What to Expect When Forming a Union at Work
When workers decide to form a union, they are taking a powerful first step towards improved working conditions, protections, wages, and benefits.
If you’re looking to start the process, start talking to your co-workers about the benefits of unionization. Molly Katchpole, an organizer with Writers Guild of America, recently told Refinery 29, “One big benefit [to unionizing] is that you get to know people that you didn’t know before, and it breaks down silos that the company has in place, to its benefit.” Building relationships with your co-workers is essential to union organizing.
You can start by talking to your co-workers about workplace issues you share. These may include:
- A lack of respect from management
- Low wages and substandard benefits
- High staff turnover
- Unsafe working conditions
- Unwieldy caseload sizes
- Inefficient internal processes that cause undue stress
After speaking with your co-workers and understanding your shared issues, reach out to a union, and a staff organizer will contact you to discuss the next steps. Union organizers understand the process and can help you speak with your co-workers about what to do next. They are knowledgeable about the collective bargaining process.
When management finds out employees are trying to form a union, you can expect pushback. Sticking together with your co-workers will show the boss the strength of your workforce. The union organizer is also there to offer support and guidance when you face pushback from management.
The following are illegal behaviors for employers to engage in:
- Firing an employee for wanting to join a union or supporting a union
- Asking a worker if they support the union
- Providing employees who do not support the union with raises
- Bribing or coercing an employee not to support collective bargaining
Companies spend millions of dollars a year on union-busting firms that teach managers how to use fear-based tactics to get employees to drop union campaigns. Marty Jay Levitt’s 1993 book, Confession of Union Buster, among others, details the lengths companies go to stop workers from organizing. And in the intervening period, managerial union-busting tactics have only gotten more sophisticated since.
A recent Vice article, Guide to Secure Labor Organizing, includes some sage advice about communicating with your co-workers about union organizing efforts, including not holding meetings or discussing unionizing efforts on company property or work time. In-person meetings or meetings via video conference are encouraged. And you should be mindful of email communication, especially social media posts, which can be shared and wind up in the hands of management.
While you may use email to keep your co-workers up-to-date, make sure you do not use company email accounts. In 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled employees can’t use company email or technology to communicate about non-work-related subjects. Ask your co-workers for their personal email addresses and phone numbers so that you can keep them up-to-date with your union organizing efforts.
Once 30% of your co-workers sign a petition stating they want to form a union, you can file an NLRB or PLRB petition. The NLRB or PLRB will schedule a vote by secret ballot. After a majority of the workers vote to join the union, you can start negotiating your first contract.
Forming a union at your workplace can seem like a daunting task, but it is not one you will take on alone. Your co-workers and union organizer will be there with you. Once you have a voice at your workplace, it will be well worth it.
SEIU Local 668 represents counselors, direct care staff, social workers in the private and public sector in Pennsylvania. If you are in this industry and want to speak with an organizer, please complete this form. All of your information is kept confidential. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 717-635-6729.