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February 23, 2019
How Do You Gain Recognition?

The process to become a collective bargaining unit. A step-by-step primer on the process.

The employer says the Union can’t guarantee us anything. Can you?

The union can guarantee this: that when workers stick together as a union they have more bargaining power and more of a voice than they do as individuals.

The first step: sign a card.

Once a majority of employees in a workplace show interest in joining a union, you sign a union authorization card. The National Labor Relations Act requires that at least 30% of the employees in a potential "bargaining unit" show that they are interested in having a union. (It is best to have 60% before you file).

Once 60% of the employees sign such a card, the cards are given to the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service or another neutral party, which then schedules and oversees a secret ballot election for the employees to vote on a union. If a majority (50%+1) votes "Yes" then a collective bargaining unit is formed, and you schedule a date with the employer to start negotiating over wages, benefits and working conditions.

Employees sign authorization cards to (1) show that they are interested in a union and (2) authorize the selected union to act as their collective bargaining agent.

Your authorization cards are confidential. Neither your employer nor supervisor will see your card. Under federal labor law, only your union representatives and agents of the NLRB are entitled to see your card. Your card must – and will – be kept confidential at all times.

The election.

The National Labor Relations Board or other neutral party must see that there is a significant show of interest before they will hold a union election. To show that interest, you sign an authorization card. However, even a "show of interest" isn’t enough. If a solid majority is not willing to sign up as supporters, then the union will know that they will lose the election. What’s the point in holding an election that the union is guaranteed to lose? Instead, the union will wait until they have a solid majority and know that they can win. They will usually want to see at least 60% to 70% signed cards before proceeding with an election.

Once a majority supports the union, the union is ready to submit the cards to the NLRB. After the cards are submitted, the NLRB will contact the employer to schedule a hearing to determine the actual bargaining unit. At the hearing, the employer will probably try to pack the bargaining unit with employees that are likely to vote against the union and try to challenge employees that are likely to vote pro union. The union will be ready to counter this action by the employer. Once the bargaining unit is made final, the NLRB will schedule the date of the election.

You've won the election. Now what?

Now, barring any protests by the employer, it's time to schedule contract negotiations.

As soon as the union wins the election and is certified or recognized as the bargaining agent by the NLRB or other party, the union will ask for immediate negotiations with management. Before contract talks begin, committees are formed to discuss key issues, member meetings are held and the union surveys its new members for those things you'd like to see in a contract. Your ideas on wages, benefits and rights on the job will be used to develop the proposals to be negotiated with management. Your union negotiating committee will try to bargain all the improvements you propose.


At this point, the employer and the union put teams together. The employer's team is usually comprised of lawyers or labor consultants, local management and upper management officials.

 The union team consists of employees elected by their fellow employees to a negotiation team, union negotiators, and lawyers. The committee you elect, assisted by union officers and staff, will conduct negotiations and provide you with regular reports. The contract is not valid until a majority of eligible members vote by secret ballot to accept it, otherwise known as ratification.

What if a contract can't be reached?

Well, this is where the rubber meets the road. Sometimes the last resort is a strike.

A strike is an action of last resort and seldom occurs. In fact, over 98% of union contracts are settled without a strike. In most unions, strikes can only be authorized by a majority, secret ballot vote of the employees involved. And it’s only smart to vote for a strike if you know you can win. The employer doesn’t want a strike any more than the workers do, so everyone has an incentive to reach a compromise during bargaining.

Unions have developed a lot of other tactics that can put pressure on management to reach a fair agreement. For example, unions use boycotts or corporate campaigns or community support, rather than necessarily having to resort to striking.

When the union wins, you will negotiate a contract with the employer. We can make no promises on what the contract will contain – that is for you to decide when you vote on your contract. We can guarantee that the contract will be legally binding, and the union will make sure the contract is enforced.

What can I expect from a union contract?

The National Labor Relations Act requires an employer to bargain in good faith with the union once a majority of employees vote for it in a secret-ballot election. The employer must come to the bargaining table with an open mind and a sincere desire to discuss the issues. Both parties must try to reach a settlement through negotiations, and when agreement is reached, they must sign a written contract. 

Here's what this means to you the employee:

  • Management cannot reduce wages or change working conditions without first negotiating with the employees, through their union representatives.
  • Employees are entitled to vote on changes made to their contract.
  • Your contract is for a set period of time and cannot be changed at will by a notice or announcement.
  • There will be no favoritism or change of policy to suit the whim of management.
  • The union enforces your contract to make sure the employer abides by the rules.

The union enforces your contract through a grievance procedure, mediation, or in arbitration, depending on circumstances.

Next: What To Expect During An Organizing Campaign


 Interested in talking to someone about organizing your workplace? All communications will be treated with confidentiality and there are no obligations. So please contact Local 81 by phone at (503) 251-2381 or contact us via e-mail.



 Organizing Home


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