Unions are a vital part of building working class power and improving the lives of workers. Democratic Socialists of Salt Lake wholeheartedly supports unions and workers in their fight to unionize their workplace. This page is meant to be a helpful guide to answer common questions about unions and unionization. This is for educational purposes and is not legal advice.
If you have questions about organizing your workplace or are looking for support, please reach out via email or social media.
What is a union?
“A labor union or trade union is an organized group of workers who unite to make decisions about conditions affecting their work. Labor unions strive to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our nation.” (1)
Why should you join a union?
Unfortunately, in the typical workplace workers do not have a say in the most important aspect of their job (pay, working conditions, hours, healthcare, retirement, grievance process etc.) A union is able to collectively bargain with the employer in order to negotiate a contract which will address the concerns of union members. A union empowers workers.
Benefits of being in a Union:
- Overall, union members earn 26% more per week than non-union full time workers do.
- Union members have greater access to employer-provided health insurance.
- They get more paid sick days, vacations and holidays.
- They have a better shot at a pension.
- Black workers are more likely to be low-and middle wage workers, who get a bigger pay boost for being in a union than do higher-wage workers.
- Women union members get paid 30% more a week than non-union women.
- Latino union members earn 43% more than non-union Latino workers.
- Without a union, job insecurity is the reality.
- Union representatives serve as workers’ advocates in disputes with management.
- Union members have more control over their time spent on, and off, the job.
- Unions protect low-wage workers.
- Union workplaces are safer. (2)
What are your rights to organize?
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) states
“You have the right to form, join, or assist a union. You have the right to organize a union to negotiate with your employer over your terms and conditions of employment. This includes your right to distribute union literature, wear union buttons t-shirts, or other insignia (except in unusual ‘special circumstances’), solicit coworkers to sign union authorization cards, and discuss the union with coworkers. Supervisors and managers cannot spy on you (or make it appear that they are doing so), coercively question you, threaten you or bribe you regarding your union activity or the union activities of your co-workers. You can’t be fired, disciplined, demoted, or penalized in any way for engaging in these activities.” (3)
What can you expect from your employer if you try to unionize?
Although the NLRB explicitly states that “You can’t be fired, disciplined, demoted, or penalized in any way for engaging in [unionization] activities” (3), employers can and do punish employees who are trying to unionize. It is important to understand the risks involved, but also the life changing benefits of having a union. It’s a way to take back your power as a worker and decision making in your workplace. Strategy is key in getting your union and your contract (see Strategy section).
Unionization for private employees vs government employees
Union elections for private companies are handled by the NLRB and union elections for government employees are handled by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).
What is the process?
Before addressing the formal process of unionization, the first informal step is:
do NOT talk to your boss about unionizing.
Start by talking with a few co-workers who you trust. The typical unionization process:
1. Find a union with a local general that’s a good fit for you. Reach out to them and sign their authorization cards.
- Authorization cards simply state that the workers have designated said union as the collective bargaining agent. The most important information on authorization cards is the full name of the employee and their signature.
- Authorization cards are held by the union and sent to the NLRB. The employer usually does not see them, but if the employer wants to challenge the signature cards they can contact the NLRB to view them.
2. There are two routes to have the union recognized in your workplace:
- If more than 50% of employees sign the union’s authorization cards, then the employees can ask the employer to recognize the union. If the employer does not recognize the union, then the NLRB will hold an election.
- The NLRB election process. This is more common since the process is more complicated, challenging, and drawn out, compared to the employer recognizing the union on their own. To trigger an NLRB election process, only 30% of employees need to have signed authorization cards.
3. If the NLRB route is taken, the NLRB comes to your workplace, holds the election, and counts the ballots. If more than 50% of your co-workers vote yes for union, then you’ve got a union!
4. After voting yes to unionize you’ll negotiate your first union contract, a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This is also a difficult process where the employer will typically fight the union and engage in union busting tactics. Again, this is where strategy is critical in order to get your contract.
For more detailed information on the election process go to https://www.nlrb.gov/about-nlrb/what-we-do/conduct-elections.
What about union dues?
Members’ dues are the primary source of union revenue. Amounts vary depending on the union. Collective bargaining and worker representation in disputes with management – including salaries for officials, organizers, lawyers, health and safety experts, etc. – account for the lion’s share of union expenditures. In the 27 “Right to Work” states, private-sector employees may opt out of paying union dues, but unions remain obliged to represent them. Declining membership has of course meant that unions have less money to spend on protecting current members and organizing new ones. (4)
What is right-to-work?
“In the public-sector union context, right-to-work laws mean that union members do not have to pay union dues to be members of the union…In states that have enacted right-to-work laws that apply to private employers, although they vary based on state law, most Right-to-Work laws prohibit labor unions and employers from entering into contracts that only employ unionized workers for the jobs in the contract. This allows employees to receive the benefits of the union contract without having to pay their share of dues and fees to the union. Essentially, these states allow workers to join a union if they wish, but employers cannot force or compel employees to join a union as a term or condition of employment.” (5)
What is the strategy to unionize your workplace?
Although there is no strategy that is guaranteed to work 100 percent of the time, there are certain skills and techniques that organizers have found to be more likely to bring success:
- High participation
- Measuring success/asking the right questions:
- How do I know I’m going to win?
- How do I know that people are moving?
- How do I know our political education is good enough and that members are understanding how to win?
- Find the organic leaders (identified by the workers) who employees trust and will follow.
- Focus on building majority support – it is easier to find 30% who support unionizing, but to get majority support you must put in the hard work of organizing.
- Complete structure tests in order to gauge the support you have for a union. (6)
Unions in Utah
A list of AFL-CIO affiliated unions can be found here.
1 What is a union? (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://www.unionplus.org/page/what-union
2 [Brochure]. (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2021, from https://labor.dsausa.org/files/sites/8/2019/02/DSA-Why-Unions-Matter.pdf
3 Your Rights during Union Organizing. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://www.nlrb.gov/about-nlrb/rights-we-protect/the-law/employees/your-rights-during-union-organizing
4 Snapshot: Unions in the U.S. Today [Brochure]. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://labor.dsausa.org/files/sites/8/2019/02/DSA-Snapshot-Unions-in-the-US-Today.pdf
5 Right to Work Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://www.workplacefairness.org/unions-right-to-work-laws
6 McAlevey, J. (2018). No shortcuts organizing for power in the new gilded age. New York: Oxford University Press.