Can Anyone Join a Union

Under rules originally set by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, every worker in the United States has the legal right to join an existing union or organize a new one. Employers cannot legally retaliate against you, threaten you, or take discriminatory action.


The one caveat is that existing unions and their local chapters usually have requirements for entry, as well as a limitation on the size of their membership rolls. A prospective member needs to meet eligibility criteria and apply for membership, similar to applying for a job.


With a trade labor union, an individual has to go through an apprenticeship program to be qualified as a “skilled” laborer or a “journeyman” before they are considered for entry. Other times, an applicant merely has to be employed in the profession the union concerns, such as a local teacher’s union or the American Postal Workers Union.


So technically, anyone can join a union, but you may need to meet certain minimum qualifications. The following are some of the minimum qualifications that may be required before you can join a specific trade union in your local community.



Historically, many unions required that an aspiring applicant either personally know an existing member or seek one out. This member would introduce the potential applicant to fellow union members, stewards, and other officials. If the individual made a good impression and was at a professional level that qualified them for membership, they might be inducted as a new member.


Today, sponsorship requirements have fallen out of favor for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is that requiring someone to nominate you could result in discriminatory practices. It also limits membership to those who are personally acquainted with an existing union member. Therefore, some skilled would-be applicants are ineligible simply because of their social habits.


Now, union membership is generally open to any applicant, provided they meet the minimum qualifications and the union is currently recruiting.


Apprenticeship or a “Journeyman” Qualification

Members of a trade union are considered skilled craftsmen in their field. This means that they must meet a minimum level of knowledge and experience to be eligible for recruitment.


Some unions allow applicants to take a test to prove their level of skill. The International Union of Operating Engineers, for example, allows prospective members to sign up for an evaluation to see their ability to handle heavy construction equipment. 


If the applicant does not meet the expected level of skill, they can instead enroll in an apprenticeship program or other means of training. Upon successful completion of the training program, they will be certified as a skilled tradesperson or journeyman. In most cases, this makes them eligible for membership induction.


Membership criteria and training programs for skilled trade unions may be quite involved. They may require a program fee and several months of unpaid training followed by paid on-the-job training. 


Some professional trade unions require years of experience after that, similar to a medical doctor’s residency period. Upon completion of the minimum requirements, the individual will be certified and qualified for membership in their local trade union chapter.


Employment in the Relevant Profession

Labor unions that are not directly involved in craft trades are less likely to require a minimum number of years of experience or a minimum knowledge of the profession beyond the general hiring requirements. 


For example, teachers unions will often induct teachers who are fresh out of college or university. New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) even allows prior members to become “associate members” to continue paying dues and receiving benefits once they are no longer eligible for full NYSUT membership.


The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) similarly states that, “any APWU membership is open to any USPS employee, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, political affiliation, age or religion,” further offering that, “those in supervisory or management positions can join,” solely in order to have access to the APWU health plan.


Get Injury Compensation When You’ve Been Hurt On the Job

Union membership means access to workers’ compensation insurance as well as union representation in the event of a workplace dispute. However, even with these protections, some individuals have limited access to seeking compensation for all of their losses.


If you get hurt at work or while operating in the scope of employment, a union-friendly New York personal injury attorney can help you identify your available sources of compensation. The Weinstein Group has been fighting for the rights of organized workers for 30 years. 


The Weinstein Group knows the tactics employers, general contractors, and insurance companies use to limit compensation. We fight vigorously for your right to seek recovery for all of your damages, including your lost wages, future medical bills, and reimbursement for costs associated with your injury.


Learn more about your rights and legal options during a free, no-obligation case review with an experienced injury attorney. Call 212-741-3800 or contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation now.