In Business, what is an Open Union?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2019
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An open union is a union that does not present significant barriers to membership. Anyone who is qualified can join the union. This is in contrast with a closed union, which has restrictions on membership. Different unions have different sets of standards for membership which are designed to advance the larger goals of the union and being open or closed may further support those goals, depending on the type of work the union does.

Someone who wishes to join an open union does not need to pass a test or examination which is used to prove skills and abilities. Closed unions, on the other hand, do require that members pass a test that is designed to eliminate members who cannot meet the base standard. Unions which involve people with technical or trade skills such as dockhands unions and stagehands unions are often closed so that they can administer an admissions test to their members to confirm that all members are competent and able to work.


Open unions also do not charge initiation fees to enter the union and may waive dues or have very low dues. Cost of union membership can sometimes be a barrier for some workers and open unions eliminate this barrier. Doing so allows people to join the union quickly and can help an open union grow rapidly. A large union can have more clout as the sheer numbers of workers who belong to the open union can be a useful negotiating tool. For example, service employees union are often open to make it easy for service workers to join, and when these unions call for strikes or other union activities they can have a profound impact.

When people have the option of joining a union, they will be provided with paperwork and information. Union workplaces usually have a union steward who is responsible for educating employees about the union, assisting union members with filing grievances, and providing other support to union employees and employees considering union membership. People can also get information from the union directly. Many unions have websites with information including information about whether they are open or closed.

Once someone joins an open union, she or he has access to the benefits provided for union members. This includes collective bargaining on behalf of union members to improve wages, benefits, and working conditions. Depending on where people work, they may be required to join the union if they wish to continue working, or it may be optional.



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