Finding a Union to Represent Your Workplace: 3 Questions to Ask
CEO & Founder
“Which union do we join?”
That’s a question workers often ask when they begin their unionization journey, and there’s no simple way to answer it. A number of factors influence which union is the right choice for you and your coworkers, including:
- The industry you are in.
- The alignment of values between your unit and a union.
- The ability of a union to help you achieve your bargaining goals.
In the end, choosing a union is a strategic decision. That’s why it’s so important for organizers to carefully and thoroughly research all options to find the union that best fits the needs of the workers.
Answering the following questions will give you a good start on that research.
Are There Unions in Our Industry or Sector?
It matters which union you join. There are thousands of labor unions in the U.S., and you don’t want to waste valuable time and energy trying to join those that aren’t a good fit for your workplace.
Fortunately, that list can be narrowed down fairly quickly. More likely than not, there is a national or international union that serves your sector. The challenge is finding it.
Unions are typically industry-specific, and their leaders are experts at organizing, bargaining, and lobbying in their industries. They have the experience and the resources to advocate for the best interests of workers within specific economic sectors. Examples include:
- The National Education Association (NEA), which represents public school employees.
- The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), which represents workers in the construction industry.
- The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents mass transit workers.
But not every union focuses on only one industry. There are those that serve workers from a diverse group of industries, such as:
- The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents workers in various industries including healthcare, the public sector, and property services.
- The Communications Workers of America (CWA), which represents workers in the telecommunication, healthcare, customer service, technology and video games industries.
- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents municipal workers, law enforcement employees, and correctional offices, among many others.
When workers start their unionization journey, they might not know which unions serve their sector, or even how to find that information. Here are some resources specifically designed to help you identify the right union for your workplace:
- Unionbase lets you search a database of more than 30,000 unions by keyword to find the names of unions.
- The U.S. Department of Labor site lets you browse the “Union Name by Abbreviation” tab to find the names of unions in their industries.
- This list of AFL-CIO affiliated unions is another great starting point. Not all unions are affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but most people should be able to find at least one union in their industry from this list.
These may not be exhaustive lists, but they are a good starting point for at least identifying one or more industry-specific unions. Reaching out to those unions may yield others in the industry that would be a good fit for your workplace.
Is the Union a Good Fit For Our Workplace?
Once you find a union or unions that represent workers in your industry, it’s time to evaluate them. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. It just requires time and energy to learn as much as you can about a particular union and ascertain how well it will represent your coworkers’ interests.
Start with the union’s website and social media channels. These will give you insight into how active the union is, its core mission and its values. You can also determine whether the union has a local in your area, which could be a key element in your decision-making process.
From there, reach out to current union members. They can provide insights and first-hand accounts of their experiences with the union. Their testimonials can help paint a picture of the organization and how well it serves its members.
As you start digging in, here are some questions you might try to answer:
- What are the core values of the union?
- How involved is the union in legislative advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels?
- How is the union structured?
- Are the members satisfied with the union’s efforts to represent their interests?
- Does the union have a good track record of securing favorable collective bargaining agreements for its members?
- Does the union have a presence in the local community? Or within the state?
- What are some campaigns it is currently involved with?
How Do We Connect With the Union?
Once you have a specific union in mind to contact (or a list of unions to narrow down further), it’s time to connect with union leaders and representatives to get all of your concerns addressed.
For the most part, the national unions will have contact information and contact forms on their websites and social media pages, as should most locals. Reach out to any level of the organization, and someone will be able to direct you to the right person to speak to.
Failing that, another option is to contact the AFL-CIO or the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional offices and ask them for a referral to an organizer within the specific union you want to connect with.
You will want to ask these folks questions about how the union operates and how it serves its members so you can get a better understanding of what it will really mean to be part of that union.
Also, be prepared to provide information to the union about what your expectations are for joining and where your unit is in the unionizing process. The union will want to know details like specifics about the workplace, how much employee support you have for the unionization effort, and what types of issues you are confronting in your workplace.
Having these initial conversations will help both you and the union representatives determine whether the union is the right one for you and your coworkers to join. If so, organizers will help you through the rest of the unionization process. A tool like UnionTrack® ENGAGE® can help facilitate communication between you, your coworkers, and the union as you continue along this journey.
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