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Alabor union is an organized group of employees with an aim ofpursuing common job-related objectives such as pleasant workingenvironment, job security, better salaries and wages, workersbenefits among others. To their proponents, labor unions shieldemployees from exploitation by employers, help workers in achievingbetter standards of living and represents them in the labor market.However, critics allude that labor unions are out there to underminethe competitiveness of companies in America and that they are not intouch with the needs of modern day employees and economic truth. Asseen from the article Wal-MartPAC Comes under Scrutiny byShelly Banjo, labor unions and advocacy groups represents employeesfrom misuse by powerful employers. In the article, the groups are inquest of legal investigation as to whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc.infringed federal election rules by requesting workers forcontributions to its political-action team in exchange for charitabledonations to a fund that assists Wal-Mart workers in need. The authornotes that companies in United States are barred (under federalelection law) from giving funds directly to political-action workinggroups (Banjo 2). Companies can use their own money to administerPACs but are disallowed from reimbursing contributors for theirpayments. This article provides a very good example of workersrepresentation as the main role of labor unions.

Structureof Unions

Thereexist two main categories of labor unions namely Industrial unionsand Craft unions. Industrial unions represent employees from thesame industry despite their profession or skills. Even though theremay be highly skilled employees in industrial unions, most of themembers are unskilled or semiskilled employees. Example of anindustrial union is the United Steelworkers of America. On the otherhand, Craft unions represent employees of the same profession or withsimilar skill. A good example of a craft union is the NationalFootball League Players’ Association (Skurzynsk 6).

Localunion acts as the link to the national union because majorityunionized employees interrelate with their union through their localunion. It offers them a chance to contribute directly in unionmatters through meetings attendance and voting on union-relatedmatters. It is at the local level that the preliminary stages of acomplaint procedure takes place. Labor disputes and strikes emanatesfrom the local level. Local unions sources legal advices from thenational unions. Nation unions also offer leadership training tolocals along with assisting them in raising membership. It is thenational union that negotiates with employers in dispute cases(Skurzynsk 8).

Originof Labor Unions

Thebeginning of labor unions can be traced to the Europe’s industrialupheaval that took place in the eighteenth century. During theaforementioned period, there was enormous flow of new employees intothe available industries that desired representation (Skurzynsk 9).

Inthe US history of unions, trade unions and early employees played asignificant part in the gaining of independence. Even though theirmaterial efforts towards the struggle for independence were noteffective, their introduced thoughts, such as workers’ protection,became an integral part of the American culture. Labor union in theU.S. began in the 19th Century. The formation of the National LaborUnion (NLU) in 1866 marked the explosion of labor unions in UnitedStates of America. Different from modern day unions, the NLU was notrestricted to a given type of employee. And even if the NLUdisintegrated without making considerable gains in institutingemployees` rights, its start set an imperative precedent in UnitedStates. Afterward, the Knights of Labor surfaced in 1869. This unionhad about 700,000 members with its endeavors being focusing onaddressing major issues such as an eight-hour day and opposing childlabor (Skurzynsk 20).

TheMost Famous Labor Union in History

TheAmerican Federation of Labor (AFL) that was started in 1886 by SamuelGompers remains to be the most eminent union in the history of UnitedStates of America. AFL had a membership of roughly 1.4 million at itspeak. The union is attributed with effectively negotiating salaryincrement for its members and developing place of work safety for allemployees. Under the leadership of John Lewis, The Congress ofIndustrial Organizations (CIO) and the bigger AFL federation wentthrough a massive growth during World War II (Troy 112). The two werelater to merge in 1955. By around 1970, Union membership had peaked.By then, union membership at the private sector began declining atrend that is seen even today. Nonetheless, public sector unionmembership growth has been consistent. Report from the 2010 Bureau ofLabor Statistic places union membership in the US at 14 million witha registered 37 percent growth in the public sector (Reynolds 8).

