What Does A Labor Union Do For Union Members?

A labor union is a group of employees who band together to negotiate better pay, working conditions, working hours and to solve complaints against employers.

The Structure of Labor Unions

For the most part, labor unions belong underneath either the AFL-CIO, established in 1955, or the Change to Win Federation, which split from AFL-CIO in 2005. Both organizations strive to support union members in their jobs, but also focus on politics. Despite the decrease in membership, unions continue to have a strong influence within the economy and politics.

Public service industries continue to use labor unions with members who are city employees, government workers, teachers, and police. For the most part, union members, who are mostly older and male, reside in the Northeast, Midwest, and California. In studies that compare pay between union and non-union workers, union members average anything from 10-30% more than non-union members.

How Does a Labor Union Serve the Union Member?

First and foremost, the purpose of a labor union is to improve the working conditions of the union members within their employment industry. Labor unions accomplish this through collective bargaining, strikes, and legislation. Labor unions also create opportunities for community and activist work.

Collective Bargaining

Employers are much more likely to pay attention to negotiation instigated by a labor union on behalf of a group of employees who wish to see changes within their employment environment. A labor union representative speaks for these employees, negotiating wages, staffing, safety, vacations, overtime pay, transfer policies, and so much more. A labor union can negotiate with one employer or several. When an agreement is reached, a collective agreement or labor contract seals the final decision.


Most often, labor unions use strikes as a negotiation tool when an employer or group of employers need an extra kick in the pants during a collective bargaining conversation. When an agreement is not reached for the collective bargaining within a certain time line, a strike occurs. Labor unions respect the strikes of other unions. Therefore, when a union goes on strike, no other union crosses the picket line. A strike might last for months or only hours, depending on the situation.


Labor unions are instrumental in shaping legislation to protect employee rights by having a strong political presence. In the past, labor unions helped shape and secure legislature on overtime, health and safety, and family and medical leave. Legislature is one of the main ways that labor unions work from the top to protect every union member.

When Can a Union Member Sue a Labor Union?

Union members can sue a union for discrimination, negligent conduct, and unlawful handling of dues. In some cases, it may be appropriate for union members to sue when a union violates the rights of union members. The Department of Labor outlines the union member’s bill of rights.

Union Member Bill of Rights

  • equal rights to union activities
  • freedom of speech and assembly
  • voice in setting rates of fees, dues, and assessments
  • protection of the right to sue
  • safeguards against improper discipline

Lawsuits Filed Against Unions

Suing a labor union requires an awareness of the law and a good reason for the lawsuit. With every lawsuit comes a certain amount of risk, a good reason might not be strong enough to win a case. A labor attorney knows how to create a good legal strategy along with strong legal support.

Teacher union member sues union

Rebecca Friedrichs, a teacher, filed a lawsuit against her union, California Teachers Association, alleging that the union routinely forces teachers to campaign for specific political candidates and participate in collective bargaining. Those teacher who refused were threatened with no funding and job loss. Also, Friedrichs accused the union of unlawful collection of dues. The purpose of the lawsuit was to end “agency fees” that teachers must pay. Friedrichs did not win. (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al, 2015)

Commercial driver union member sues union

Anne Stuart, a qualified commercial vehicle driver, applied over and over again for movie work with the Teamsters Local 727 division, but she was continually turned away. She alleges that despite her qualifications she was continually turned away because of her gender. Stuart filed a lawsuit against Local 727 for gender discrimination. Due to latest in filing her EEOC complaint and other reasons, her lawsuit was dismissed. (Stuart v. Local 727, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 2014)

Why Would a Union Member Need A Labor Lawyer?

A labor lawyer understands the many employment and labor laws that bound an employer and labor union to serving the union member. Although a union member might recognize that certain rights have been violated, a lawyer knows what legal solutions are available. When a union violates the rights of union members, reaching out to a lawyer is often the best option.

Reasons to Consult a Lawyer

If you have experienced a violation of your union member rights, contact a labor attorney now to hear your legal options.

Chat with a labor attorney: (412) 626-5626 or lawyer@lawkm.com.