United: How Union Wins Have Shaped Our Workforce

United: How Union Wins Have Shaped Our Workforce

The unionization of the American workforce began in the 18th century but took hold during the American Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century. Since then, federal and private sector labor and trade unions have worked to establish unalienable rights for the skilled and unskilled workforce of our nation. 

Political supporters, such as former senior advisor in the Department of Labor and founding executive director of American Rights at Work, Mary Beth Maxwell, have worked to ensure American workers are allowed the right to unionize. These unions fight for rights like better pay and working conditions, health care, workday/week limitations, and much more. Many of these wins have benefited all workers, not just union members.

Weekend Reprieve


Up until the 1930s, the standard 5-day work week was not a guarantee. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1937, which also enacted the federal minimum wage, determined all employers were not allowed to work their people past 40 hours each week. If worked past 40 hours, employees were guaranteed an additional 50 % in pay for that extra time. This shaped our current 5-day, 8 hours a day, workweek, giving us our beloved weekend. Before then, it would not have been uncommon for a person to go to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is only a reality because of unions and labor movements who kept pressure high on the government to enact change.

Working Conditions


Every industry has its potential hazards, and unions of different labor forces have pushed hard to improve the conditions in which their people worked. These efforts halted child labor, instituted safety standards and the consequences for violations, and granted assistance or compensation to workers, and their families, who were hurt or irreversibly damaged by the job (like coal miners who came down with black lung or nuclear power plant employees who got radiation poisoning). It was unions, like the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union, who were instrumental in ensuring all Americans had the right to work in safety.

Paid Time Off


Without the efforts of unions, you can say goodbye to sick time, your two weeks of paid vacation, or time off for national holidays. Their push for workplace rights has made this a standard benefit for most employers to offer, at least to their full time employees. Businesses that have tor remain open for a national holiday will often offer an incentive like overtime pay or a floating holiday to be used anytime throughout the year. The fact this time is paid also means you don't have to worry about a loss of income because you are ill, need time away with your family, or just to care for your mental health. In addition to this, 12 weeks of time the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers for things like maternity/paternity leave, while not paid, would not be an option with out the lobbying of the unions.

These are only three of the many hard fought battles unions won that affect the entire workplace. If you enjoy any of these benefits at your place of employment, thank the labor unions for their perserverance.

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