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EUnion Organizing Basics













(Is Forming a Union Right For Me?)





A union is simply a group of workers who join together to have a greater say in their working conditions.  When employees join together and form a union or "organize", they increase their ability to bring permanent, positive change to their workplace.  Because once you organize a union, your employer is required by law to bargain with you and your co-workers over your conditions of employment.


It's ony as part of a united group that workers can gain the economic and legal leverage necessary to bargain with their employer.  One person telling management that wages and healthcare should be improved does not carry the same weight as a bargaining proposal that represents all of the workers demands.


Many workers form unions for the purpose of gaining:


  • Equality and respect on the job

  • Better wages and benefits

  • More flexibility for work and family needs

  • A counter-balance to the unchecked power of employers

  • A voicein improving the quality of their products, services and work life


When workers unite, they can win better wages, benefits, and a voice on the job through collective bargaining.  Good union jobs also mean stronger communities.  Unions continue to lead the fight today for better lives for working people, such as through expanded family and medical leave, improved safety and helth protections, and fair trade agreements that lift the standard of living for workers all over the world.


Unions have also made life better for all working Americans by helping to pass laws ending child labor, establishing the eight-hour work day, protecting worker's safety and health, and helping create Social Security, unemployment insurance and the minimum wage.  So even if you have never been a union member, you have already benefited from some of organized labor's effort.


A wider range of people than ever before, including many women and immigrants, are building unions today.  Doctors and nurses, poultry workers and graduate employees, home health care aides and wireless communications workers, cable television technicians and service reps, auto parts workers and engineers, are just a few of the professions that are seeking a voice in their workplace through union representation.


In today's uncertain economy, having a union and the right to bargain collectively with your employer is more important than ever before.





Interested in getting a real voice in your workplace?  If you are, then CWA, the Communications Workers of America, can help you and your co-workers build the majority support that you will need to organize your union.  Our union's purpose is to help workers like you organize together so you will have the power to negotiate good contracts, increase your standard of living, and have a real voice in decisions about your workplace and working conditions.


CWA represents about 700,000 men and women in telecommunications, cable television and information technology, media and publishing; health care, higher education, law enforcement and public service; in the airlines, and in manufacturing.


Getting union representation is the best way to gain the advances in working conditions that you and your co-workers desire.  Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor show that unionized workers enjoy higher wages, better benefits and pensions, and have greater job security than workers who don't have a union.  In almost every industry, union workers fare beter than non-union workers doing the same type of work.


Without union representation, you are an employee "at will".  This means that all of your wages, benefits and conditions of employment, including your employment itself, may be reduced, modified, or terminated by your employer at any time, and for any reason.  Your employer has no legal obligation to you at all.


With a union, Federal law requires your employer to bargain with you about your compensation and working conditions including: pay, benefits, job security, health and safety, paid time off, retirement, etc... And a union contract is a legally enforceable document that will hold your employer to their word.  Contract violations and unfair management decisions can be challenged through the grievance process, and if necessary, a neutral third party arbitrator.


Working under a contract will provide the stability, equality, and security in working conditions, pay and opportunities for advancement that you deserve.  You are invited to join 700,000 CWA members who have decided that being a union member is best for them, and for their loved ones who depend on them.HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR WORKPLACE


Expreience tells us that it's best when workers organize themselves.  This is essential if you want to create a viable worker-led and inspired organization where you work.  CWA organizers and staff will work with you throughout the campaign and provide guidance and resources.  But it's you, the employees, who must be willing to join together to create and build your union.


CWA's organizing model moves through four stages.  Each of these stages may last a different period of time depending on the campaign, but every campaign goes through each stage.  The four stages are:


  1. Contact

  2. Committee

  3. Campaign

  4. Certification / Contract


The first stge of organizing is Contact, where you will be gauging support by talking to your co-workers.  Once you and your CWA organizer have determined that there is sufficient support to continue, you will begin to build an Inside Organizing Committee from workers who are representative of the unit.


Building a strong, effective Inside Organizing Committee is the most critical step in winning representation, and improving your workplace.  Committee members help collect data, educate and evaluate co-workers, clarify the issues, and confront and challenge misinformation claims made by management or anti-union workers.  Committee members must be committed to the union, and willing to show their support publicly.


Once the committee has been trained and is solid, the campaign will "go public".  This will involve asking others to sign a petition or cards, having meetings, and initiating one-on-one discussions with your co-workers about the issues.  When there is strong majority support, a petition for union recognition will be filed with the National Labor Relations Board for private employers, or a request for recognition from public employers.


An election (if required) will be conducted by secret ballot, usually at the work site.  If more than half of those voting vote for CWA, your employer will be legally required to negotiate in good faith with CWA on your behalf.WHERE TO START


To get a union started, the first thing you will need to do is talk to some of your co-workers. Do they share some of the concerns that you have? Do they have additional issues? Are there common themes such as a lack of respect, favoritism, broken promises, safety concerns, or wages and benefits that are lower than industry standards?


