Organizing? Here’s How To Find the Right Union To Partner With
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One of the most important, and possibly difficult, decisions you will need to make when organizing your workplace is which union to join.
You do have the option of forming your own independent union with members strictly from your workplace. However, as the Utility Workers Union of America,” AFL-CIO (UWUA) notes, “Large nationally and internationally minded business enterprises and complex governmental structures make decisions in a functional world far from that in which their employees live.” A small, independent union of inexperienced organizers may not have the insights and resources to operate within that environment.
That’s why joining an established union makes sense for most workers seeking to organize their workplaces. Veteran union representatives possess invaluable insights and experiences that can help you on your journey to unionization. Established unions also have greater resources from which to pull. They can support you as you form your union, and as you negotiate contracts and navigate workplace issues.
“There’s something very powerful about having a union come in to negotiate on your behalf for better working conditions,” says Edgar Ndjatou, a workers’ rights advocate and former executive director at Workplace Fairness. The combined industry expertise and bargaining power of established unions are the best weapons workers have in navigating the complexities of the corporate sphere.
But choosing the right union may not be easy. You will need to carefully research unions to find the one that best suits the needs of workers at your workplace. Here are some ideas to help you learn more about particular unions so you can make an informed decision about which one to join.
Use Digital Resources to Find the Right Union
The most obvious starting point for searching out the right union for your group is the internet. Browsing websites and social media pages for individual unions will provide you with all of the information you should need about who a union represents and how the organization functions.
These resources can give you a good feel for the organization and enable you to envision how the union can help you and your coworkers.
Also, you will want to choose a union that is active within your locale. Searching online will give you an indication of how active the union is with its members, in the political arena and in the local community.
The problem is knowing which unions to search out. It can be intimidating because there are so many to choose from and some unions represent professions that are not reflected in their names, such as the United Steelworkers Union representing education professionals or the United Food and Commercial Workers union representing healthcare workers.
Fortunately, there are a couple of great resources available to help you research unions:
- UnionBase. With this tool, anyone can search a database of over 30,000 labor organizations by union name, city or state to find those in a local area. “We are a meeting place for workers to learn about unions and connect with union leadership,” explains Larry Williams, Jr., founder of UnionBase and cofounder of the Progressive Workers Union.
- Department of Labor. This is another tool that allows you to search by city and state to identify labor unions in your area. You can filter the search by independent or active unions, among other criteria.
- AFL-CIO affiliated unions. Not all unions are affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but this list is a good place to start to learn more about some of the biggest and most established unions in the country.
- The Center for Union Facts (CUF). CUF is a database of union profiles on UnionFacts.com that allows you to search national and local unions to learn specifics about them, such as leaders, financials and a list of locals.
- Unions Government Military. This resource enables you to search out unions in your state. It’s a comprehensive list that you can use as a reference for finding contacts in your local area.
Any or all of these resources can help you at least narrow down the options of unions that would be a good fit for your workplace.
Connect with Unionized Workers in the Same Area and Industry
Talking with other union members in the local community or in the same industry is another way to learn more about which unions are active locally and which ones are suited to your industry. These people will also be able to offer useful insights into what it means to be a union member, what the union does for them, and how to encourage others to join your unionization effort.
That’s one of the strategies the Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama used throughout their unionization efforts. The organizers at the Bessemer warehouse reached out to workers at the local Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant who had successfully organized with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in 2012 for insights and assistance, writes Dee Knight, an organizer for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in New York.
Like finding the right union, these people may be difficult to identify. Start by asking around if anyone knows anybody who belongs to a union. Stop by the local union halls in your area to see if anyone is available to speak to. Also, refer to some of the resources listed above to get contact information for local union leaders.
Consult Local Labor Councils and NLRB Regional Offices
Another way to seek out unions is to consult local labor councils and regional offices of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The AFL-CIO has a database of state federations and local labor councils of the AFL-CIO that are searchable by state. Each state’s web page directs visitors to the websites of local affiliate unions and other labor-friendly organizations in the state. There is also contact information for the staff of the state federation and leaders.
The NLRB, which governs labor, has a database of its regional offices that can be searched on its website. While the contacts at these offices won’t be able to provide you with union-specific information, they may be able to direct you to locals in your area if you are struggling to find them.
If after exhausting all of these resources you still can’t find a union that you think is a good fit, you can fill out this form on the AFL-CIO’s website and they will have an appropriate union organizer from one of their affiliated unions contact you.
Contact a Union Organizer Once You are Ready to Commit
Once your group has chosen the right union to represent you in your workplace, it’s time to connect with a representative or organizer at that union to start the process. There are a number of different ways you can do this.
- Call or stop by the local union office. Bear in mind that not all locals are staffed during the day, so you may have to reach out to the regional or national offices to get information on contacting local organizers.
- Email the representative. Some locals, such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, will publish the email address for local organizers on their websites.
- Fill out a contact form. Some unions, such as the Communication Workers of America (CWA), will give you a form to fill out online to request that an organizer contact you.
- Direct message on social media. You may also be able to contact the union through direct messages on social media platforms, like the United Autoworkers Local 838.
When you do get in touch with an organizer, be prepared to give them as much information as possible about your unionization effort. Be ready with details including the type of business, the number of employees, compensation details, unresolved issues between management and employees, and the number of employees supporting the unionization effort. This helps union organizers create a plan of action.
From there, organizers can use a tool like UnionTrack ENGAGE to communicate with employees and guide them through the rest of the unionization process.
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