I first joined a union in 2012 when I started my teaching career with the School District of Philadelphia. I became part of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Tyler James Williams as Gregory Eddie dancing with his students on the TV show Abbott Elementary.

At first, I wasn't sure I wanted to join, pay a union due (fee), and spend extra time going to meetings. However, my mentor convinced me it was worth it and I'm so glad I joined!

A fist is raised in solidarity with the phrase,

I would like to share what I learned from my experience with you.

1. Solidarity

Playing characters in the TV show, Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein raises her fist and says,

First of all, what is a union?

Unions are groups of employees banded together to ask for better working conditions such as livable wages, health care at an affordable cost, steady schedules, and job security.

As an individual, bargaining with a company can feel like you're starting on your back foot. Joining together as a union builds solidarity for employees, who acquire collective bargaining power.

This solidarity gives you and your coworkers more power to ask for better working conditions from your employer at the bargaining table.

Flaticon Icon


Unions are outside companies that come in to represent you against your company as a defense lawyer would in court.

Flaticon Icon


Unions are made up of your coworkers — and you if you choose to get involved!

Together you have a lot more power to bargain with your employer than if you're bargaining independently.

Quiz: Who Is in a Union?

Read through the following scenarios and decide who is most likely in a union.

Flaticon Icon

Breanna is having trouble with her manager. She goes to her steward to file a complaint and learn about the resources that are available to her. 

Flaticon Icon

Callam is scheduled to work 40 hours per week, but is frequently assigned mandatory overtime on nights and weekends during their company’s busy season. They feel tired and burnt out, but can’t say anything for fear of losing their job. 

Flaticon Icon

Josh gets 4 weeks of vacation time every year. And while he makes a yearly salary, all of his overtime is tracked and paid to him at time and a half. 

Flaticon Icon

Rosa planned to attend her sister’s birthday party on Saturday. She isn't scheduled to work, but on Friday her boss tells her she needs to come in tomorrow or face disciplinary action because her company is short-staffed. She tells her sister she needs to miss the party. 


Who is most likely in a union?

2. Access

A cartoon character sticks their foot through an opening door before it closes. Unions provide access to information that individuals can't get on their own.

As an individual, if you go into bargaining with an employer over an issue like as a pay raise, you often go in blind.

This means you don't have access to information such as company payroll, evaluations, schedules, or minutes from employer meetings.

However, thanks to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 in the US (and similar legal acts in other countries), unions are allowed to request all of the above information, plus a slew of other documents and data.

Unions are allowed to ask for...

Flaticon Icon

  • Accident reports

  • Attendance records

  • Bonus records

  • Health & safety audits

  • Personnel files

  • Reports and studies

  • Overtime assignments

Employers aren't allowed to say...

Flaticon Icon

  • The request is too large.

  • The complaint has no merit.

  • Past complaints were resolved without this information.

  • The materials are privileged.

  • We will only give the information if you agree to give us similar information from union records.

For a full list of the information a union can request, see this document about a union's right to information in the US.

Quiz: Bargaining Scenario

You've decided to join your union’s bargaining team — yay solidarity! In anticipation of bargaining with your employer, you request pay scales, schedules, and overtime reports from your company. Which of the following are legal responses from your employer?

Flaticon Icon

A. “Sure! Please just give me a week to compile and organize all of the documents.”

Flaticon Icon

B. “I’m sorry, the yearly schedules are too large of a file for me to share digitally and I don’t want to waste the paper.”

Flaticon Icon

C. “We don’t have a system to track overtime, and I don’t have time to figure it out.”

Flaticon Icon

D. “I actually gave out this information to the union last year, so you can just get it from them!”


Which of the following are legal responses from your employer?

3. Networking

Moira from Schitts Creek is at an event and talking on an old-school phone with a cord. She says,

The way unions are structured allows for more networking. Unions frequently use a hierarchy that begins small and gets bigger.

  1. Most unions begin with a Bargaining Unit.These are groups made up of the employees in a workplace.

  2. Then there are Locals.Locals are made of multiple bargaining units of similar industries in the same area.

  3. Lastly, these groups are associated with National, sometimes International, unions. These larger organizations have more resources to back up Bargaining Units and Locals.

Getting involved not only benefits your working experience, but it can connect you with other workers in the area with similar interests and in similar industries.

Take Action

Kerri Washington says,


Your feedback matters to us.

This Byte helped me better understand the topic.

Get support to take action on this Byte