Many people look for more power, more of a voice and more protections at their workplace. Often, they contemplate the possibility of forming a union. Yet, for most, the idea of starting one either seems impossible, dangerous or people don't know that it is allowed in their type of workplace.
Having parents who belonged to unions much of their working career - up until I became a labor organizer myself, I kind of assumed that it was a clear and easy personal choice made by workers to either be unionized or not. The process, I learned as I began my new job in the movement, is actually quite complicated and the deck is rigged pretty solidly against workers standing up for themselves.
Follow me below the challah for a brief explanation of the process - and I hope that this starts a bit of a dialogue on bringing change to our workplaces. If we are to be the grassroots, then we need to be making change in our microcosms, on the ground in our community. In some cases, that may mean starting a new union at your workplace.
Before diving right in - if there is interest, I will continue writing on the subject - and will note that this election system is administered through the National Labor Relations Board and there are differences from state to state. It also doesn't apply in the same way to trades workers - carpenters, construction workers, plumbers etc., but there are also guidelines for those workers that I can discuss in a future diary.
This is also a simplified version - this is a difficult process and that is why organizers are essential on the ground, guiding from beginning to end - make good use of them, even though you know your workplace best.
Now here are the basic steps to form a union at your workplace
1) Pick a union that is able to represent you - and meet with an organizer
Each state is different. Each work type is different. Each locale and company has a different labor history. So do some homework and call the union that represents similar workers. Though this has become hazier in recent years - for example, the United Auto Workers represent the Legal Aide lawyers of New York City.
2) Figure out what your "bargaining unit" is
There will be an election for your workplace, assuming you get enough initial support from your coworkers - so you need to know how many voters there are!
Its not so simple, but a good organizer will chart out the workplace in order to have an educated guess as to how many employees exist. Remember, your boss knows this info, but you and your organizer may not.
3) Sign up a strong majority of workers on union authorization cards to trigger an election
Election season is 6 weeks long in the labor world - and it can happen any time of year. To trigger an election, technically only 30% of workers at a site must sign cards. However, since 50%+ are needed for victory, it is necessary to sign as many people as possible initially. Different unions have different goals - my union would only turn in cards to the state at 65%+ of a workplace, but it depends on the job, the level of excitement with workers and the level of surprise.
4) Fight like hell for 6 weeks before the vote
Once the boss finds out you want a union, all hell breaks loose. For 6 weeks, your boss will spend all their energy - and tons of money - trying to convince you and your coworkers to vote NO.
One of the reasons for the extreme downturn in successful union votes is the proliferation of union-busting consulting firms and law firms. They make millions of dollars swooping in, dividing workers (often along racial, gender or education-credential lines) and trying to scare and bribe people to vote against their best interest.
So its your job to counteract this - which is incredibly hard. Stand up for yourself. And your coworkers. It is in this window where you prove your mettle - and see if you have what it takes to win. Remember, your boss has the upper hand - they know your home address, phone number, pay scale and often who you are friends with and who has influence over each other.
5) If you win, you must negotiate a contract
When you win, you have a union - but its not in full force (nor do you pay dues) until you and your coworkers negotiate a contract that sets out working rules, pay scale, benefits and guidelines. This too requires solidarity and hard work. Winning the election means nothing if you do not push the boss to sign a contract that benefits you and your coworkers.
When you work as an organizer, the job is made worthwhile when you meet people of immense fortitude and courage who go through this process and come out with a strong and productive union. This is a true example of grassroots change - bringing about progressive movement towards a better functioning workplace - be it a factory, hospital, restaurant, office or any other time of business.
Have questions or disagreements? Good, thats how we get this ball rolling!