Why Join SMART? Union members earn better wages and benefits than workers who don’t belong to a union. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union members’ wages are 30% higher than their nonunion counterparts. While only 14% of nonunion workers have guaranteed pensions, fully 68% of union workers do. More than 97% of union workers have jobs that provide health insurance benefits; only 85% of nonunion workers do. Unions help employers create a more stable, productive workforce — where workers have a say in improving their jobs.

Only a union can provide you real employment protectionUnder the “employment at will” doctrine, the cornerstone of U.S. employment law, unless you belong to a protected group, your employer has the right to discipline or terminate you, with impunity, for any reason — even a bad one — or for no reason at all. With a collective bargaining agreement, you have rights spelled out in a contract. Management must have “just cause” for any disciplinary action taken against a union employee. “Just cause” is spelled out in our union contract so that we know exactly what is expected of us, and management knows exactly what is required of them.

You earn more as a union member. Union membership brings many benefits to working people, one of which is weekly earnings. The data below show that union workers, on average, made $161 or 27% more per week than nonunion workers in 2003. Furthermore, when broken down to both industries and occupational categories, the union difference becomes even clearer.

WEEKLY EARNINGS ADVANTAGE FOR UNION MEMBERS, 2003 Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers’ Median Weekly Earnings

UnionNonunionUnion Weekly Advantage% Difference
All Workers 16 and Over$760$599$16127%
Race and Gender Breakdown
White, 16 years & over$779$612$16727%
Black, 16 years & over$665$491$17435%
Hispanic or Latino, 16 years & over$632$419$21351%
Occupational Breakdown
Management, professional & related occupations$896$886$101%
Professional & related occupations$885$833$526%
Services occupations$606$382$22459%
Office & administrative support occupations$639$530$10921%
Natural resources, construction & maintenance occupations$851$558$29353%
Production, transportation & material moving occupations$688$493$19540%
Industry Breakdown
Durable goods manufacturing$714$655$599%
Nondurable goods manufacturing$635$590$458%
Transportation & warehousing$782$620$16226%

Note: In addition to the earnings benefits gained from being unionized, some of the union/nonunion differences may be due to factors such as employee skill level, region of the country and size of the employer.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Union Members in 2003,” January 2004.

You have better benefits as a union member. Union workers are more likely than their nonunion counterparts to receive health care and pension benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In 1999, 73% of union workers in medium and large establishments had medical care benefits, compared with only 51% of nonunion workers. Union workers are also more likely to have retirement and short-term disability benefits.


As the chart illustrates, 79% of union workers have pension plans versus 44% of nonunion workers. Seventy percent of union workers have defined-benefit retirement coverage, compared with 16% of nonunion workers. Defined-benefit plans are federally insured and provide a guaranteed monthly pension amount. They are better for workers than defined-contribution plans, in which the benefit amount depends on how well the underlying investments perform.

You have greater job stability as a union member.

Although 50% of union workers have been with their current employers for at least 10 years, only 32% of nonunion workers can make the same claim. Union workers have greater job stability, in part because they are more satisfied with their jobs, receive better pay, have better benefits and have access to fair grievance procedures. Even more important, most collective bargaining agreements protect union members from unjust discharge. Nonunion workers are “employees at will” who can be fired at any time for any reason – or for no reason.

Percentage of Workers with the Same Employer for 10 Years or More, 1998

Source: AFL-CIO analysis of the Current Population Survey

Become a SMART Member

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