Unions, often called worker unions or trade unions, are groups of employees who have joined forces to achieve common goals related to their working lives, such as better working conditions or higher salaries.
Union leaders typically negotiate with employers or industry associations on behalf of its members, a process known as collective bargaining. Members pay union dues – essentially membership fees – in exchange for membership of the union.
As well as representation in collective bargaining, unions also provide other benefits to members, such as telephone assistance and legal representation in the event of litigation (particularly important for industries with a culture of litigation, such as teaching and medicine).
Trade unions come in three different flavours: general unions bring together workers from different industries, craft unions bring together workers with specific skills or job responsibilities in a particular industry, and industrial unions attempt to unify all workers in one industry.
Trade unions originated in Europe following the Industrial Revolution where the balance of power in the employment relationship shifted heavily to the employers because few skills were required to complete most jobs.