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Trades

A union is an organization of workers formed to help support its members achieve higher wages, better benefits, and improved working conditions compared to what they believe would be the case without the help of an organized union.

It is nearly impossible to make accurate, blanket statements about the differences between union and non-union jobs because of the differences across the various trades, so we won’t even try. Instead, we offer:

Relevant statistics

  • 32% of our state’s construction workers were associated with a union in 2017. This was the fourth highest union participation rate in the nation.
  • 12% of the state’s manufacturing workers were unionized in 2017, placing Minnesota in the top quartile nationwide
  • The percentage of construction-related workers within unions nationwide has dropped over the last fifteen years from the high-teens to the low-teens

Industry Background

  • The firms doing the trades work are called contractors, with unionized contractors known as “signatories
  • For the contractor, there may be a tradeoff between the wage and benefit rates paid to the worker and the profits of the firm. Union wages are generally higher than non-union wages. Within this context, the contractor must consider:
    • The quality, productivity, and safety level of the work. If the average union worker is far more qualified than the non-union worker, then the wage differential can be justified; if not, then profits may suffer. Union apprenticeship training programs are generally considered to be exceptional when it comes to producing high-quality tradespeople, while industry apprenticeships are not generally standardized and less-well promoted. Many non-union companies, however, offer exceptional on-the-job training programs which rival union apprenticeships.
  • The ability to compete for projects. Certain high-profile as well as niche projects in Minnesota may only be open to signatories, meaning non-union tradespeople cannot work on them. On the other hand, generally lower wage rates for non-union firms can provide them with a significant cost advantage relative to signatories when bidding on open projects. In addition, market forces continue to pressure high-profile projects to be open to all bidding contractors (not only unions). As a worker, an hourly wage is only as good as the hours you are working, so you need to make sure the contractor you will be working for has plenty of work.

Questions to Consider

  • First of all, the Job Board within this website should provide you with the opportunity to make some union versus non-union job comparisons. We also encourage you to explore the websites of the companies and unions under consideration as a means of learning more about them.
  • What is the specific training program offered, if any? How long does it last and what are the costs? How much will you be paid during the training, and are benefits provided during this period?
  • How long is the waitlist for a particular apprenticeship? How many apply each year and how many are accepted?
  • What is the net take-home pay on an hourly basis, starting with day one and progressing over the next few years if that information is available?
  • What health and other benefits are provided and are the costs additive to the wage rate or subtracted from it?
  • What is involved in a decision to leave the union for any reason?
  • What union or other dues payments are taken from the base wage rate?
  • How many hours per month can you expect to work? (attempt to verify this through conversations with other workers or union members)

Source Union membership: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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