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Labor Unions Today

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Labor unions today

Today most labor unions in the United States are members of one of two larger umbrella organizations: the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) or the Change to Win Federation, which split from the AFL-CIO in 2005. Both organizations advocate policies and legislation favorable to workers in the United States and Canada, and take an active role in Democratic party politics. The AFL-CIO is especially concerned with global trade issues.

Private sector union members are tightly regulated by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed in 1935. The law is overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), part of the United States Department of Labor. Public sector unions are regulated partly by federal and partly by state laws. In general they have shown robust growth rates, for wages and working conditions are set through negotiations with elected local and state officials. The unions' political power thus comes into play, and of course the local government cannot threaten to move elsewhere, nor is there any threat from foreign competition. In California the public sector unions have been especially successful.

To join a union, workers must either:

• be given voluntary recognition from their employer or

• have a majority of workers in a "bargaining unit" vote for union representation.

In either case, the government must then certify the newly formed union.

Public sector worker unions are governed by labor laws and labor boards in each of the 50 states. Northern states typically model their laws and boards after the NLRA and the NLRB. In other states, public workers have no right to establish a union as a legal entity. (About 40% of public employees in the USA do not have the right to organize a legally established union.)

Once the union has won the support of a majority of the bargaining unit and is certified in a workplace, it has the sole authority to negotiate the conditions of employment. However, under the NLRA, if a minority of employees voted for a union, those employees can then form a union which represents the rights of only those members who voted for the union. This minority model was once widely used, but was discarded when unions began to consistently win majority support. Unions are beginning to revisit the "members only" model of unionism because of new changes to labor law which unions view as curbing workers' ability to organize.

The employer and the union write the terms and conditions of employment in a legally binding contract. When disputes arise over the contract, most contracts call for the parties to resolve their differences through a grievance process to see if the dispute can be mutually resolved. If the union and the employer still cannot settle the matter, either party can choose to send the dispute to arbitration, where the case is argued before a neutral third party.

In the 1940s and 1950s links to organized crime were discovered in U.S. unions, hurting their image.

Since the 1970s, union membership has been steadily declining in the private-sector while growing in the public sector.

Right-to-work statutes forbid unions from negotiating agency shops. Thus, while unions do exist in "right-to-work" states, they are typically weaker.

Members of labor unions enjoy "Weingarten Rights." If management questions the union member on a matter that may lead to discipline or other changes

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