OK, so where were we?
Oh, yes, you all decided you wanted to create a bargaining unit of machine tenders/mechanics/welders at a paper mill in order to negotiate working conditions, wages and benefits with your employer.
The next steps: What does the unit need to do to bargain a single contract on behalf of all unit members with the employer? Basically, 2 things:
- File the necessary legal paperwork with the appropriate agency
- Be officially recognized in order to bargain with employer
First, though, there is the question of whether or not the unit members want to be affiliated with a larger organization.
For example, at one time there was the United International Paperworkers Union and the United Steelworkers of America (which have now merged with other unions to form the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union which are part of the much larger and better known AFL-CIO); the International Union of Operating Engineers and other umbrella unions that assist and advise local units. Any one of these would be happy to have a new local unit and may have tried to organize this mill in the past.
Assuming the unit members choose to work with a larger union – let’s say one of the AFL-CIO affiliates – that union’s representative (business agent) will help with the paperwork and employer.
Now, back to Step 1: The necessary documents identifying the unit and the union will likely be filed with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that “safeguard[s] employees’ rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative…”
And/or Step 2: At the same time, though, there is the matter of whether or not the employer will voluntarily “recognize” the union as the collective spokesperson for the unit members. In some cases, the employer will simply agree and the election step below does not take place.
But more commonly, an election is held to ask the unit members if they want a union and, if so, which one. The NLRB will carry out the election according to the law and rules that have been in place for many years.
If the employees vote for the union, then the employer is obligated by law to bargain with the union whether it wants to or not. The union becomes the bargaining agent on behalf of all members of the unit.
Once in place, a union can only be removed by a decertification vote of the affected bargaining unit members. This is uncommon, so most unions have been representing their members (both unit and dues-paying) for many, many years.
Next Time: Public Employees in Maine