What Union Should an Auto Mechanic Join?

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If you’re an auto mechanic or interested in becoming one, you may have thought about joining a union. But before you can make that decision, you need to know what your options are and how to pick between them.

We put together this article to help you do that. It highlights the top union options for auto mechanics and gives you a framework for choosing between them.

Let’s get into it.

Why join a union?

Before covering what your union options are as an auto mechanic, it’s worth taking a minute to review why it’s worth joining a union in the first place. Here are three reasons why joining a union could make sense for your career.

Earn more money

Time and time again, the data shows that union workers earn more than their non-union counterparts. 

For example, The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently put out a report saying that a union worker earned an average of $1,095 per week, while a non-union one earned an average of $892.

Your individual results will vary, but this data does indicate that you could make around $200 more each week simply by being part of a union. That’s more than enough to offset the average annual union dues of $400.

Get better benefits

Union workers also tend to enjoy better benefits than non-union ones do. This is because unions take advantage of something called collective bargaining. That is, they bring together lots of workers to increase the leverage that they have over employers.

Participate in collective bargaining

Participating in collective bargaining with a union can be very rewarding. If you’ve ever felt underappreciated, under-compensated, or unsafe at work, you may have felt as though you couldn’t do anything about it because you were just one person.

That should never be an issue when you’re part of a union. Unions band together to fight back against unfair employment practices. Participating in this can be a wonderful experience. 

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)

IAM is one of the largest unions for auto mechanics in the United States. 

It has nearly 600,000 active and retired members and is active at major companies like Harley Davidson, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.

Of those 600,000 active and retired members, about 40,000 are auto and truck mechanics currently working in the United States and Canada.

Research shows that IAM technicians earn an average of 30% higher pay than non-union techs. That means you could definitely get a salary bump by joining this union.

Another cool fact is that IAM has been around since 1888. That means the union has a ton of experience negotiating for better pay, benefits, and working conditions for auto mechanics.

The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of American (UAW)

UAW is the other major union that auto mechanics in the United States can join. It has about 400,000 active members and another 580,000 retired members throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

The union was founded in 1935 and has been a major advocate for higher wages and better working conditions for auto mechanics ever since.

UAW currently has about 1,150 contracts with more than 1,600 employers throughout North America. That means joining it could be a great way to open up your job opportunities as an auto mechanic.

photo of woman repairing motorcycle

Is IAM or UAW better for you?

Both IAM and UAW are solid unions. Hundreds of thousands of people wouldn’t be a part of each of them if they weren’t. 

That means there isn’t an inherently right and an inherently wrong selection between the two. Rather, IAM will be the better choice for some people and UAW will be the right call for others.

As you consider which is the better move for your career, it can help to ask the following questions.

Which union is more active in your area?

Although both IAM and UAW have chapters across the entirety of North America, one can be more dominant in certain areas than the other. That means you may want to do a little research to see which union most auto mechanics in your area belong to.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to select the union with the largest local presence. But if you opt for the smaller union in your area, you may have fewer job opportunities available since shops typically partner with one union.

What do you want to join a union for?

Another thing to keep in mind is what you’re hoping to get out of a union. Are you looking to increase the number of jobs that you can qualify for? Or perhaps you care a lot about making sure that you get a certain type of benefit.

Understanding what you want out of a union can help you figure out which one you should join. You can simply pick the union that does the things that matter most to you best.

Where would your dues be highest?

The average cost of being in a union is about $400 per year. But your dues could be more or less than this based on whether you join UAW or IAM.

That’s why it’s also a good idea to take a moment to figure out what your dues would be at each union. If IAM and UAW offer similar benefits in your area, then it could make sense to make a decision based on which would be cheaper for you to join.

Which union would give you access to more opportunities?

This is another question worth asking as you think about which union is right for you. Some unions may offer more explicit pathways for advancement than others.

For example, one union that you may be looking into could have a guarantee for advancement over a set number of years. While the other could offer no guarantees. This is another factor that could influence which one is right for you to join.

Which union do you feel more at home with?

At the end of the day, when you join a union, you want to feel like you belong. If you feel more at home with the people in your local chapter of UAW or IAM, don’t discount that.

Joining a union is a decision that can last for an entire career. So if you’re feeling better about the people at one, that could be reason enough alone to pick it.

Just make sure that you’re not letting your feelings outweigh the significant advantages that another union can offer you. 

For example, you may like the people at one union more but perhaps another can offer you significantly higher wages. If so, you should keep that in mind while making your decision.

Is not joining a union at all a better idea?

It’s also worth keeping in mind that you don’t have to join a union at all. There are about 750,000 auto mechanics in the country and many are not part of a union.

There are certainly some benefits to remaining an independent worker. These include having more control over your career and not having to pay union dues.

Seniority is another thing that can be annoying to deal with as part of a union. Unions often give the best positions and benefits to people who have been part of the union the longest. So you’ll benefit from that when you’re more established in your career but could be held back by it early on.

On the other hand, non-union workers earn about 16% less than union workers on average. And you may not get as good of benefits as an auto mechanic if you’re not part of a union.

There are pros and cons to most things in life and joining a union is no different. Only you can decide whether the pros of union life outweigh the cons or not.

Find your next job with Rock the Trades

Whether you ultimately decide to join a union or not, you may still need some help to find your next job as an auto mechanic. If you’re in the market for your next position, consider downloading the Rock the Trades app.

Our app automatically connects you with employers who are looking for candidates with your exact set of skills. All that you need to do is tell us a bit about your qualifications and we’ll do the rest.

So why wait? Take the first step towards your next job as an auto mechanic by downloading the RTT app today.

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