Keep in mind that most employers do not want their employees to organize. They like things just the way they are. Without a union, management is judge and jury and workers can take it or leave it. If they catch on that you are talking union, they may start a vigorous anti-union campaign before you are prepared for it.


Consequently, at this initial stage of the process, it is best to be discreet until you know where your co-workers stand. When approaching fellow employees use open questions such as:


· “Does it frustrate you when…?”

· “Do you think that we’re underpaid?”

· “I can’t believe the workload I’ve got!”

· “If it ever came to a union vote, how would you vote?”

·  “Is it me, or does it seem like Joe gets treated better than everyone else?”


Once you have made contact with a number of your co-workers, your CWA organizer will help you to evaluate whether to move forward with a campaign. The information that you gather will determine if there is a clear majority of employees concerned about significant issues, the potential for majority support of the union, and the ability to build a strong committee of employees who are willing to take a leadership role in building your union.


Throughout your campaign, CWA will provide you with the support and guidance that you will need to build your own effective workplace organization. Through CWA, you and your co-workers will have the ability to improve your working conditions through bargaining and enforcing your contract. The following 5 pages contain one page reference sheets on: Frequently Asked Questions, The Law, The difference between “At Will” and “Represented” employees, and the Union Difference.  These should be reviewed, and shared with interested co-workers to help explain the value of unionization.





Can I be disciplined, discriminated against, or fired for being involved with a union? The National Labor Relations Act is a Federal law that protects private sector employee’s right to: attend meetings to discuss joining a union; wear union buttons, t-shirts, stickers, and hats; sign cards, petitions, and file grievances; read distribute and discuss union literature and ask other employees to support the union (when done in non-work areas on non-work times such as breaks). Your employer cannot legally punish or discriminate against any worker because of union activity.  (Public Sector and Railway/Airline workers are covered by other similar laws.)


Who decides what will be in the contract? Your CWA representative will meet with your work group to determine what specific bargaining priorities your group has. Someone from your unit will be present at all bargaining sessions. Once a contract has been tentatively agreed to, the entire membership will vote to accept or reject it.


What about strikes? 97% of all contracts are settled without a strike. Strikes are used only as a last resort, and only after a majority of your work group have voted to authorize one. In the unlikely event of a strike, the CWA Defense Fund is available to assist striking members.


How much will dues be? Your monthly dues will equal 2.25 hours of your base pay, which will be about 1% of your gross. (For example, workers earning $14/hour would pay $31.50 per month or $15.75 per pay period in dues.)  The amount of dues cannot be changed without membership approval. About 50% of your dues will be returned to your Local, and you won’t pay any dues at all until you have ratified your contract.


Who determines what happens in the union? The local members are the union. Members democratically vote on nearly every aspect of union activity including their leadership, strike authorizations, where and how money is spent, and whether to accept or reject a contract.


Can we lose benefits that we already have? More than half a million CWA members and 15.7 million union members all over the U.S. get better benefits, not worse. You will decide by democratic vote what to ask for in your contract, and whether to accept what is offered to you. What you win in your contract will depend on what you have to start with, and how actively you and your co-workers participate in your union. If unions really lead to worse benefits, why doesn't your employer want to get the union in now sohe can start saving money?





The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) Section 7 and 8 give you the legal right to join a union, and protects you from employer actions.


  You Have The Right To:                                                                        Your Employer May Not:


  Attend meetings to discuss forming a union                                             Punish or discriminate against any worker

  with your co-workers.                                                                               because of union activity.


  Read, distribute, and discuss union literature                                           Threaten to actually fire, layoff, discipline,

  (as long as you do this in non-work areas                                                 harass, transfer, or reassign employees

  during non-work times, such as during breaks                                         because they support the union.

  or lunch hours).


  Wear union buttons, t-shirts, stickers, hats or                                           Favor employees who don't support the union

  other items on the job.                                                                               over those who do in promotions, job 

                                                                                                                    assignments, wages, hours, enforcement of

                                                                                                                    rules, or any other working condition.


  Sign a card asking your employer to recognize                                        Threaten to or actually take away jobs, wages,

  and bargain with your union.                                                                     or any benefits or privileges employees already

                                                                                                                     already enjoy in order discourage union activity.


  Sign petitions or file grievances related to wages,                                    Promise employees a pay increase, promotion,            

  hours, working conditions, and other job issues.                                      benefit, or special favor if they oppose the union.


  Ask other employees to support the union, to sign                                   Surveil or interrogate employees to determine 

  union cards or petitions, to file grievances.                                               union support.


  Participate in a secret ballot election conducted by                                  Use coercive statements or actions or unspecified

  the National Labor Relations Board.                                                         threats to communicate that union supporters will

                                                                                                                     be punished.



If your employer has violated any of your NLRA rights, you should make a written record of the incident(s) and report them immediately to your CWA Organizer.  If appropriate, CWA will file an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.


If you have questions, or would like additional information on how you can form a union at your workplace, please contact us today at

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