Create a Union at Work

A union is a group of workers who organize to gain a voice in their workplace and, through their strength, impact wages, work hours, employee benefits, workplace health and safety and other work-related concerns.[1] In the United States, the right to form a union and other workers’ rights (such as the right to strike) are protected by the National Labor Relations Act 1935.[2] However, if you work in what is known as a “right to work state,” you are protected by right to work legislation and, therefore, cannot be forced to join or support a labor union.[3]


Getting Started

  1. Know your rights regarding formation of unions. In the U.S., federal and state law protects such rights as the right to form a union, to express views on unions, and to talk to coworkers about an interest in forming a union.[4] You may be excluded from coverage of the law if you are a supervisor or other employee expressly excluded from coverage in the law.[5]
  2. Seek help of umbrella organizations, such as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The AFL-CIO is an umbrella organization that brings together unions across the United States. It is a federation of unions that can help your union during formation and thereafter. The AFL-CIO has "local and state councils where unions come together to work toward common goals."[4]
  3. Consider joining Working America. If forming a union is not an option for you, consider the alternative option of becoming a part of a union movement by joining Working America.[6] Working America is the AFL-CIO's affiliate organization for those individuals who do not have a union at work but would still like to be involved in a union movement.[4]

Holding Preliminary Discussions With Your Coworkers

  1. Begin by discussing your idea with your coworkers. In order to begin organizing a union, you should begin by talking to your colleagues at work to determine if they might be interested in forming a union.[7]
  2. Introduce your idea discreetly. When introducing the idea of forming a union to your coworkers, do so discreetly and preferably in the absence of a supervisor or other member of management.[7] This is important because although you have a right to form a union, many employers do not look favorably upon the idea of their employees forming a union and may, therefore, try to thwart your attempt to form one.
  3. Hold a private meeting. If, after quietly talking to your coworkers, you find that enough of them are interested, hold a private meeting with your coworkers. At this meeting, discuss the particular workplace issues that you feel need addressing.[7] Keep a record of the issues discussed at this meeting for future reference.

Building an Organizing Committee

  1. Establish an organizing committee. Once you have finished preliminary discussions with your colleagues, begin building an organizing committee. This process involves identifying leaders who will represent all major departments and all shifts at your workplace and leaders who will, ideally, reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity at your place of work.[7]
  2. Train committee members. Members of the organization committee will require training on educating themselves about the union and educating other coworkers about both the union and the anti-union campaign from the management that will likely follow. Organizing committee members will also require education on workers’ rights in your particular jurisdiction.[7]
  3. Gather important information about the workplace. You will also need, at this stage, to gather important information about your workplace for future reference. This information includes:
    • workplace structure: departments, areas of work, shifts, jobs.[7]
    • employee information: name, address, phone, shift, job title, and department for each worker.[7]
    • employer information: other locations, parent company, product(s), customers, union history.[7]

Holding an Election

  1. Adopt an issues program in preparation for an election. Leading up to an election, you will need to begin to adopt an issues program, which is a program of union demands. The union demands are those improvements that you are trying to achieve at your workplace. The issues program can be brought to your coworkers attention through various campaign activities.[7]
  2. Hold a card campaign. Ask your coworkers to sign union membership cards. Your goal is to get a sizeable majority of your coworkers to sign a membership card. These cards are necessary in order to hold a union election.[7]
  3. Hold an election. The signed union membership cards are then used to petition the labor board to hold a union election.[7] Although an election is not necessary if the employer is willing to recognize the union based on the results of the card campaign ("a card check"), you will need to participate in an election if your employer declines to recognize the union in this manner. To do so, you will send a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold an election.[8]
    • The NLRB will take several weeks to schedule the election and determine voter eligibility. During this time, you can continue the union campaign[7]
    • Once the election is held and the union wins, your employer must recognize and then bargain with the union.[7]
  4. Negotiate a contract. Once your union is formed and the goal you set out to achieve has been achieved, your next goal should be to negotiate a union contract with your employer. This union contract will be the document that the employer and the union signs. This document will cover wages, dispute resolution, and other employment related matters. To negotiate a contract requires the union to mobilize in support of the union’s demands and requires pressuring your employer to meet those demands.[7]

Consulting the Relevant Laws

  1. Know the laws regarding right to work states. A right to work law protects the rights of employees not to be coerced into joining a union or providing the union financial support. Be aware of these laws during your union campaign and beyond, especially if you live in a right to work state, as you do not want to be in violation of the law.[3]
  2. Know the laws regarding the right to strike. Relevant to the concept of forming a union is a right to strike. Remember, however, that although as an employee you have a right to strike, not all strikes are legal. Some strikes, such as those in protest of an unfair labor practice by the employer, are legal and are protected by the National Labor Relations Act.[9] However, some collective bargaining agreements that unions enter into with employers contain a "no-strike" clause. With a few exceptions, violating a no-strike clause is illegal.[9]
  3. Know the employer's rights during a strike. Although the National Labor Relations Act protects the right to strike, your employer is allowed by law to hire replacement workers during the strike. Once the strike is over, your right to reinstatement depends on the reason for the strike.[9]
    • If the strike was in protest of an unfair labor practice, then you cannot be permanently replaced or fired. After the strike is over, you have a right to be reinstated even if it means that the replacement employees have to be let go.[9]
    • If your strike was for economic reasons, you will have fewer reinstatement rights. You cannot be fired in that scenario but you can be replaced. If the employer has hired permanent replacements while you were on strike, you will not be entitled to immediate reinstatement but will have a right to be reinstated as when when a job opening arises.[9]

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Sources and Citations