In my labor law practice, I’m often asked:  “Why do employees support unions?”  My answer to this question usually comes from what I have gleaned from my years of experience providing legal advice to management during union organizing campaigns.  It isn’t often that you have the opportunity to hear directly and in detail about the reasons an employee would be interested in joining a union.  Management cannot, of course, ask that question of its employees. 

It is thus with significant interest that I noted an interview on The Washington Post’s website by Lydia DePillis (it may be necessary to scroll down after clicking the link).  The article contains a “slightly condensed” interview of an employee of American Airlines who recently voted in a union election.  That election resulted in a victory for the Teamsters and the Communication Workers of America in connection with representation of over 14,000 customer service representatives for US Airways and American Airlines.

The article generally discusses the employee’s experience during a reported 19-year-long effort to organize this group of workers.  When I read the article, however, four different passages appeared to describe reasons for the employee’s support of the organizing effort.  I have highlighted those passages in the quotes below, preceded by the reason to support the union that I thought the passage articulated. 

  • Job security.

We have life insurance, we have car insurance, and now we have some job insurance with representation with the union.”

And, a little later in the interview, “American [Airlines] hasn’t really outsourced overseas, we just didn’t want that in the future.”

  • Fairness/Subjectivity.

Naturally in a company, you have office politics, and sometimes you have office favorites, and all I can say is there are those that didn’t want that policy to change.  But, it’s going to be a little bit less subjective, and a little bit more in writing in the contract, less local policy and more across the board.  People will not think ‘if only I was treated a little more fairly, like x, y and z.’  There’s not going to be that envy of how another person was treated in a similar situation.”

  • More money.

I have general expectations that we’ll have a benefits increase, we’ll have a wages increase.  I’m just looking at the US Airways contract – even their health insurance is better than American Airlines for people who take reservations.”

  • Different working conditions between different groups of employees doing substantially similar work.

More than 50 percent of the people in reservations now are home-based and make a lower salary, have dramatically less benefits than office-based workers.  So they were a great help, because obviously they had a little more incentive than the office-based workers to organize amongst themselves.”

Of course, the views of one do not necessarily represent the views of many.  Moreover, a single interview does not make for a comprehensive list.  Nonetheless, the article helps shed light on an important question for labor professionals to consider, and one that I get asked with some frequency.