Five Important Workers’ Unions That Everyone Should Know About

  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Service Employees International Union
  • National Education Association of the United States

A person studying economics, business, government, organizational psychology, human resources, or related fields may want to know about these five influential labor unions. Unions of laborers, also called trade unions, workers’ unions, or bargaining units, have a long history in the United States and around the world. Although membership across all unions has declined over the past 30 to 40 years, these five unions continue to hold a considerable amount of power and influence in the United States.

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1. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents the employees of state, county and municipal governments. For example, data analysts and epidemiologists at the Ohio Department of Health are members of this labor union. On behalf of these employees, the union negotiates wage ranges, employee benefits, and the conditions under which an employee can be terminated. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has a membership of about 1,327,379 as of 2019.

2. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is often just referred to as the “Teamsters Union,” represents truck drivers, warehouse workers, and similar trades. On behalf of its members, the Teamsters Union negotiates how many hours a truck driver can work in one day and what constitutes overtime. This union has about 1,389,454 members.

3. American Federation of Teachers

The American Federation of Teachers is a part of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which is the United States’ largest confederation of trade unions. There are about 1,677,775 members of the American Federation of Teachers. Its membership includes public school teachers, school nurses, other school employees, other registered nurses, and technical and non-professional workers in the healthcare setting.

4. Service Employees International Union

The Service Employees International Union has a total membership of about 1,918,192 workers. Members of the Service Employees International Union include hospitality and hotel workers, registered nurses, non-professional healthcare workers, professional healthcare workers, technical healthcare workers and public employees. For example, business analysts at the Ohio Department of Health are a part of the Service Employees International Union.

5. National Education Association of the United States

The National Education Association of the United States is the largest individual union that is not a part of an umbrella organization, explains Yahoo Finance. Membership in the National Education Association of the United States tops 3,002,516 as of 2019. The National Education Association of the United States includes public school teachers, education support professionals, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, school nurses, school librarians, school counselors, administrative professionals, school psychologists, teaching assistants, and education support professionals. It also represents the staff and faculty at colleges and universities. Even after retirement, a person can remain a member of the National Education Association of the United States.

Each of these workers’ unions plays an important role in social justice and ensuring that workers are afforded equal rights when compared with powerful companies and governmental entities. These unions and others are part of why the United States has a standard 40-hour work week, minimum wage, compensation for on-the-job injuries, and other types of benefits for workers. Being aware of these five influential labor unions is an essential part of understanding what it means to be a worker or a business owner in the United States.