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Trade Unions and Labor
Quick Primer on Trade Unions
1) Choose a union.
2) Determine "bargaining unit."
3) Get at least 30% of people in the bargaining unit to sign union cards.
4) Submit the cards to the National Labor Relations Board.
5) The NLRB will set a hearing to finalize the bargaining unit and set an election date.
6) The election will be held and a simple majority wins.
The first step involved is, obviously, your decision to organize. You should also havesome confidence that at least half of the workers at your workplace would be inclined tojoin a union. If possible, try to form a small committee of employees dedicated to theidea, but keep things quiet. (The longer it takes management to find out about theunionization attempt, the better.) Next, you must decide what union you wish to approach,if any. (You do not need to affiliate with any union; it is possible to form your own,independent union if you so wish, and labor law will protect your independent union justas any large, international union.) Talk to as many unions as you can, find out what theyhave to offer, how they organize, resources, etc. Don't be afraid to approach any union,regardless of their name: bookstores have been organized by the Longshoremen, officeworkers by the United Auto Workers. A good place to get phone numbers for unions is under"labor organizations" in the yellow pages.
Once you have chosen a union, you need to determine what you want the "bargainingunit" to be. That is, who at your workplace will be able to be in the union and whowill not. You should include workers that have common duties, interests and similar pay.Managers and security guards cannot be included. Once you have decided what you would likethe bargaining unit to be, (the "official" bargaining unit will be determined ata National Labor Relations Board hearing.) you will most likely begin having people signunion cards. These "cards" may be actual cards, or simply a petition. The cardsor petition will indicate that the person signing the card would like a union to representhim or her in contract talks regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions, and arecompletely confidential (the employer never sees them). It is important to get a person'ssignature and the date on these cards, or they will not be considered valid.
Once 30% of the people in the bargaining unit sign the cards, you are entitled tosubmit them to the National Labor Relations Board, which views 30% as a sufficient numberto warrant an election, that, if won, will certify the union in your workplace.Unofficially, you should get as many signatures as you possibly can. To win the election,you need a majority to vote "yes" and it is not unusual for some individuals whosigned cards to end up voting "no." A good rule-of-thumb is that if you can'tget at least 60% of the people in the bargaining unit to sign cards, you won't win theelection.
Once you are ready to submit the cards to the NLRB (which entails handing the cards toan official and filling out a form), you should mail a certified letter to managementindicating that you wish the union to be recognized. This is just a formality, asmanagement will almost always refuse to recognize a union without an election. Once youhave submitted the cards, the NLRB will contact the employer to schedule a hearing todetermine the actual bargaining unit, and to schedule the election. At the hearing, thecompany will most likely try to pack the bargaining unit with workers that are likely tovote no, and try to challenge workers that are likely to vote yes. The union's lawyer willmost likely handle things at this stage, so don't worry too much.
Once the bargaining unit is made final, the NLRB will schedule the date of theelection. The election is secret ballot, overseen by an NLRB agent, with the ballot askingthe question, "Do you want the "whatever union" to represent you incontract talks with "whatever employer?"" or something similar. A"yes" vote is for the union, a "no" against. A simple majority wins.
If you win: congratulations! The company must enter into contract talks with the unionregarding wages, benefits, and working conditions.
If you lose: you must wait at least one year before trying again.
There are other options, of course: one need not rely on the NLRB process to winrecognition to bargain for a contract. Employees can also try to force an employer torecognize them as a union through work actions such as strikes. This can be done even ifan election was lost, although if you didn't have the strength to win the election, youmay not have the strength to force recognition. (You can redefine your bargainingunit to increase your chances. For example, if your unit included factory workers andoffice staff, and the office staff voted against you in sufficient numbers to cause you tolose the election, you might try to get just the factory workers, where there is moresolidarity, recognized.)
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