How to Organize a Union

If you are interested in forming a union at your workplace, there are some basic steps that it will help to know. Every organizing campaign is different, but in all cases it helps to know these steps, and the legal rights that protect you during an organizing drive.

Talk to your co-workers
Once you have decided that you would like union representation, the first step is to talk to your co-workers and gauge their interest in forming a union. If they have specific complaints, educate them on how a union can make a difference. There is no need to approach your employer about your decision to pursue representation. The more support you can gather before your employer is aware, the better. This gives them less time to prepare their anti-union campaign.

Build an organizing committee
Once you have gained the support of a few key co-workers, this is the best time to contact a union organizer or the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. A union organizer speaks to workers about their concerns on the job, explains the benefits of union representation, and collects signatures authorizing union representation. A union organizer will also help you build an organizing committee with representatives from all shifts and departments, which represents the diversity of the entire workforce. The Organizing Committee will be trained by the union on how to implement the organizing plan. Committee members must be prepared to work hard to educate themselves and their co-workers about the union and to warn and educate co-workers about management's impending anti-union campaign. The organizing committee must be educated about a workers right to organize and must understand the union's policies and principles.

In order for the organizing committee to communicate with all members, the following information must be gathered as completely as possible:

  • Workplace structure: departments, work areas, jobs, shifts
  • Employee information: name, address, phone, shift, job title, and department for each worker
  • Employer information: other locations, parent company, product(s), customers, union history

This may seem like a lot of work, but keep in mind that a union organizer will be able to help gather this information.

Identify the improvements you are organizing to achieve
The Organizing Committee should identify concrete changes that need to be made at work. These are the issues that will be used to gain support and get people involved, and that will be addressed in the first union contract. It is important that you address the concerns of your co-workers without making promises you can't keep. Be realistic about the improvements a union can make. Clearly stating the issues campaign should be enough to win the support of your co-workers.

Sign-Up a majority of workers on union authorization cards
When a worker supports the union, you may then ask them to sign a membership card. The card is confidential, and management will not see it. The goal is to collect union cards for well over half of the workers you are trying to organize. The signed cards will be used to petition the National Labor Relations Board for an election. It is important to get a sizable majority of workers to sign cards, because in the weeks or months before the election is actually held, many employers will launch an anti-union campaign.

Voluntary recognition
In some cases, an employer will respect the will of their employees and voluntarily recognize the union once a majority of cards have been signed. Written majority authorization is the easiest and fairest way to form a union. Massachusetts has a Writtten Majority Authorization law that allows public employees and a limited number of private sector workers to form a union once a majority of cards have been signed. Click here to watch a video of Congressman Stephen Lynch, Lt. Governor Tim Murray and Senator John Kerry do a certified card check for Verizon business technicians who are attempting to organize.

Win the union election
In most cases, an employer will force an election and use anti-union propaganda, and often fear and intimidation to convince workers not to the vote for the union. After a petition for an election is filed, it will usually take months before an election is held. During this time the organizing drive must intensify. It is helpful to know the common tactics used by employers in anti-union campaigns in order to let other workers know what to expect. Many employers will use both legal and illegal tactics to harass and intimidate workers. That is why it is important to know your rights, and know when your employer is breaking the law. You should always keep detailed notes of any violation of your rights and make sure that the Union organizer knows about the situation. When in doubt, write it down and tell the organizer.

Click here to learn your Rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Negotiate a contract
The organizing campaign does not let up after an election victory. The real goal of the campaign, a union contract (the document the Union and the employer negotiate and sign, covering everything from wages and benefits to how disputes will be handled), is still to be achieved. Workers must be mobilized to support the union's contract demands (decided by you and your co-workers) and pressure the employer to meet them.

After you have negotiated a first contract, the union will continue to be there for you, ensuring that the contract is enforced, handling grievances, keeping you informed of programs and activities, and most importantly-giving you a voice at work!