A union is simply an employee organization—protected by law—where a group of workers joins together to improve and guarantee their wages, benefits and working conditions. A union also gives employees a way to achieve respect and fairness on the job and a stronger voice to impact employer decisions. Without a union, employers have 100% control.
By joining together you will have far more power to make positive changes and gain protections in your workplace than you would alone or with a just a few coworkers. Although work settings and issues vary, you can count on these 5 basic steps to create a union where you work. Are you ready to get started?
Step 1: Know your legal rights.
Before getting started you should learn about your legal rights to form a union. The National Labor Relations Act gives workers the right to:
Attend meetings during non-work time to discuss joining a union
Talk about the union whenever other non-work talk is allowed
Read and distribute union literature as long as you do this in non-work areas during non-work times such as breaks, lunch hours or before or after work
Sign a card or petition to show support for a union
Ask other employees to support the union, to sign cards or petitions requesting your employer to recognize and bargain with your union
Next you’ll want to gather information about where you work. What are the issues facing your co-workers? Any common themes? For example, is there a need for pay equity or to end unfair treatment? Do other co-workers share your interest in exploring the idea of a union? How much do you know about your employer’s structure, industry and competition? Are there other unionized workers in your industry? How will you contact your fellow workers? Who will be your friends and allies in the community or political arena? These are just some of the questions you’ll need to answer. An OPEIU organizer can help provide the resources you’ll need to lay a good foundation to build a strong union.
Step 3: Build your own union.
Efforts to form a union vary depending on the workplace, but Local 2 believes the most successful way to create a union workplace is for employees to take charge of the process themselves. OPEIU organizers will help you create a plan that makes sense for you and your coworkers.
You’ll want to create a representative group of coworkers, usually called an “Organizing Committee,” to make sure that your efforts to form a union are successful. The Organizing Committee educates coworkers about the benefits of unionizing and their rights under the law, motivates coworkers to take action with confidence, and helps plan a winning strategy.
Step 4: Make your union "official."
Once you’re able to show strong majority support for creating a union, usually through the signing of “authorization” cards or a petition, the next step is to make your union official. There are different ways to do this depending on your type of workplace. One common way is to request that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a neutral government agency, to hold a secret ballot election. Depending on the state, public employees may have their own state agency conduct an election. Another way to gain official union recognition is to have your employer voluntarily recognize your union. OPEIU organizers can help you decide which method might be best for your situation.
At this point, you may be asking, “What will my employer say to workers forming a union?” The typical employer will say that you don’t need a union because s/he will not want to give up any control or power. You and your coworkers need to be prepared for what to expect when your employer learns about your steps to form a union.
Efforts to create a union don’t stop after you win recognition. The next step - winning a fair contract - is just as important. Once your union is officially certified, your employer will be legally required to negotiate in good faith with your union to obtain a written, legally-binding contract covering all aspects of your employment. You and your coworkers will elect a negotiating team and decide what changes and improvements you want to propose to your employer. Acceptance of the final agreement will be voted on by you and your coworkers. You can count on Local 2 staff to provide support at every step of the way.
Tips for Encouraging Coworkers to Action
Listen. Find out what issues are important to your co-workers. You know what’s important to you, but find out what’s important to them. Is there a recurring theme? Ask questions and don’t assume you know the answers.
Give coworkers a reason to be involved. Coworkers will get involved if they believe their issues are at stake and they can really make a difference. Nobody comes to a meeting? Start smaller with 1:1 conversations or small group meetings. Try incorporating food or social activity and make it fun. Start with a smaller challenge to achieve a unity building victory.
Be honest. If you don’t know an answer to a question, admit it - but find out the answer and get back to the person quickly. You’ll be respected for your responsiveness to member concerns.
Push your coworkers harder. It’s easy to take on tasks yourself, harder to organize others to take action. A good workplace activist gets as many people involved as possible doing as much as possible. But you need to ask. It’s not enough to bug people to be more active. You need to ask them to do specific assignments…until it becomes natural to take on more without being asked. Don’t push so hard though that your co-workers avoid you! Know when to stop and try another tactic.
Stay positive and provide hope. Making people feel good about getting involved encourages them to stay involved and encourages other people to join them. Complaining about coworkers who “won’t do anything” doesn’t help. Management will attempt to make unionizing seem futile. You need to provide the hope that conditions can change.
Publicize victories. By letting coworkers know early on the issues a union will fight for, you’re in a better position to take credit for improvements management will try to make during the campaign. “If we got a better health plan by just talking about the union, imagine what we can do with a contract in place.”
Defend each other. If a coworker is treated unfairly, try to unite everyone to defend the person, even if s/he isn’t a union supporter. Maybe it’s time to start a petition or take some other kind of group action to show your employer you’re united. But don’t just complain—organize to act in a unified way.