Union Trades

A Tradition of Craftsmanship

To much of the public, the only time they think about trade unions is when there is talk of a strike in the media. The day to day jobs of union employees are not often recognized, but unions contribute a very positive force for building America and keeping it running. For example, if you are a contractor who has just won a big contract to build an office building and you need 30 men to pour your concrete foundation, where would you go to get them? You could interview people for weeks and hire them one at a time and pay them while you waited to collect enough men to do the job. Then you'd have to lay them off once the job was done. You could go down to the corner where unemployed workers gather and pick the first 30 people who want to work that day and hope they know what they are doing. Or you could call the local union and they would have 30 trained, qualified people at your job site ready to work on the day you are ready to pour. You wouldn't have to pay them for one day longer than the job lasted. This is how big jobs get done from the concrete and masonry to framing, plumbing, electrical, steel, sheet metal and so on. Other areas of labor are also unionized, providing a qualified workforce that keeps industry running.

Negotiation with management is also another job of the union. This means a company does not have to negotiate wages and benefits with each individual employee one at a time. They can work with a single union manager to see that all employees are treated equally and fairly. The union can also work with management to discipline members who are not working up to the standards of their jobs agreed upon in their contract. It is also be the union's job to see that their members have a save and healthy environment in which to work and that they are fairly compensated for the work they do.

Below is a description of some of the things unions do and the services they provide. We hope to build this section to recognize and explain examples of the work of some of the most skilled members of various trade unions. We would like to ask representatives of the major construction unions to submit images and job descriptions to help us better explain their function to the public.

What do unions do for their members?

The main service a union provides for its members is negotiation and representation. There are other benefits people get from being members of trade unions.



                 Information and advice

                 Member services


Negotiation is where union representatives discuss with management issues which affect people working in an organisation. The union finds out the members' views and relays these views to management. There may be a difference of opinion between management and union members. 'Negotiation' is about finding a solution to these differences. This process is also known as 'collective bargaining'.

In many workplaces there is a formal agreement between the union and the company which states that the union has the right to negotiate with the employer. In these organizations, unions are said to be 'recognized' for 'collective bargaining' purposes.

Pay, working hours, holidays and changes to working practices are the sorts of issues that are negotiated. People who work in organizations where unions are recognized are better paid and are less likely to be made redundant than people who work in organizations where unions are not recognized.


Trade unions also represent individual members when they have a problem at work. If an employee feels they are being unfairly treated, he or she can ask the union representative to help sort out the difficulty with the manager or employer.

If the problem cannot be resolved amicably, the matter may go to an industrial tribunal. Industrial tribunals make sure that employment laws are properly adhered to by employees and employers. They are made up of people outside the workplace who listen to the employer's and the employee's point of view and then make a judgement about the case. People can ask their union to represent them at industrial tribunals. Most cases that go to industrial tribunals are about pay, unfair dismissal, redundancy or discrimination at work.

Unions also offer their members legal representation. Normally this is to help people get financial compensation for work-related injuries or to assist people who have to take their employer to court.

Information and advice

Unions have a wealth of information which is useful to people at work. They can advise on a range of issues like how much holiday you are entitled to each year, how much pay you will get if you go on maternity leave, and how you can obtain training at work.

Member services

During the last ten years, trade unions have increased the range of services they offer their members. These include:

                 Education and training - Most unions run training courses for their members on employment rights, health and safety and other issues. Some unions also help members who have left school with little education by offering courses on basic skills and courses leading to professional qualifications.

                 Legal assistance - As well as offering legal advice on employment issues, some unions give help with personal matters, like housing, wills and debt.

                 Financial discounts - People can get discounts on mortgages, insurance and loans from unions.

                 Welfare benefits - One of the earliest functions of trade unions was to look after members who hit hard times. Some of the older unions offer financial help to their members when they are sick or unemployed.

(Source: http://www.bized.ac.uk/compfact/tuc/tuc16.htm)

Unions represented in this section:

 (Click photo for larger image)

Union (Click name to visit the page on this craftsman)

Typical Job(Click photo for larger image)

(Photo to come)

To come--please have your union submit information to the Joe Martin Foundation to be included in this section.

(Under construction)

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New Submissions Welcomed

If you have additional information on a project or builder shown on this site that your would like to contribute, please e-mail mecm@craftsmanshipmuseum.com. We also welcome new contributions. Please see our page at www.CraftsmanshipMuseum.com/newsubmit.htm for a submission form and guidelines for submitting descriptive copy and photos for a new project.

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