How to Unite Your Workplace

Back in the 1950s, nearly a third of the American workforce was unionized. This number has declined sharply in recent decades due to a variety of factors , but a shift in legislation and policy that emphasizes free markets, as well as a multitude of anti-labor laws, were the main motives behind the gradual decline in workplace organization since the early 1980s. In 1983, 20% of the US workforce was unionized; today, according to The Washington Post, it is close to 10%.

But after decades of retreat, the US labor movement is showing signs of life. Members of the Google engineering group announced on Monday they are forming their own union . Google employees will now go on a long journey to gain official recognition from Alphabet, Google’s parent company, but their organization is a feat in itself and marks something of a milestone after years of vigor within the company and across the tech industry. … Amazon warehouse workers have pushed unsuccessfully for years to form their own union, while Uber drivers have also petitioned to join the Independent Drivers’ Guild , but their efforts have been finally suppressed.

The movement has also penetrated deeply into the media; in recent years, many editors have been organized, including this one (Lifehacker and other G / O Media sites are members of the Writers Guild of America, East).

I mean, you too can organize a union and get it formed if you want. If employees of a monolith like Google can unionize in the face of their employer’s indescribable power and global influence, why can’t you? Here are some of the basics of organizing a union from the ground up so you can create a job that you and your colleagues deserve, not just one that serves your employer’s best interests.

Union benefits

If you voice support or interest in joining a union, you may meet a skeptic (or two) who will ask a simple question: why?

You can answer with an even simpler, if not profound, answer: unions are the reason we have days off and an eight-hour day. Beyond this brief but absolutely accurate history lesson, you can explain that unions have the ability to create the work conditions you and your colleagues want and deserve, whether it be raising wages, establishing fairer working hours, providing better health care, or standardizing benefits. such as motherhood. / parental leave, paid leave and more.

Lots of economic data also support a common premise. A 2003 study by the Institute for Economic Policy found that the very existence of trade unions stimulates wage growth for both union members and non-union workers:

Strong unions set pay standards that are followed by non-union employers. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized earns 5% more than peers in industries with fewer unions.

How to organize

This usually starts with a murmur in the workplace for fear that the nascent trade union movement will be discovered and suppressed before it even starts. Like any organic movement that starts small, it usually spreads by word of mouth or private email chains. If everyone in the group has access to a computer or smartphone, I would recommend creating a private Slack channel where everyone can participate more smoothly and immediately. To avoid the possibility that your employer may be in control of your unionization activities, and to make sure that you are not violating your terms of employment or jeopardizing your job, consider opting for an encrypted messaging service like Signal. Of course, no one should be involved in union activities using business email or equipment in the workplace .

Once you have a healthy number of colleagues joining you, you can start reaching out to larger labor organizations that can help guide your unit in the organizational unit formation process and get your employer to recognize it.

Form an organizing committee

Every union needs an organizing committee to effectively lead its work. These are the employees who hold personal meetings with the management of your company. They will also inform the rest of the negotiators about the challenges and challenges facing the union.

A handbook from the United Electrotechnical, Radio and Mechanical Engineering Organizations of America explains:

Leaders are identified and an organizing committee is formed to represent all major departments and all shifts and reflect the racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the workforce. The training of the organizing committee starts immediately. Committee members must be willing to work hard to introduce themselves and their colleagues to the union, and to alert and inform colleagues of an impending anti-union campaign from management.

Identify your key concerns and requirements

The two unions now have exactly the same set of requirements, although many of them are common to all. Your requirements are at the heart of the reason for the union and an important part of the organizational process. Prioritizing critical issues such as workplace diversity, paid maternity / paternity leave, etc., will likely require a vote from all employees in the unit. Put your priority list to a vote and let the majority determine your approach. Trade unions are democratic by necessity, as evidenced by the process itself.

Sign the cards and get recognized

In order to implement this process, all employees of the unit must sign union cards. Basically, they are voices of intent that signal to management that you have a large majority seeking a union contract.

Once everyone has signed the cards, they will be used to petition either the National Labor Relations Board or another government labor agency, which then certifies the cards in the next election. It sounds complicated because it is, but the UE explains it in simpler terms:

Signed cards are used (and required) to petition the state or federal labor council for an election. It will take the Labor Council at least a few weeks to determine who is eligible to vote and call elections. In anticipation, the union campaign must continue and intensify. If the union wins, the employer must recognize the union and make a deal with it.

You don’t always need to get approval from the NLRB or other state labor council. There are several ways to gain recognition, one of which is that your employer can recognize your unit right away, without government oversight. The NLRB expands on these topics here .

Haggle like there’s no tomorrow

Once you have a formal union represented by a larger parent organization, your negotiating committee can finally sit down at the negotiating table with management. Keep in mind that the entire process of securing recognition for your union can take months, if not years. The goal of this process is to finalize a contract that will govern your working conditions over a period of time. And this does not mean that your work is done: after this window passes and the contract expires, you will have to return to the negotiating table.

Union building is a long and arduous process, often accompanied by serious obstacles and obstacles that can disrupt the movement. But fortunately, you never have to go it alone: ​​the union members you choose together will be with you every step of the way: strength in numbers; solidarity.


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