16. American Labor Unions as Organizations

  1. D. Douglas Caulkins3 and
  2. Ann T. Jordan4
  1. Paul Durrenberger1,2 and
  2. Suzan Erem

Published Online: 2 OCT 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118325513.ch16

A Companion to Organizational Anthropology

A Companion to Organizational Anthropology

How to Cite

Durrenberger, P. and Erem, S. (2012) American Labor Unions as Organizations, in A Companion to Organizational Anthropology (eds D. D. Caulkins and A. T. Jordan), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118325513.ch16

Editor Information

  1. 3

    Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell, USA

  2. 4

    University of North Texas, USA

Author Information

  1. 1

    Penn State University, USA

  2. 2

    University of Iowa, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 2 OCT 2012
  2. Published Print: 29 OCT 2012

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9781405199827

Online ISBN: 9781118325513



  • American labor unions;
  • government policies;
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT);
  • national laws;
  • organizations;
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU)


Organization of unions in the United States is a function of law, policy, industrial organization, and historical processes. This chapter focuses on private sector union structures, based primarily on work with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). The Wagner Act of 1935, or the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) empowered American workers to organize into unions. The only way that workers can achieve power vis-à-vis capitalists is by collective action, by working together toward common goals. Law and practice define the relationships among stewards, union reps, supervisors, managers, and fellow workers, but how union members think about these relationships reveals their conceptualization of their union, their place in the union, and the union's relationships with management which may be quite different from the external model described by law and practice.