LegalAspects of Labor Unions

Closeto two centuries after the U.S founding, federal Laws on labor unionswere nonexistent. This explains why the labor unions struggled in theUnited States early history. Before 1930s, the existing legal view onemployment was pegged on the theory of employment at will implyingthat employment was a voluntary relationship between employer andemployee that could be freely terminated for any reason and at anytime (Murillo 28). Employers took advantage of this concept and firedemployees on suspicion of being proponents of labor unions. This alsosaw courts siding with employers in settling disputes. The 1930sGreat Depression was the defining moment in labor history. Aftermassive layoffs announcement by companies, employees began viewingunions as their only refuge. This brought political changes and thefirst three labor laws were passed in the great depression period.The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), also known as theWagner Act, was largely the most significant labor law passed duringthe 1930s. The NLRA stopped discrimination against union employeesrequiring companies to negotiate in good faith with unions. This sawunion membership augmented to 10.2 million in 1941 from 3.5 millionemployees in 1935. After witnessing a sequence of strikes, Congressenacted the Labor–Management Relations Act of 1947 that placedlimits on the unions. Other labor legislations includeNorris–LaGuardia Act (1932) legalizing organization of workers. Theact also intricate the issues of acquiring injunctions againstnonviolent union activities, The Labor–Management Relations Act of1947 that illegalized unjust labor practices by unions, allowedcompanies to speak against unions, permitted members to decertifytheir union, instituted provisions for dealing with emergencystrikes. The 1959 Labor–Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (orLandrum–Griffin Act) disallowed criminals from holding unionoffices, obligated annual financial reports filing by unions,guaranteed union members right to participate in meetings amongothers (Murillo 64).


Overthe years, labor unions have emerged as brave champions to theoppressed workers. From the Europe’s industrial upheaval that tookplace in the eighteenth century, labor unions have continuedrepresenting workers in a fearlessly. This has seen improved workingenvironment in all the US companies and around the world, assured jobsecurity for the employees, increased wages and associated employmentbenefits. On the other hand, labor unions may have contributed intumbling the number of employment opportunities available inunionized firms. This is because higher salaries and improvedworking conditions may injure budgets of many companies thus reducedemployment opportunities.


Banjo,Shelly. Wal-Mart PAC Comes Under Scrutiny. Thewall street journalSept. 22, 2014

Thisarticle depicts how labor unions represent employees in legal issues.In the article, Banjo features a group from Wal-Mart that is seekinglegal investigation as to whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc. infringedfederal election rules by requesting workers for contributions to itspolitical-action team in exchange for charitable donations to a fundthat assists Wal-Mart workers in need. The article is a good read toscholars researching on this topic.

MurilloMaria Victoria.Labor Unions, Partisan Coalitions, and Market Reforms in LatinAmerica.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Murrilogives a historical account of labor unions, partisan coalitions, andmarket reforms in Latin America. He gives a very clear historicalhappening that led to the formation of labor unions.

Reynolds,Morgan. “Labor Unions.” LibertyFund, Inc.2008. Web. 03 Dec 2014.

Reynoldsdwells on the economic implications brought about by labor unions. Heviews labor unions as cartels that are out there to exploitemployers. The author also gives starts on union membership in boththe private and public sectors explaining the notable trends inmembership.

Skurzynski,Gloria. Sweatand Blood: A History of U.S. Labor Unions.Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2008. Print.

Skurzynskibook is very resourceful in understanding the origin of labor unions. The author offers labor unions description, when they were created,how they were created, why they were created, their purpose and theirlegal aspect on business.

Troy,Leo. “Is the U.S. Unique in the Decline of Private SectorUnionism?” Journalof Labor Research 11(Spring 1990): 111–143.

Thisjournal articles focuses mainly on the factors leading to the declineof private sector unionism. The author takes different economies ofthe world in an effort to study the behavior of private sectorunionism.


Banjo,Shelly. Wal-Mart PAC Comes Under Scrutiny. Thewall street journalSept. 22, 2014

MurilloMaria Victoria.Labor Unions, Partisan Coalitions, and Market Reforms in LatinAmerica.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Reynolds,Morgan. “Labor Unions.” LibertyFund, Inc.2008. Web. 03 Dec 2014.


Skurzynski,Gloria. Sweatand Blood: A History of U.S. Labor Unions.Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2008. Print.

Troy,Leo. “Is the U.S. Unique in the Decline of Private SectorUnionism?” Journalof Labor Research 11(Spring 1990): 111–143.