Collective Bargaining 101, Part II: Forming a Union

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:

  1. File the necessary legal paperwork with the appropriate agency
  2. 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



Filed under Collective Bargaining

2 responses to “Collective Bargaining 101, Part II: Forming a Union

  1. Lets capture the drama: the election is scheduled, and the employer uses the delay to “educate” (i.e. frighten) the workers about joining the union. There a fairly predictable collection of tactics, and there is a whole industry of lawyers and consultants engaged in the business of deploying these tactics on behalf of workers. I saw it all in action when the AFT tried to organize staff at my wife’s college. This is why we need card check.

    I’ve also seen it the other way. We organized ESP at one of my schools in a perfectly civil and orderly way, with the cooperation of board and admin. It probably helps that the superintendent was once president of a 1000 teacher local.

    Another issue is that this description of industrial unionism does not fully capture the contradictions of teacher unionism. Our VT-NEA functions both as a union and a professional association, and sometimes the roles come into conflict. I’m passionate for my union (I view unionism as a fundamental public good), but because I care I’m also critical. I think that the preponderance of activity falls on the industrial or service unionism aspects of our association. I don’t think this is good for the long term health of our teacher unions.

    One aspect of this conflict is that NEA does not mobilize effectively for other unions. We can whip up a tornado of activity around our own contract crises, but often do little more than put out a press release in support of others, if that. Many teachers I have spoken with consider themselves “professionals”, not “workers”. In reality we are both. We fail to engage creatively with this discomfort.

    As a result, the private sector unions in this country have been virtually destroyed and public sector unions are firmly in the cross hairs. I think we need some new thinking. We should embrace professional unionism by achieving a better balance in our internal activities and embrace industrial/ service unionism more fully (we are already very good at this piece) by actively and aggressively supporting the aspirations of workers everywhere. This would have the dual effect of pushing problems away from teacher unions while building public trust and support for our legitimate aspirations.

  2. Oops- I meant to say “on behalf of employers.” Shouldn’t write this early in the morning…..

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