Unions date back to the 18th century, founded with the rise of the labor movement as a means for workers to protect themselves. Today, they’re an ingrained part of our workforce that collectively strive to secure fair working conditions, higher pay and a representative voice for the workers who are part of them.
Thinking of joining a welders union? We’ll explain how being part of a union can impact your welding career and share how to get your foot in the door if you’re looking to get a union welding job.
A welders union is an organized group of welders formed with the primary purpose of securing high-quality jobs and favorable work conditions for its members.
Together, the members form what’s known as a bargaining unit, a group that represents the workers when dealing with an employer. The bargaining unit vies for the best interests of the group in negotiations over pay, schedules, benefits and more.
Unions capitalize on the “power of the herd,” which is the idea that a group of individuals with aligned interests are more powerful when working together than when working alone.
This plays out in negotiations with potential employers, which are required by law to bargain in good faith with a union. Once an agreement between an employer and a union is reached, it’s known as a collective bargaining agreement.
Unions are structured similar to a local government. They hold elections for different offices, and the elected officers speak and make decisions on behalf of their constituents.
Being part of a union typically leads to higher pay and more consistent benefits. Union workers make an average of 20 to 30% more than their non-union counterparts.
92% of union employees have work-related health insurance, compared to only 68% of non-union workers. In a world where pensions are quickly becoming obsolete, many union workers still have access to them.
In addition to the workplace protections and bargaining power a union provides, union members may enjoy other benefits like financial assistance programs, training opportunities, and beneficial professional connections.
Of course, there are a few downsides to unions as well — most ask for dues, which can be expensive, and you’re restricted on the range of projects you can work on. Work strikes can also affect your work prospects, as well as limitations on overtime.
Unions aren’t limited to the skilled trades. There are more than 60 national and international unions representing millions of workers around the world, including teachers, actors, and even IT professionals.
If being part of a labor union sounds appealing, you might be wondering how to take the next step and get a union welding job. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as applying to your local union chapter and joining, but not always. In tough job markets, competition to join local unions can be equally stiff.
Contacting your local union is a good starting point. You’ll be connected with a union representative who can explain the requirements for joining and the process for applying. If you meet the eligibility requirements to join, you can complete the required paperwork and move forward with the application process.
One of the easiest ways to get a union welding job is to look for employers that already work with unions. Getting a job with one of these companies will come with access to join the union.
Government projects often require the use of union workers, while private companies sometimes advertise their relationships with local unions on their websites. Facebook, for example, used union welders, plumbers and service techs from United Association (UA) in the construction of its central Oregon data center.
The majority of workers on the Mojave Desert Ivanpah Solar Field project, which is the largest solar plant in the world, were also UA workers.
Another channel via which you may be able to get a union welding job is by completing an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is a structured program that helps new workers master a trade, like welding.
Some apprenticeships are sponsored by local labor unions or union employers. The U.S. Department of Labor and Apprenticeship.gov both offer information on apprenticeships in trades like welding. Apprenticeship listings will typically specify if they’re affiliated with a union.
One great thing about union welding jobs is that they’re versatile when it comes to travel. If you prefer to stay close to home or want to be near family, there are union welding jobs where you’ll work a steady 40-hour workweek and never need to leave town.
There are also plenty of opportunities to travel, whether to the next town over or to a job on the other side of the country. For road jobs, you may work more strenuous hours (like five 12-hour days in a row), but you’ll also make significantly more money in a shorter period of time.
Traveling welding jobs usually cover the cost of your lodging while you’re on the road and come with a per diem allowance, which further increases your overall pay.
Union welder salaries can vary widely based on where you live, but one thing is consistent nearly everywhere in the country: union welders make more than their non-union counterparts for similar jobs.
According to Comparably, the average union welder earns $69,000 a year, which is 72% more than the average non-union welder makes.
There’s another thing to know about union welder salaries: experience pays. Don’t expect to start out making the kind of money we just referenced in your first year on the job. Union wages are typically structured on a sliding scale depending on the number of years’ experience you have.
For example, if you enroll in a four-year apprenticeship program, you’ll start out on the lowest end of the scale and receive a raise for every additional year of the program you complete. Upon completion of the apprenticeship, you’ll be eligible to earn the union’s full-time hourly wage.
Overtime and other additional sources of pay factor into a union welder’s salary, as well. Because of the great bargaining power a union holds, overtime rates are aggressively negotiated and strictly enforced. These wages can result in a considerable bump to your earnings.
Take a base rate of $30 an hour. Let’s say overtime is paid at 1.5 times the normal rate, or $45 an hour. If you work ten hours of overtime each week for a month, that’s an extra $1,800 at the end of the month. Over a year’s time, this can significantly impact your total salary.
Finally, there’s the allure of per diem pay that comes with traveling welding jobs. It’s not uncommon for such jobs to pay anywhere from $100 to $200 per diem on top of your regular wages. This money is intended to be used for meals and other incidentals associated with travel, but if you spend your money wisely while on the road, you can easily bring home a nice additional chunk of change.
Note that as part of a welders union, you’ll be required to pay dues, usually on a monthly or quarterly basis. These dues are expressed as a percentage of your salary (between 2% and 5% is common) and are deducted directly from your paycheck.
In addition to covering the costs associated with running the union, dues go toward things like a members’ retirement fund, legislative lobbying for initiatives that benefit the union, and even funding political campaigns.
Unions are national or international organizations, but they’re made up of a series of local offices or chapters called ‘locals.’ If you want to join a welders union, calling or visiting the local in your area is a great place to start.
You can find UA’s list of local chapters here, while Ironworkers’ directory of locals can be found here. Each union has its own set of requirements for prospective members; that’s why it’s a good idea to reach out directly to the one(s) you’re interested in joining to learn more.
While joining a union offers workers many benefits, it’s not a decision you should take lightly. Being part of a union comes with a set of commitments you’ll be required to uphold, and failing to do so could get you kicked out and barred from future union work.
When you work on a union job, you give up many of your rights as an individual in favor of the rights of the group. If you think you deserve more money, for example, you can’t negotiate independently for a raise.
If you personally disagree with a political initiative the union is supporting, you have little recourse other than to voice your objections to your elected representatives within the union and hope your concerns are heard.
Still, many professionals find the high wages, job security, and worker protections that come with being in a union to be worth the independence they give up when joining.
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