Labor unions are workers' rights organizations that bargain with employers on behalf of the workers that they represent. Workers form labor unions as a means to gain bargaining power in negotiation with the companies or organizations for whom they work.
During the Industrial Revolution and throughout the early 1900s, the number of factory workers increased dramatically. Employees were often subjected to poor work conditions and long hours. Workers joined together to form unions to improve work conditions and increase pay, among other issues.
Labor unions work using a principle known as collective bargaining: essentially unions unify workers behind goals in their common interest, which gives them much more bargaining power than a single worker would have to invoke any change.
Joining a labor union is often required when working at a company that has a unionized work force. Membership may require an upfront monetary contribution as well as monthly union fees called dues.
Labor unions have increased worker pay and benefits over time, and some believe they have inflated pay to levels that are unfair to employers that hire unionized workers.
Labor unions have political clout, since support form a union often amounts to getting votes from most of the union's workers. The power of labor unions has decreased in more recent times as the manufacturing sector has declined.
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