Union Job vs. Nonunion Job: Definitions and Differences

Updated June 24, 2022

Most companies are either unions or nonunions, which determines how the company creates policies and working conditions. Unions are workplaces that decide on company policy together, while nonunions are workplaces where the company owner decides on company policy. If you're interested in joining a union, then it's important to understand how one operates compared to a nonunion. In this article, we define what unions and nonunions are and discuss the key differences between them.

What is a union?

A union is an organized group of employees who collaborate and communicate with their employer to negotiate the terms of their employment. In a union, employees can negotiate aspects such as wages, benefits, hours and other working conditions. Union employees can achieve this through collective bargaining, which is the act of negotiating the terms of employment as a group through means of a binding contract. The purpose of a union is to act as an intermediary between the employees and the employers. Essentially, unions give employees power through togetherness.

Read more: What Is a Union?

What is a nonunion?

A nonunion workplace recognizes employees as individuals. Employees in a nonunion negotiate the terms of their employment through individual contracts. In a nonunion job, the employers hold most of the power, which means that they develop their own guidelines and work expectations, including hours, wages and work schedules.

Union job vs. nonunion job

When choosing between a union and a nonunion job, there are many different aspects to consider. Some of these differences include:


Union and nonunion jobs provide different amounts and levels of benefits. Many union members receive medical benefits, such as health insurance. This benefit also covers unmarried domestic partners, which can be less common in nonunion jobs. A lot of union members receive retirement benefits as well. Unions can also negotiate other benefits, such as vacation and sick leave, which can often lead to more time off in those areas.

In nonunions, the employer determines the benefits that the employees receive. While many nonunion members also receive insurance coverage and other benefits, they tend to receive fewer benefits compared to union members. Many nonunion employees may not receive retirement plans. To compete with union benefits, some employers raise the wages for nonunion members.

Types of jobs

To some extent, most jobs can choose to be a union or a nonunion, but there are certain industries that are typically unions. Some of these industries may include:

  • Public sectors, such as firefighters, police and military

  • Utilities, including engineers, electricians, technicians and operators

  • Transportation, such as school bus drivers, pilots and train conductors

  • Education, like elementary, middle and high school teachers, administrators and professors

  • Construction, such as carpenters, construction workers and landscapers

  • Manufacturing, including assembly and production workers and inspectors

Although unions are common for these industries, each company is different, so consider researching a company to know whether it's a union.

Read more: 7 Types of Unions and How They Work


Union members and their employers establish wages through collective bargaining, which can often lead to higher wages. Salary negotiations occur between union representatives and a company's negotiation team, which includes a human resources manager, a labor relations specialist and the company executive. These groups of people discuss all the aspects of a salary, such as hourly rates, pay raises and overtime rates, through proposals.

After receiving a job, nonunion employees may discuss or negotiate some terms of their salary or wage rate, but generally, the employer chooses this for the employee. If the employee offers a negotiation, the employer doesn't have to accept their offer or negotiate further with them.

Related: How To Become a Union Representative

Job security

In unions, there's a higher level of job security, meaning that an employer can let go of an employee only if there's a sound or just reason to, such as misconduct. If an employer wants to lay off an employee, they must complete a grievance procedure and potentially arbitration, which offers employees an extra layer of job security. Having job security allows union employees to express themselves more freely because they know their employers cannot let go of them easily.

In nonunions, employers hire their employees "at will," which means that employers can dismiss them for any reason. There are some expectations to this, such as laying off someone for discriminatory reasons, but other than that, employers can let go of nonunion members for almost any reason, such as continued tardiness or failure to complete work on time.

Groups and individuals

A union represents a collective group of employees, which promotes strength, cohesion and community, as opposed to working individually. Union employees collaborate and work together to negotiate working conditions and expectations. For example, if one employee feels like they need improved equipment to complete their work, they can tell their colleagues and everyone can ask for change together. When most of the union asks for the new equipment, it's more likely that the company satisfies their request.

Nonunion employees are individuals. They can work together as a community, but they operate individually. This allows for more freedom, creativity and autonomy in the workplace because they don't have to convince their coworkers to agree to do a task.


Unions value seniority in the workplace, which means that in case of a layoff, employees the company hired most recently get let go before employees who have been at the company longer. This places value on longevity over the quality of work, which is beneficial for senior employees. However, seniority can make it so that the employers lay off a new employee who is more skilled before an older employee who may be less productive or efficient. Seniority can also apply to older employees receiving promotions before newer employees.

While nonunions may value employees who have worked for them for a long time, they don't place as much value on seniority. This benefits employees who deserve a raise or promotion over someone who's been at the company longer than them.


Some unions require employees to pay fees or dues that contribute to the union, such as paying for some salaries. The fees can be up to several hundred dollars a year, which often comes from the employees' paychecks. Depending on the number of fees, this can offset higher wages. Some unions require a one-time payment, while other unions don't require fees at all. Unions with fees are closed shops, and unions without fees are open shops. Nonunions don't require fees because they're not a collective group that has any additional costs that nonunion members need to pay.

Employee complaints

While most companies handle employee complaints, strong unions typically have an easier time fixing complaints or disputes. If there's a majority of employees who agree with the complaint, then the company is more likely to fix it. Another reason is that most unions have procedures for when complaints occur. This helps the employer resolve the complaints or disputes quickly and efficiently. Nonunions also handle employee complaints, but depending on the company, it may take a long time to resolve them.

Related: The 6 Best Union Jobs To Consider


Union representatives represent the union if there are any issues within the workplace. This is beneficial because union members can have someone to confide in and help resolve their issues. Nonunion workplaces typically have human resources managers to resolve work issues, but these managers work for the company and not necessarily for the employees. Human resources managers help employees, but union representatives ensure that there's a balance of power between the employer and the employee.


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