Ask a foreigner


Union jobs across MOST* fields have wages & benefits on the “old” apprentice>master scheme.

Largely because Unions became legal entities here in the 1800s when that was the normal way of designating rank.

We kinda/sorta/had to legally quantify unions... because for about a generation we had dozens of private wars, and hundreds -if not thousands- of massacres, scattered all over the country & territories. No exaggeration on the wars bit. For about 200 years we had something called “company towns” where the company owned ALL the land, the houses, the roads, everything. Given land grants by various governments (British, French, & later American) they had total control over region & all of it’s people... including the right to wage war, to keep an armed garrison, and to call upon the nation’s troops... in addition to all judicial decision / their own police forces, judges, juries, executioners. They didn’t write law, the had “company policies” instead, but could enforce those policies with imprisonment & death at their own discretion.

Company Towns were extremely useful to the American govt. in early days, as they existed mostly in the Territories, but as the country expanded westward it became a BIT of a problem to have independent fiefdoms -who didn’t want to relinquish their armies, police, and way of doing things for State & National Law. ;) Can’t imagine why. Prior to the Civil War in the 1860s they were more tolerated (esp if the company presidents would play ball), but afterward The Us Govt. was a bit nervy about -especially wealthy and well armed- groups declaring their independence. Politically, it made more sense for Unions to do the dirty work for them (and the US arm/train/supply them... sound familiar???), rather than to send in their own troops against Company Troops. Especially as the Govt. could “legislate” their way to the position they wanted to be in. It’s a very complicated/murky part of our history... especially as it was hardly uniform. State govts who depended on Company support would send in Union Busters, whilst Federal govt would be supplying the Union... and vice versa! And then, just to make it our govt changes ever 4 years, so what is the goal of one administration is often the enemy of the next. Very very eye crossing, tangled, convoluted time period our “Western Expansion”. And we still have -castrated- company towns, particularly mining towns & factory towns, today. Just with maybe 2% of the power they had in the 1800s. They’re the only job for 100 miles, so it’s either work for them or move. The power of livelihood rather than of life&death.))

So, whilst Unions were more tied to Communism & the early 20th century in the UK -no idea about AUS- in the US they were a much earlier byproduct of Western Expansion. First beloved of the nation, then a constant thorn. Seriously, we have this MASSIVE history with arming and training groups we later try to annihilate. Useful one day, anathema the next!

There are 3 basic levels
- Apprentice
- Journeyman
- Master

But most jobs have levels within the levels. Junior/senior, novice/able/experienced, etc. So if someone is a Master Shipbuilder, or an Apprentice Plumber there are still (probably) levels above/below them. Unless they’re brand spanking new, or topped out. Those additional ranks are usually only used when applying for a job (journeyman II or better, angle seaman or better, etc.), by HR when cutting you your paycheck/assigning benefits, and when talking with others in your field. Even then, though, the US is extremely squicky about letting people know what you’re paid... so it’s good manners NOT to tell people what your actual Union rank/designation is. Since that tells everyone in your field what your payscale is. <<< Coming from a military family where everyone knows exactly how much everyone else makes, that always strikes me as weird... but it’s a big thing over here. Whether your salary is a matter of public record, or negotiated in private.

* Teachers Union, Nurses Union, etc. are examples of fields which use different designations.
Last edited:


I asked about the term journeyman when I was given the title and it had something to do with finishing the apprenticeship and being kicked to the curb to make room for the next apprentice in line. You had to journey to the next place you could sell your skills. As a journeyman machinist (I am a journeyman toolmaker) you could submit work that showed your skills to the guild, the members of the guild would pass it around among themselves and decide if you were good enough to be considered a master. The work was called..........a "masterpiece".
Could be all BS but thats what I was told, in a state that still has journeyman licensed electricians and plumbers that earn that title on state paper. Mine is a title my nonunion bosses gave me, a letter that says they liked me on that date in that place basically. No more state-recognized journeyman machinists and very little union presence. I have been a union gas station attendant, but never a union toolmaker. I don't even know any.
Can any European members shed any light on the terms? I have heard there are still craft guilds, in Germany and France?