If you’ve ever had a job that allowed you to be a member of a union, you might already know what labor unions are and their mission. But for many folks who are unfamiliar with union membership, there may be lots of questions about how joining a union might impact your benefits.
This issue of unionizing is at the forefront of the attention of workers at one Starbucks store in Mesa, Arizona. In November 2021, workers at the Starbucks located at the intersection of Power and Baseline roads in Mesa petitioned for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. This would allow workers to vote on whether they wish to unionize.
The workers are closely watching a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, where workers were recently the first in the nation to successfully unionize.
Non-management workers want to form a union in order to have collective bargaining power, which means they can negotiate as a unit with their employer on issues like working conditions, benefits, safety precautions, and salary increases.
If the Mesa union effort is successful, they would be the first Starbuck store in Arizona to unionize.
Does being a member of a union mean you forfeit your right to workers’ compensation benefits?
Sometimes, union employees and non-union employees have different guidelines for when and how they file a claim, but being a union member doesn’t prevent you from receiving workers’ compensation benefits if you’re injured at work.
Proponents of labor unions argue that unions benefit both workers and employers because union-negotiated guidelines for safety and health can help to reduce hazards in the workplace. This benefits employees because there’s less risk for injury, and it benefits employers because it keeps workers’ compensation rates low and promotes a healthy, reliable workforce.
Likewise, workers’ compensation benefits both employers and employees. If a worker becomes injured, they don’t need to prove that anyone was negligent in order to receive compensation for their injuries, as they would if they filed a personal injury lawsuit. They only need to show that the injury happened at work and prove the cost of their injury.
However, when an employee makes a workers’ comp claim, they are then prohibited from filing a lawsuit against the employer for that particular injury. This benefits the employer because the company is spared the cost, time, and potentially negative media attention from a lawsuit.
Becoming a union member doesn’t prevent you from making a workers’ compensation claim if you are injured at work.
In fact, sometimes a union will negotiate for specific workers’ compensation benefits for members that are more comprehensive than what the state system requires as a basic standard.
Benefits available for Arizona workers’ compensation
Arizona workers’ compensation pays medical expenses (including mileage reimbursements), wage loss benefits, and death benefits for certain dependents.
Wage loss benefits are calculated according to the nature of the injury, with injuries falling into 1 of 4 categories:
- Temporary partial disability. TPD benefits are applicable to those who can still work but in a reduced capacity.
- Temporary total disability. TTD benefits are applicable to those who are temporarily unable to work.
- Permanent partial disability. PPD benefits are applicable to those who suffered a permanent injury but are still able to work in some capacity.
- Permanent total disability. PTD benefits are applicable to those whose injury is so severe that they’ll never be able to work again.
Types of benefits you might achieve through union membership
Each union becomes its own negotiating unit, so whether you become a member of a Starbucks union or somewhere else, these are some of the benefits that unions often try go advocate for on behalf of their members:
- Higher wages. Many unions try to negotiate up to a 20% increase in salary for workers.
- Decreased wage inequality. Unions typically believe that every worker should earn the same based on qualifications and experience.
- Health benefits. A substantial medical plan is important for any worker, whether the injury happens at work or outside, or if they develop an illness or disease.
- Pension plans. Labor unions work to craft pension plans that will provide solid coverage for workers upon their retirement.
- Health and safety guidelines. While every business should follow OSHA requirements, a labor union can make the corporate policy stricter with respect to overtime pay and safer working conditions.
What to do if you’re a union member injured at work
Any Arizona worker — union or otherwise — must file a workers’ compensation claim with the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA) within 1 year of the injury. However, it benefits you to make the claim as soon as possible. The employer is required to report the injury to the ICA within 10 days from when it learns of the injury.
However, if you’re a member of a union, you should report the injury to both your employer and your union representative as soon as possible.
You should seek medical attention immediately following an injury, even if you think the injury is minor. It’s important to tell your doctor or provider that the reason for your visit is because of an injury sustained at work so that it’s documented in your medical chart. If you don’t seek medical attention right away, it could be harder to prove later that the condition or injury was a result of something that happened at work.
Do I need my own workers’ compensation lawyer, or can the union lawyers represent me?
Generally, the union’s lawyers represent the union, not individual members.
While it’s important to stay in contact with your union representative during the process of a workers’ compensation claim, most likely it benefits you to retain your own lawyer to represent your interests.
You should seek the services of a workers’ compensation lawyer if:
- Your claim is denied. You can get an appeal, but the process is complicated and requires the assistance of an experienced workers’ comp attorney.
- There’s a dispute about your permanent disability rating.
- You have a preexisting condition that might appear related to your injury. The workers’ comp insurer will likely deny your claim on the basis that the injury was not caused at work. However, you are entitled to workers’ compensation if an injury received at work worsened or complicated a preexisting condition.
- You are unable to get treatment quickly because of slow insurance approvals.
- The injury left you unable to return to work at the same job or pay rate that you had previous to the injury.
- You are receiving other government benefits like Social Security Disability Insurance or Medicare, because these benefits could be reduced by workers’ compensation benefits.
- You’re going to have a workers’ comp hearing. This is a complicated process, similar to a trial and it benefits the claimant to be represented by a lawyer.
A workers’ compensation claim can be complicated, particularly if your injury was severe or will leave you with long-term or life-long complications, requiring additional treatment, or has restricted your ability to return to work. You don’t want to assume that the amount offered by the insurer will cover your costs in their entirety because if they don’t, there’s no second chance to make another claim or ask for additional coverage for the same injury.
In short, it’s a one-shot deal.
That’s why your best move is to find an experienced and skilled Arizona workers’ compensation lawyer to assist with your claim, regardless of whether or not you’re a member of a union. Your lawyer can confer with union representatives to make sure that if the union offers additional benefits to what is required by the state of Arizona, you’re getting every benefit and every dollar to which you’re entitled.