which union you pick when you're unionizing at work. Our union doesn't do much for us. They have arranged cost of living raises for the last few years, and they will write letters on your behalf or attend meetings for you. However, we experienced some pretty horrific wage exploitation while working during Covid, and they did little to support us getting paid fairly while working well above our pay grades. Basically, look for a union that has workers who have the energy for a fight."


    7. "I belonged to the union at my last government job, and while there were times where they seemed to be a little too close to management, overall my experience was very positive. Regular cost of living increases, more paid time off than any other job I had, outstanding insurance coverage (which cost me less than $100 per month for myself and my spouse). Contributing money to the union was voluntary, but all employees benefited from their actions regardless. Use that collective bargaining power, folks!"

    Man working in an office

    8. "I've been in one that was absolutely awful and provided nothing for the workers. I've also been in one that was hands down amazing: two pensions, a 401(k), a livable wage, and full benefits. Unions are only as good as their members, and what the laws allow. We need unions. They improve everyone's working conditions by creating competition for skilled work. We need to support politicians who defend unions and blue collar jobs. Seize the means of your labor."


    9. "I'm a staff worker at a university. There are a few unions where I work. Throughout Covid, my union fought to prevent layoffs so we could take furlough. They also implemented safety protocols and made sure it was safe for us when the university was rushing to 'go back to normal.' The only thing that's unfortunate is the disparity between all the staff unions and faculty union."

    "This is a larger issue because having prestigious faculty brings students (i.e., money) to the school. Faculty unions have more bargaining power as a result. The staff unions ended up taking furloughs and layoffs during peak Covid, but the faculty union had bargained in their contracts that they couldn't have any action taken against them without at least a year's warning. Good on their union for that, for real, but it was rough when all the rest were carrying the brunt of everything. This was my experience at one school — other universities may differ. Still very grateful to be in a union and wouldn't trade it for anything."


    10. "I work as a member of the ESP (Educational Support Professionals) union. The upsides are that I have what many other people doing similar work in education might not have: paid time off, health insurance, and paid sick leave. The downside is that the wages are fixed, so even though, for example, I have been doing my much higher-paid supervisor's job while she's been out on maternity leave, I can't negotiate for a higher hourly wage at all."

    Office worker on a zoom call with colleagues

    11. "I worked at a union supermarket for about a year, and it was pretty good. No matter how long our shifts were, we’d always have a 15-minute break, and we could apply for paid family/medical leave or emergency medical benefits regardless of how many hours we worked. We also got Covid hazard pay for a couple months (like 15 cents extra per hour, but it’s better than nothing)."

    "The major drawback was we couldn’t negotiate for pay raises individually, so if minimum wage went up, you might lose your raise until the union renegotiated wages. It was a shitty job, but the union made it better. I was treated 10 times better than my friends at non-union retail jobs. If you’re working somewhere and you have the chance to unionize, DO IT."


    12. "I worked at UPS as a loader part-time while I was in college. For about $15 a week I got full benefits. Plus, it was almost impossible to get fired if you were semi-competent."


    13. "Personally, it’s a mixed bag. I love the job security that comes with belonging to a union; however, it means people who should be terminated cannot be let go. So you can get stuck with some deadweight coworkers. I appreciate how they negotiate with the employer for raises, benefits, etc. However, when I’ve approached them about ideas I have that I would like to have negotiated for us, I’ve been ignored. And when I’ve gone to them with issues with my employer, it never seems to be something that they can handle. In conclusion, I like having a union, but I think it could be run better."

    Workers marching with signs that say I'm sticking with my union

    14. And finally, "I am a teacher and am both a union member and the union rep for my school. We are lucky to have a union because they are able to advocate for us in a way that wouldn't be likely without. I am constantly amazed, though, at the number of teachers who think the union does nothing for them because during negotiations for the contract every year, we don't just get 100% what the teachers want but rather a mix of teacher demands and school district demands."


    Now, it's your turn. What have your experiences with unions been like? Let us know in the comments!

    And for more stories about work and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts