HVAC Unions: Everything You Need To KnowBy My Service Depot on Thursday, April 23, 2020
HVAC unions lack the prevalence they once had, but they're still around. We take a look at how labor unions impact the field today.
If you work in HVAC, you likely already know that the field shares some territory with labor unions. In this article, we’ll explore that part of the industry while trying to remain as objective as possible. If you want to know about HVAC unions, read on!
What is an HVAC labor union?
HVAC labor unions act as intermediaries between HVAC workers and their employers. Unions can give HVAC workers more negotiating power, often leading to better pay and safer work conditions. Ideally, they represent a mighty force in service and trade fields, uniting workers and protecting livelihoods.
But union membership isn’t for everyone. In fact, union membership is on a sharp decline. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership has declined from over 20% in 1983 to just 6.2% in 2019.
More HVAC professionals these days opt for non-union work, citing arcane union rules and membership dues as reasons why. However, in some situations, union membership can improve a worker’s hourly rate and even secure benefits like health insurance.
On the fence about union membership? Understanding the benefits and downsides of joining a union can help you make an educated decision.
The pros and cons of joining an HVAC union
Below we’ve listed some of the main incentives and disincentives when it comes to joining an HVAC labor union.
Bargaining Power – The biggest benefit of joining a union is collective bargaining power. As an individual, you don’t have a lot of say going against a giant corporation (or even within some smaller businesses). That means your benefits, pay, and even workplace safety are at a greater risk without union membership. If you’ve got an issue and you try going up against the boss by yourself, you likely won’t see much change for your trouble.
HVAC unions band HVAC workers together and fight for equipment, training, safety, and employee benefits for service professionals. Unions can even the playing field if you need to fight for more favorable working conditions.
Living Wages – Union membership means the union goes to bat for you at the negotiating table. Depending on the size of the union, it may have a huge network of lobbyists fighting for better pay and benefits. Union-protected work can ensure members earn a living wage.
Job Security – Need to file a safety complaint against your employer? Without a union membership, your boss can very easily decide to retaliate against you. Fair or not, you could find yourself out of the job for lodging a legitimate complaint. Union membership protects your livelihood in situations like this. If an employer lets you go for unfair reasons, the union helps you pursue legal action.
Access More Projects – Union membership gives you more trust and credibility. Many contractors and employers seek out union employees because union membership is an indicator of professional quality. This also means you get prime access to jobs that are only available for union workers.
Your union may also send you job leads directly. The local union hall can give you a call any time they come across an open job, keeping your schedule full.
Membership Fees – The number-one problem service professionals have with unions? The cost. Union membership fees range from 20%-33% of your earnings. Obviously, you’ll notice that huge an expense.
Keep in mind, though; unions theoretically put this money to work. After paying these fees, you should expect commensurate perks like insurance, retirement benefits, and a vacation fund. So, do the math! If the benefits outweigh the costs for you, sign up!
Competing With Non-Union Workers – The cost of union membership means you need to charge more per hour to stay profitable. Of course, non-union service professionals don’t have that overhead; that means they can charge significantly less for the same job. The existence of Non-union work is a pain in the neck for union workers. If you work in an area with low union membership, like a rural area or small town, non-union competition makes union HVAC work almost an impossibility. If you work in a major metropolitan area, you may not have the same problem.
Rules – Union members must adhere to the union rulebook, which includes mandatory meetings and strict guidelines on the type of work you can accept. This could means that, as a union HVAC tech, the union can prohibit you from taking on non-HVAC work, even if you feel you can accomplish it. If times are hard and your employer needs the flexibility to stay in business, you could find yourself out of a job.
For the most part, unions design their membership rules to keep you working, but on occasion, the restrictions can prove harmful. Know the rules before joining so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
How to Join an HVAC Union
If you’re interested in joining an HVAC union, you’ll need to select one first. We recommend approaching at least 3 unions and learning what they’re about. This way, you learn about the union’s benefits, rules, and fees before committing.
We’ve compiled a list of several HVAC and contractor unions to kick off your search:
- United Association
- United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America
- Utility Workers Union of America
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
- Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association
If you’d like to join one, contact the union’s membership office directly for more information.
Unions can help you protect your livelihood and boost your earning power as an HVAC professional. But a lot goes into union membership, so weigh the decision carefully before joining.