Labor unions play an important role on both continents, albeit in incomparable ways. In continental Europe union membership is a free choice. Employees of the one company or working on one location can chose between two or more competing unions. When negotiating collective bargaining agreements these unions close their ranks and jointly negotiate with the employer, or in many industries with organizations representing employers. Even if only a few workers are unionized the law often stipulates that the collective agreement applies to the entire industry, equally binding to non-unionized workers performing the same type of work or function as the unionized workers do.
American unions on the other hand enjoy a multifold monopoly. First, there is usually only one union represented in the company or at a work site. Second, once a location is unionized, each and every worker performing unionized work must become a member of that particular union. Although pure ‘closed shop’ arrangements are illegal it is practiced through the back door nonetheless: an employer is allowed to hire a non-union employee under the condition that that employee joins the union within a short time.
American unions also determine and enforce job descriptions. Unionized workers must work within rules that strictly outline their function. Not observing the job description may result in fines. A union member who performs non-unionized work can be discharged from the union.