Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Is It Time To Start a Union At Your Workplace?

While you're enjoying your long weekend, thanks to the labor movement, enjoying a weekend at all thanks to unions, getting paid a living wage thanks to unions, and getting ready to go back to your safe workplace thanks to the labor movement, it's time to think about this: should you start a union at your workplace?

Many of my readers have tried to change things by complaining to management, to no avail.

If management isn't listening, if working conditions are terrible, if your coworkers and you are fed up, then start thinking about forming a union at work. It isn't that hard. You might even be able to form a micro-union to represent a single department rather than the entire workplace like 41 Macy's cosmetics workers did. Don't assume you're too small to have a union.

Here's how to get started:

1. Find some coworkers you trust (and be careful who you trust) and speak to them about whether they would be interested in finding out more about starting a union. You are legally protected when you talk to coworkers about working conditions (unless you're a supervisor or someone else not covered by the National Labor Relations Act). Talk to them about what changes you would like to see made and why you think you might need help from a union. You might also join an organization like Working America to familiarize yourself with the issues affecting workers and be part of a group even before you unionize.

2. Contact a union organizer. It may seem early to do this, but I spoke to a friend at AFL-CIO and he said that just contacting them is legally protected, and they keep records of your contacting them. This contact could be evidence if your employer fires you or retaliates for your protected organizing activities. Here's where to contact an AFL-CIO union organizer to find out more about the process. The organizer may tell you to do more work before they get involved, but they can give you some guidance from the beginning.

3. Figure out which union is right for you. Different unions represent different types of employees, and which union might represent you is not necessarily intuitive. There are unions for electrical workers, engineers, communications workers, actors, writers, office workers, pretty much any job you have, there's a union for you.

4. Form an organizing committee. Your coworkers from step one will likely form the core of an organizing committee. Your union organizer can help guide you with this. You will want to develop a plan of action and how to convince a majority of coworkers to join. You'll have to do some research on wages, benefits, and other workplace issues.

5. Get a majority to sign on. The union organizer will help you prepare cards to present to coworkers who want to join. If you can sign a majority, then you will get to have an election.

6. Be prepared for employer attacks. There is a whole army of lawyers and anti-union folks who will help employers fight unions. Your union organizer can help you get ready to deal with attacks and make sure you are legally protected.

7. Win the election. You'll have to convince your coworkers that a union is the right thing for them. Again, your organizer can help you with figuring out the best way to do this.

8. Negotiate a contract. Once you're unionized, you will negotiate a contract with your employer and they can't change terms and conditions of employment without negotiating first.

There are things you can do to improve your working conditions even before you think about unionizing, but sometimes a union is the only way to get an employer to take its workers seriously.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.