Considering A Career In The Electrical Industry? Should You Go Union?

If you've ever considered a career as an electrician or apprentice, you're probably not only interested in learning about the ins and outs of your daily routine, but also determining the employment prospects of a career as an electrician. One of the decisions you'll need to make is whether to go the union route or the non-union route. Read on to learn more about the differences between union electricians and non-union electricians, including advantages and disadvantages to each path, to help you make your choice.

What benefits does the union provide to those in the electrical field?

By joining a union as an electrician or apprentice, you'll have access to a greater number of jobs. Because the union negotiates contracts, pay, and working conditions on behalf of its members, rather than leaving each member to negotiate these terms individually, it has greater power to require employers or contractors to meet the union's demands. For example, if all the electricians in a certain region belong to a union, employers who are in need of electricians essentially have no choice but to acquiesce to the union's demands.

The union can also help protect you against unlawful termination or discrimination. If you're not a union member and are subject to wrongful termination, sexual harassment, or other employment-related troubles, you may be forced to hire a private attorney on a contingency fee basis. This means that if you eventually reach a settlement, your attorney will be entitled to take a portion of this settlement as payment.

If you're a union member and one of these things happens to you, it is turned over to the union, whose attorneys and investigators will handle the case for you free of charge. Any eventual settlement or court judgment belongs entirely to you.

Finally, belonging to an electrician's union may provide you with a generous pension after a certain number of years of union membership. This pension may still be in effect even after you've been unemployed for a certain period of time (which is why many unemployed electricians choose payment of union dues over other financial demands). This pension can allow you to enjoy a financially secure retirement at a relatively early age. 

What are some of the drawbacks of a union membership?

Despite the benefits a union provides, these come at a cost.

The most direct cost is union dues. You'll be required to pay these dues on a monthly basis, whether or not you're currently employed. If you stop paying dues, your union membership lapses and any benefits you may have enjoyed are stripped -- even if you've faithfully paid your dues for a number of years.

In addition, once you've become a union member, you are prohibited from taking on any non-union jobs. In areas where the power of the union is not strong (for example, areas in which most electricians don't belong to a union), you may find yourself turning down high-paying jobs even while unemployed, simply to retain your union membership.

Finally, the union is only as strong as its membership. Although a union in a highly pro-union area may be able to force employers to meet all employment demands, if there is a large population of non-union employees, the union is on a much shakier bargaining ground. Unions are also very sensitive to changes in state law that can strip unions of some power.

When making the choice whether or not to join a union, the most crucial element in your decision should be the strength of the union in your area. If you live in a pro-union state, you are less likely to find high-paying jobs if not a member of the union -- whereas if you're in an anti-union state, you may find yourself paying union dues while being unable to find work.

What is the employment outlook for this career?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for electricians should grow in proportion to the general economy, or by around 12 percent over the next few years.