UE was the first union to win paid vacations and holidays, seniority rights and other rights on the job for hundreds of thousands of workers in basic industry. UE stresses strong workplace organization and militant shop floor action over legal maneuvering. In the 1980s, UE was the first union to resist the employers' drive for concessions and the first union to sound a warning about "quality circles" and other phoney "labor-management" cooperation schemes.
UE gained an early reputation as a fighter for the rights of women workers and as an opponent of racial discrimination. In the 1950s, UE mounted public campaigns to force major electrical manufacturing corporations to agree to non-discrimination clauses. UE was among the first to organize undocumented workers and speak out on behalf of immigrants. As an early critic of the Vietnam War, the union campaigned for redirecting the federal budget toward job-creating, socially-useful production.