AFSCME District Council 36

Labor 101

Labor 101

What is a Union?
A union is a democratic organization of employees in a workplace who choose to join together to achieve common goals. By forming unions, employees can work collectively to improve working conditions, including wages and benefits, hours and job safety, to resolve disagreements of employees and employers and to find the best ways to get the work done. Unions also represent members and all people who work by advocating working family-friendly laws and policies through legislative and political action. Most people who work in this country have the right to form and join unions under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which encourages union formation. Yet millions of workers, such as farm laborers, domestic workers and managers, are not covered by the NLRA. Many of them, though, are organizing and partnering with the AFL-CIO to gain workplace rights.

What is Collective Bargaining?
Collective bargaining is the process in which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health and safety policies, ways to balance work and family and more. Collective bargaining is a way to solve workplace problems.
After the rights of public employees to collectively bargain for a middle-class life came under attack in 2010, working people in all kinds of jobs as well as students, community supporters, faith leaders and others united to defend this basic right.
The United States has long lagged behind other industrialized nations in collective bargaining coverage for public- and private-sector workers. Yet the right to collectively bargain is essential so that working men and women have the strength to improve their living standards, provide for their families and build a strong middle class.

How Does Faith Relate To Worker Justice?
Every major faith tradition embraced by working families includes in its teachings the call for fair treatment of working people. From Jeremiah's "Woe to him...who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing, and does not give him his wages," to Timothy's admonition that the rich "are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous," to the Prophet Muhammad's "When you hire, compensate the workers and treat them fairly," our holy writings are rich in guidance for behavior toward workers.
The commitment to workplace justice is a natural and historic common ground for the religious community and the union movement. Take a moment to examine your faith's teaching on worker justice with these PDF files, which you can print out and share with your congregation:

Selected Biblical Passages on Justice for Workers 

The Revised Common Lectionary Readings and Torah Portions for Labor Day Weekend Services

Islam and Fairness in the Workplace

Labor and Jewish Traditions

What Faith Groups Say About Workers' Freedom to Choose a Union

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