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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

I’ll be honest with you, I did not know what unions were for an embarrassingly long time. So, if you hear that word and sort of know the gist but also kind of feel like this…

…then, below is your quick guide to understanding them. It is important for Barnard and Columbia students, especially because of recent events. Not long ago, the Barnard Contingent Faculty Union filed a grievance against Barnard College. In the brief, they alleged anti-union discrimination because adjunct faculty who are members of the union and teach First-Year Experience courses do not receive the $2,000 stipend that all other professors get for teaching those courses. While this particular issue is important, I am going to talk about unions in general because, without them, issues like this would not even be discussed since workers would not have the mechanism to complain about their problems or have the power to enact change.

Essentially, unions are the whole, and the workers are its pieces. Obviously, the whole is more powerful than the individual pieces that make it up.

See, it is easy to stop one person.

But, when you call for a strike:

And everyone joins:

Then, the worker might actually win.

You might still be wondering why unions are necessary in the first place. They are essential because an employer will always have more power than a lone worker.

For example, let’s say a worker does not feel like they are paid enough, so then they ask the union to help out. It’s not that the employer is necessarily a bad person; it just makes sense for them to pay workers less. But, if everyone threatens to stop working, the boss needs to make changes. This shows the main purpose of unions—to negotiate contracts.

Most importantly, unions matter. It makes sense that union workers enjoy better wages and benefits than non-union workers.

If you are still wondering why unions matter in higher education, no worries, because next week I’ll be writing about the importance of unions at universities.