Choosing a Union: Which Organization Should Represent Your Workplace?
CEO & Founder
Deciding which national or international union should represent your workplace is one of the most important, and difficult, decisions of the unionization process.
Just because a union is specific to your industry doesn’t mean it’s automatically a good fit for you and your coworkers. Maybe you have different values. Maybe your priorities don’t align. Or maybe you have different visions for the future. These are things every group of organizing workers needs to ascertain before partnering with a union.
Workplaces that have begun to organize should learn as much as possible about any union they are considering and evaluate the union’s ability to meet their needs and expectations.
Educate Yourselves About All Aspects of the Union
Every union is different, and it’s up to you and your pro-union coworkers to research the organizations you may want to join. As you conduct this research, be sure to spend some time looking at each of these elements of a union:
- Union structure and governance. This tells you how the union operates, who the leaders are, and what the hierarchy is within the organization. Reading a union’s constitution reveals how much autonomy locals have and what the expectations are for each local.
- Union values. Read the mission and values statements to see how well they align with the values and goals of your coworkers.
- Union history. The history gives you insights into the union’s contributions to the labor movement and its accomplishments on behalf of its members.
- Union news. How active is the union? What are some of its current campaigns? Is it having any successes? By perusing union news, you can get a good sense of the union’s current priorities.
- Union member benefits. Member benefits are one of the most important aspects of joining a union, and what a union offers its members tells you a lot about its values.
- Collective bargaining agreements. Some unions occasionally publish collective bargaining agreements they have secured on behalf of their members. Studying these contracts can give you a good idea of what to expect from the contract negotiation process.
Does the Union Fit Your Needs?
Fit is more than just industry alignment. In order to build a good working relationship, your local and your union need to work together and trust each other. As Laborers’ International Union of North America (Laborers) Local 660 notes, “Unions give workers a voice on the job.” But it’s up to you as a unit to make sure that voice echoes what you want to say.
Once you have a good understanding of the union and what it has to offer, it’s time to assess how well this aligns with you own and your coworkers’ needs and expectations. Start by comparing a union’s values and goals to those of your group. If you don’t share similar core beliefs and aims for the future, you will struggle to build a productive relationship.
Also, consider the union’s campaigns. Those give a lot of insight into what issues the union prioritizes and may have an impact on how it approaches bargaining. Do you and your coworkers have the same priorities? Do you fall on the same side of the issues as the union does? If you and the union don’t see eye-to-eye on key issues, that friction may strain the relationship.
Finding that perfect union partner means having honest conversations among yourselves about which organization is a good fit for you. When you choose the right union, you will have someone in your corner when you need them, which, as the team at The War on Want explains, is one of the top reasons unions are so important to workers.
Two Tips to Help Organizers With Their Research
When you’re ready to begin assessing a particular union, these are the two areas you should focus your energies:
Tip No. 1: Check the Union’s Website and Social Media Pages
Most unions have websites and a social media presence.
The website is a great resource for assessing the foundation and operations of the union. Unions typically outline their histories, values, mission, goals, leaders, campaigns, as well as current news and events on their website. Some, like the Communications Workers of America (CWA), even publish resources to help workers organize their workplaces.
Social media posts give you insights into how active the organization is and the campaigns it is promoting. For example, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ (Teamsters) Facebook page contains information about how — at the time of writing — union leaders are visiting union job sites across Nevada, California, and Oregon to discuss workplace issues directly with members.
A quick visit to the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Twitter feed shows you how that union is fighting to raise the minimum wage, improve workplace safety, and ensure workers are able to exercise their rights to organize.
Tip No. 2: Talk to Current Union Members
Union members can share their experiences and give you insights into how well the union serves its members. By asking questions, you will be able to gauge members’ satisfaction with the union’s efforts to represent their interests — and maybe even get some details about collective bargaining agreements union negotiators have secured for members.
The hard part may be finding people who belong to a specific union. Check the national union’s website to see whether there are locals in your area. If so, call or visit the local to speak directly with members.
You can also talk to union supporters in your workplace to see whether they know anyone who belongs to the union at another shop. Or consult resources like UnionBase and the Center for Union Facts to help you find locals and local members.
Choosing the wrong union partner can set the unionization process back significantly. It can also completely derail the effort. That’s why it is so important to choose the right union to represent your workplace the first time. Doing so requires organizing workers to invest their time and energy into researching and evaluating potential unions for fit before initiating contact with union representatives.
A tool like UnionTrack® ENGAGE® can help workers coordinate these efforts and communicate results with each other to keep the process moving forward.
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