United They Stand: America's 5 Largest Employee Unions

When negotiating with a company (or even the government), it pays to have a little backup. In America, Unions are lawfully distinguished as delegates of laborers in numerous commercial ventures. Their activity largely focuses on negotiations over wages, profits, and working conditions for their members, and with dealing with the administration over any violations of agreements. Bigger unions regularly participate in campaigning exercises and elections at the federal and state level. 

Most of the unions in the United States are affiliated with one of the two bigger umbrella associations: the AFL-CIO, made in 1955, and the Change to Win Federation, which parted ways with the AFL-CIO in 2005. Both formulate strategies and in the interest of labors in the United States and Canada, and also take a dynamic part in legislative issues. The AFL-CIO is particularly concerned with worldwide exchange issues.

In 2010, the number of American laborers with union membership was around 11.4% - a stark contrast with the 18.4% in Germany, 27.5% in Canada, and 70% in Finland. Union enrollment in the private segment, in particular, has dropped, falling below 7%. Unions assert that business-induced restrictions have led to this decrease in enrollment.

The best-known unions are those dealing with public sector workers like educators and police. Members of unions tend to be senior, male and occupants of the Northeast, the Midwest, and California. The benefits of unionization are readily apparent, with union workers being paid an average of 10-30% more than non-union ones. The strength of a union composed of many people with a shared vision is such that they can become formidable negotiating bodies in their own right, regularly causing headaches for those business owners used to doing things their own way. Here are the five largest unions in America, arranged in ascending order by number of members.

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5 United Food and Commercial Workers - 1.2 Million Members

Founded in 1979, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCM) represents roughly 1.2 million members across Canada and United states. These workers are mainly from the health care, textile, manufacturing, agricultural and food industries. Being affiliated with AFL-CIO, the UFCW currently operates in major food retail chains across the nation. Their main objective is to provide food and work to one and all.

In 2010, UFCW, along with Smithfield, organized a campaign called “Feeding the hungry,” which helped in delivering 20 millions of protein servings over a period of three years to aid organizations around the nation. It was aimed to fight the food insecurity that was evident during the recession period. Following the earthquakes in Haiti, UFCW played a key role in re-construction of the St. Francois de Sales School, which remains the backbone of academic needs in the nation. They are also one of biggest contributors to the Leukemia Society of America, which aims to find a cure for the deadly blood disease. The society rewarded UFCW with an award in 2004 for their 23 years of dedicated support.

4 International Brotherhood of Teamsters - 1.4 Million Members

Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is a member of the Canadian Labor Congress and the Change to Win Federation. With over 1.4 million members to its name, this labor union represents professional and blue-collar workers in both the private and public sectors. It is divided into 21 Industrial units that cover virtually all kinds of occupations, be it professional or non-professional, commercial or non-profit. Its main objective is to educate and organize the workers, putting them on a path that leads to the high standard of living it feels every laborer deserves.

Between 1957 and 1988, three of IBT’s presidents - Roy L. Williams, Jimmy Hoffa, and Dave Beck - were sentenced to imprisonment on the grounds of participation in organized crime.

The Teamsters were re-affiliated with the AFL-CIO in 1987, but it was in 1997 that the group made a big impression among the media and the public, following a protest against UPS. The negotiation ended in the Teamsters’ favor, with them winning ten thousand new full time jobs with a five year contract. In 2005, it discontinued its association with AFL-CIO, and went on to help found the Change to Win organization.

3 American Federation of State, County and Medical Employees - 1.5 Million Members

Involved extensively in recent political campaigns, the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, founded in the year 1932, is one of the major trade unions in the United States of America. They represent a group that is mostly employed in the public sector, numbering about 1.5 million. AFSCME, though their political action and legislative support, aim to organize economic and social rights of their members in the workplace. Across 46 states, they are divided into 3500 regional unions that hold separate meetings and elect their own officials.

As a unit, they have pursued a strategy of “following the organized work,” irrespective of whether it is commercial or non-profit. Currently, they also promote movements to systematize family and child care coordination. Having donated more than $38 million dollars in political campaigns since 1990, they are the largest single contributor in the United States. In 2008, they went on to spend half a million dollars on a television ad in support of presidential candidate John McCain.

2 Service Employees International Union - 1.9 Million Members

Founded in 1921 as the Business Service Employee Union, SEIU is one the fastest growing labor unions in America. It represents a total of 1.9 million workers in over 100 professions across Canada and United States. SEIU basically works in three major sectors, including healthcare, real estate services, and public services. More than half of its members are involved in the healthcare field, while the other half is managed by local state employees. With an affiliation of the Canadian Labor congress and over 150 local branches, they have numerous divisions on political grounds.

Their main objective is to fight for workers’ rights, help them recover from the economic turmoil of the past years, and also make sure that the healthcare system stays in the best shape possible. In 2008, they spent a total of $28 million in a campaign to support Barack Obama for the presidential elections.

In the summer of 2013, the group participated in an organized Fast Food Forward strike, a direct response to the unwillingness of restaurant owners to make increases in their employees’ wages.

1 National Education Association - 3.2 Million Members

Founded in 1857, the National Education Association is the biggest labor union in the United States of America. As a confederacy, they represent academic teachers, education counselors, university faculties, retired personnel, and those students who aspire to be educators in the future. With more than 14,000 communities all around the nation, the NEA has more than 3.2 million members around the world, and  financial clout of around $350 million. One of their primary objectives is to fight for the right to education for children, and to unite the nations across the globe on this agenda. They encourage their members to fulfill a promise that every student gets the proper education that is, in today’s world, more or less equal to success. They also work to resolve negotiations regarding the wage and safety of the labors.

In October 2013, the NEA stood in support of a national bullying prevention month, an initiative the group believes is important in helping students feel safe and secure while pursuing their education. The event is also supported by PACER’s National Center for Bullying Prevention, and by President Barack Obama.

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