What is a Union Shop?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2020
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A union shop is a situation where everyone hired by a unionized company must become a member of that union. This happens when a company has entered into a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by a union in a state where union shops are legal. While a company may hire non-union people for the job, it is understood those individuals will join the union as a condition of their employment. In places where union membership is optional, it is referred to as right to work. In other words, all individuals have a right to work there regardless of their union affiliation.

The union shop clause requiring all workers to eventually join the union is also known as the union security clause. Those in union jobs need to join the union whether or not they agree with the principles of that union within 30 days of being hired. The other option employees have is to not join the union, but still pay an amount to the union equivalent to the dues. Though they do not have to participate in union activities, they do have to pay the money and abide by any labor agreements, as well as participate in any strikes. Most in this situation decide to join, simply because then they at least have voting rights.


The main purpose of a union shop is to strengthen the collective bargaining position by, if through no other way, simply increasing numbers and raising money through dues. It is based on the theory that the more numbers the union has, the more influence it possesses. This should give the union a better advantage when it comes to negotiating during the collective bargaining process.

The union shop concept has been in use since the middle part of the 20th century. It was then the Taft-Hartley Act outlawed the closed shop. Under closed shop rules, an individual had to be a member of the union before he or she could be hired for a union job. In some cases, that made finding employees difficult, as most union members already had jobs. When it was outlawed, the union shop concept was formed as a compromise between the change in the laws and the needs of the unions.

As late as 2009, the breakdown between union shop states and states operating under the right to work policy was somewhat even. Union shop policies were in 28 states and 22 states had right to work. Union shop states claim to have better conditions for the workers, and to be able to provide better benefits. States with right to work policies counter that argument by saying they are better able to attract new jobs and businesses quickly, and to adapt to changing needs more easily.


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