What is a Union

Union Basics

A labor union is a group of two or more employees who join together to advance common interests such as wages, benefits, schedules and other employment terms and conditions. Joining together – or “acting collectively” – workers represented by unions have a powerful voice that strengthens their ability to negotiate with their employer about their concerns. Higher wages, health insurance, vacation days, paid sick leave and retirement benefits are a few examples of what workers achieve through their unions. Workers may also pursue other enhancements – such as flexible scheduling, protections against harassment and safer working conditions – that improve the quality of jobs and workers’ well-being.

Illustration showing three people with talk bubbles above their heads. The talk bubbles say, "higher wages", "health insurance," "sick leave"

Unions are membership-driven, democratic organizations governed by laws that require financial transparency and integrity, fair elections and other democratic standards, and fair representation of all workers.

Learn about the laws that govern unions:

Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining is the mechanism or process for an organized group of workers (“labor”) and their employer (“management”) to pursue mutual agreement over workplace issues. The results of these labor-management negotiations are contained in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The CBA is a legally enforceable, written contract between a union representing a group of employees (“bargaining unit”) and their employer.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service provides training, mediation and facilitation at no cost to the parties to support collective bargaining and to help the parties reach an agreement. In addition, the Federal Labor Relations Authority helps to resolve disputes between labor and management in the federal sector.

Labor-Management Partnerships

Unions and employers often form labor-management partnerships that provide a forum to discuss a wide range of workplace issues, from training opportunities to health and safety to technological innovation and more.  Learn more about how unions and employers have worked together to improve workplaces.