An extensive array of labor laws and regulations protects workers in the labor market and the workplace. From the National Labor Relations Act and Social Security Act of 1935 to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, labor unions have been instrumental in securing labor legislation and standards.
However, beyond their role in initiating and advocating enactment of these laws and regulations, unions have also played an important role in enforcing workplace regulations. Unions have provided labor protections for their members in three important ways: 1) they have been a voice for workers in identifying where laws and regulations are needed, and have been influential in getting these laws enacted; 2) they have provided information to members about workers' rights and available programs; and 3) they have encouraged their members to exercise workplace rights and participate in programs by reducing fear of employer retribution, helping members navigate the necessary procedures, and facilitating the handling of workers' rights disputes
Unions have played a prominent role in the enactment of a broad range of labor laws and regulations covering areas as diverse as overtime pay, minimum wage, the treatment of immigrant workers, health and retirement coverage, civil rights, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, and leave for care of newborns and sick family members.
Common to all of these rules is a desire to provide protections for workers either by regulating the behavior of employers or by giving workers access to certain benefits in times of need. Over the years, these rules have become mainstays of the American workplace experience, constituting expressions of cherished public values.
Less well recognized perhaps, is the important role that unions play in ensuring that labor protections are not just "paper promises" at the workplace. Government agencies charged with the enforcement of regulations cannot monitor every workplace nor automate the issuance of insurance claims resulting from unemployment or injury.
In practice, the effectiveness of the implementation of labor protections depends on the worker's decision to act.
This is done either by reporting an abuse or filing a claim. Unions have been crucial in this aspect by giving workers the relevant information about their rights and the necessary procedures, but also by facilitating action by limiting employer reprisals, correcting disinformation, aggregating multiple claims, providing resources to make a claim, and negotiating solutions to disputes on behalf of workers.
By organizing into bargaining units, workers are more apt to become educated and stand up for their rights in the workplace.
America needs strong unions.