Some claim that trade unions are essential for ensuring workers rights. At the same time, some powerful trade unions are being blamed for using their power to extort extremely high salaries and benefits, without any justification.

What effective measures are being taken around the world to prevent big trade unions from taking advantage of their power, without hurting the right of assembly or the overall status of trade unions in general?

  • 2
    -1 for asserting "rade unions are often the only thing that will prevent employers from completely ignoring workers' rights". What prevents employers from completely ignoring workers' rights is competition - if you can hire away good workers from your competitor by marginally improving your treatment of them compared to the competitor, you do that. If the cost of said treatment exceeds the value provided by the worker, the company shouldn't have that position open at all.
    – user4012
    Jan 24, 2013 at 16:15
  • 1
    Trade union is basically a monopoly on a labor resource, and has all the bad effects of any other monopoly. All that trade unions do is prevent GOOD employees from succeeding over BAD employees (by preventing merit pay and firing bad worksers), and prevent customers from getting good product/service (since there's no recourse against union workers providing bad ones)
    – user4012
    Jan 24, 2013 at 16:17
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    @DVK My aim is not to argue about the positive/negative effect of trade unions but to learn about proper ways of handeling the power of trade unions, without preventing them from exist (even if you think they shouldn't). This is not the place for a political debate.
    – Roy
    Jan 24, 2013 at 16:22
  • if that's the case you should edit out yourpolitically debatable personal opinion of them that I objected to :)
    – user4012
    Jan 24, 2013 at 16:26
  • 2
    I will. (Even though objectively, at least in Israel, your theory proves wrong, since many companies in high-competition markets neglect workers rights completely)
    – Roy
    Jan 24, 2013 at 16:27

2 Answers 2


In much of the United States, there is a concept known as a "Right to Work" law. It simply says that unions may not require union membership as a precondition of working at a facility. It doesn't disallow the union, but it doesn't force it either.

Unions argue that this "free rider" problem is a huge blow to Union power. This was so much the case that when Michigan just recently passed such a law, near riots broke out.

In any event, union membership has declined from its highs in the 1950s to a mere 11% nowadays - its lowest point since the 1930s. Regardless of whether you like them or not, there is at least a plausible case to be made that these laws serve as a (either healthy or horrible, depending on your perspective) check on union power.

In "Union 1.0," once a workplace voted to organize, it effectively becomes a monopoly, requiring anyone who wishes to work at that facility subsidize the union. My wife, for example, as a teacher, can in many states, be required to financially support the NEA, even if they are promoting things that are exactly contrary to what she and I believe. Right to work does not compel such union subsidies, meaning that my wife would not, say, have to quit her job on principle. She could simply choose not to support the union. As such, the union has to not overreach, serving that useful check.

  • Again, why the downvote? Jan 24, 2013 at 16:56
  • I didn't downvote, but this seems like an extreme solution that is making effective work of trade unions impossible. The point is to unite the workers, that's the only power of a union, it has no other. Saying it's ok to work in a place but not be part of the union is severly hurting the ability of the union to negotiate using the option of strikes, for example. Maybe it's similar to not participating in the building-management fee where you live.
    – Roy
    Jul 26, 2015 at 10:44
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    Um, the point is not to unite the workers; the point is to obtain the best possible pay, benefits, and working conditions for workers; uniting the workers is the means, not the end. If workers have no choice but to join, the union is free to pursue irrelevant goals, and history has shown that they have exercised this freedom when they have had it.
    – EvilSnack
    Sep 3, 2018 at 16:12
  • As far as I know, RTW laws aren't really about union membership. Mandatory union membership in the workplace has been illegal since 1947 with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act. Additionally, it may be worth noting that percentage of workers in the US in a union peaked in the 1950s, but total number of union members peaked in 1979 (21 million). The reasons for the decline of unions during this time goes far beyond RTW laws. Feb 25, 2019 at 4:55
  • @esnowrackley, When I worked for UPS in California during the holidays, I was forced to join the union and pay union dues (even though my job was only temporary). In any case, my point is that the Federal Taft Hartley Act is what allows those Right-To-Work laws at the State level. And to me at least, RTW means that you're allowed to work someplace without needing to contribute to the Union dues. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law Nov 16, 2019 at 19:23

The most effective way to reduce the power of the union is to reduce the corruption involved in running the union. The most effective way to reduce the corruption is to open it up and allow its members to see the what their leaders are doing with there dues.

If union members knew how much money was being taken from them by the union leaders to line their own pockets, line the pockets of their friends, and spent on lobbyists for causes that most of the union may not support, then there would be calls for change. The power of the union would be tempered by the need to represent the workers, less they be removed and someone who will do more than lip service to the worker's needs and desires put in their place.

  • 5
    In many countries of the world union members are allowed to inspect the books of the union already. Are you writing specifically about the US? Feb 10, 2013 at 3:05

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