Not All Unions are Created Equal

Union construction workers join hands together in a huddle circle.

Most people believe private and public sector unions are essentially the same. However, this assumption is incorrect. Given that their methods for achieving results are fundamentally similar, it’s easy to understand why this is a common misconception. This article will explore how the two differ.

Public Sector vs. Private Sector

The key purpose of a union is to address the concerns of the employees the union represents. Since this is the case, unions are tailored to the needs of the employees. However, the needs of public and private sector workers differ. As such, public and private sector unions must differ as well. To truly understand how these two types of unions are different, we first need to know the difference between public and private sector employees.     

Private Employees

Private sector employees are workers who are hired by businesses or nonprofit organizations. Most private sector employees are hired on an “at will” basis and can be fired for any reason outside of race, gender, exercising employee rights, or truthfully testifying in court. Federal law gives these employees the right to join unions, where they can then negotiate with employers for higher wages and better working conditions. 

Public Employees

Public sector employees—such as teachers, police officers, and government employees—are hired to perform public services. Unlike their counterparts, public sector employees can’t be fired, disciplined, or demoted without “cause”. Cause can include factors such as a violation of work rules, misconduct, or poor performance. However, public sector employee rights are dictated by the government agencies they belong to, and they are not allowed to unionize unless the state grants them the right to.   

The Biggest Differences

The biggest differences between the two sectors are employee rights and job security. Although private sector workers enjoy employee rights provided to them by the federal government, job security is still an issue. Conversely, public sector workers have plenty of job security, but their rights are dictated by their employers. However, many states have granted public workers the right to join unions to collectively negotiate certain benefits.  

Public Unions vs. Private Unions

Now that you know the difference in needs between the public and private sectors, it should be a little clearer how unions need to serve both realms of the workforce. Private unions tend to focus on job security and wages while public unions are more focused on improving work conditions. Public and private unions also differ in who they bargain with. Where a private union will bargain with an employer, a public union needs to bargain with state and local legislators.  

Let SWPTA Help You Organize

At Southwest Pipe Trades and MCA Texas Joint Marketing Committee, we’re focused on helping workers maintain healthy, stable relationships with their employers. If you would like to learn more about labor unions in the United States and how they can benefit you, contact us today.

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