Although employees in some classifications will earn significantly higher wages on union jobs than on comparable non-union jobs, union contracts offer a lot more than just scale rates. A union contract’s overtime provisions, “golden hours” (double-time pay for exceptionally long shifts), night premiums, and turnaround time rules all give employers strong financial incentives to schedule more humane workweeks. (And such provisions ensure that, when employees do need to work onerous hours, that work is rewarded at a premium.) Vacation pay and holiday pay increase employees’ compensation over and above their base rates. Perhaps most dramatically, the superlative health and retirement benefits that come from working union help to provide stability and sustainability to a professional cobbling together a career from a series of short-term gigs.
In August of 2014, the post-production crew of the long-running unscripted television series Survivor decided to organize their workplace. The experienced editors who made up the bulk of that crew were amongst the best-paid in the business; they had already parlayed their experience and talents into enviable rates. But when they organized, they were able to achieve together what none of them might have achieved individually: eight-hour workdays, strong overtime provisions, premium pay for weekend work, vacation and holiday pay, and excellent healthcare and pension benefits. The show’s assistant editors and loggers saw significant increases in their base pay, but even the best-paid individuals on the crew saw dramatic material gains from unionizing.