Forming a union at your workplace
It makes a difference to have a union. UFCW 21 members, alongside Union staff, negotiate with employers for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Together, we win contracts that guarantee and improve income and benefits. Through negotiations and standing together in a Union, members earn the respect of their employers and gain a greater voice at work.
A track record of success. UFCW 21 has a strong record of organizing new members by the thousands - more than 8,400 workers have joined our union in the last 10 years.
To learn more about organizing a union at your worksite, read through the questions and answers below. These are questions that typically come up when people are thinking about organizing a union.
If you have questions, call Joe Earleywine, Organizing Director, at 206-436-6587 or 1-800-732-1188 Ext. 6587 or Email Joe.
Why should workers organize a union?
The reasons vary from person to person, but the most common reason is a basic desire to get a decent wage, health and retirement benefits, and fair treatment at work. Everyone wants more security in their lives and a job in a union workplace can help.
How do workers become unionized?
Workers can become unionized in two basic ways.
The first and most common way in the US today is when a majority of you and your coworkers sign union authorization cards and then take a secret ballot vote to determine if a majority of workers are in favor.
A more quick and fair way is what's called "card check." This is when a union is automatically approved after a majority of workers sign cards saying they want a union. Many employers oppose this way for workers to get a union because it is easier for workers and harder for employers to oppose.
Are there protections for workers who want a union?
Yes. Whether or not you support a union in any public or private way is up to you. It is illegal for management to grill anyone about union activity or to threaten, harass, or discriminate against anyone because of union activity. Workers attempting to form a union have legal rights and protections under the National Labor Relations Act.
Your employer cannot legally punish or discriminate against any worker because of union activity.
- Your employer cannot threaten to fire, lay off, discipline, harass, transfer, or reassign employees because they support the union
- Your employer cannot favor employees who don't support the union over those who do in promotions, job assignments, wages, hours, enforcement of rules, or any other working condition
- Your employer cannot shut down the work site or take away any benefits or privileges employees already enjoy in order to discourage union activity
- Your employer cannot promise employees a pay increase, promotion, benefit, or special favor if they oppose the union.
If your employer violates the law, the union can help you file "Unfair Labor Practice" charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
Backed up by the federal courts, the Labor Board has the power to order an employer to stop interfering with employees' rights, to provide back pay, and to reverse any action taken against workers for union activity.
What type of activities can workers legally do if they want a union?
- Attend meetings to discuss joining a union.
- Read, distribute, and discuss union literature, as long as you do this in non-work areas during non-work times, such as breaks or lunch hours.
- Wear union buttons, T-shirts, stickers, hats, or other items on the job (as long as you would generally be allowed to wear other kinds of buttons, T-Shirts, hats or other such items at work).
- Sign a card asking your employer to recognize and bargain with the union.
- Sign petitions or file complaints related to wages, hours, working conditions, and other job issues.
- Ask other employees to support the union, to sign union cards or petitions, or to file complaints.
If workers have a union, who decides what is proposed for our contract and who gets to vote?
You and your co-workers are the ones who vote to approve or reject a contract. These are the basic steps taken to develop a contract:
- Workers in your union workplace meet with Union staff negotiators to discuss and decide what to propose for your contract.
- You elect a group of your co-workers to what is called a "negotiating committee" to represent you in negotiations, alongside a Union staff negotiator.
- Your negotiating committee then meets with management representatives. UFCW 21 reimburses negotiating committee members for any lost work time to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.
- Negotiations go back and forth until there is a proposal package from management that your negotiating team wants to take to a vote of the membership.
- The negotiating committee makes a proposal to approve or reject the contract proposal to the union members at the workplace.
- A vote is scheduled and members get to vote "yes" or "no" to the proposed contract.
- If approved, then the contract is finalized and binding. If it is rejected, then both sides negotiate more.
Is there an initiation fee?
There is no initiation fee for newly-organized members.
How much are dues and who decides?
Newly organized members do not pay any dues until a contract is negotiated and you review it and vote for it.
UFCW 21 members determine and vote or dues structure. Dues range from $19 to $60 a month. Members also receive one-half month dues credit when they attend quarterly membership meetings.
When the total value of wages, health care coverage, retirement, and other benefits like vacation are added together, union workers are almost always much better off than non-union employees. That's why, most workers would prefer to have a union if given the chance.
What are the workplaces where UFCW 21 members work?
UFCW 21 represents over 38,000 workers at over 800 worksites across Washington. Members work in many different kinds of workplaces including: grocery stores, retail stores, hospitals and clinics, laundries, meat processing, and office jobs. See a full list of UFCW 21 Unionized workplaces.
UFCW 21 represents over 11,000 workers in Health Care across the state including: MultiCare Health System, Group Health Cooperative, Children's Hospital, Sacred Heart, and Providence Health System, as well as health care employees in many public hospitals and clinics. Click here to see who we represent in health care.
UFCW 21 represents nearly 20,000 workers in grocery stores like Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC and Albertsons as well as many smaller grocery stores like PCC Natural Markets. Click here to find a full listing of Grocery stores.
UFCW 21 represents over 4,500 in retail stores like Macy's, Fred Meyer, Bartell Drugs and the state Liquor stores. Click here for a full listing of who we represent in retail.
UFCW 21 represents over 1,300 workers in other industry jobs including meat processing, laundry. Click here for a full listing of who we represent in other industries.
Why UFCW 21?
UFCW 21 is the largest private-sector union in the state of Washington representing more than 38,000 workers in grocery store, retail, health care, meat processing and other industry jobs. We are a democratic union - meaning our leaders are elected by the members and almost all the Executive Board are members who work in the varied worksites across the state - be they grocery, retail, health care or some other industry. We are a diverse and progressive local union dedicated to advancing the rights and living standards of workers.
What about strikes? Who decides if there is going to be a strike?
Union members do have the legal right to strike. Sometimes employer demands or unfair treatment leave no other alternative. But strikes are very rare. Over 98% of all contracts in the U.S. are settled without a strike.
The Union's bylaws stipulate that UFCW 21 members may not strike unless a two-thirds majority votes to do so. In addition, federal law requires most health care providers go through Federal Mediation before a strike can be called, and then only with a 10-day notice. In any case, the members are the ones who vote on a whether or not to go on strike.
Will being union provide better job security than not?
Yes. A union contract can provide protection against unfair management decisions to reduce hours, layoff employees, or discipline and/or write up employees without a fair reason.
For example, UFCW 21's contracts ensure just cause, which states an employee can only be written up or disciplined for a justifiable reason. If an employee feels they have been disciplined unfairly, UFCW 21 contracts give employees the right to file an official complaint and, if needed, have their case presented to an independent arbitrator. A quick check list for what is covered by just cause includes:
- Did the Employer Provide Forewarning?
- Was it a Reasonable Rule?
- Did the Employer Investigate?
- Is the Penalty Appropriate?
- Are All Employees Being Treated Equally?
- Did the 'Judge' find Proof?
- Was the Investigation Fair?
What is the main difference in having a union contract?
With a union, you'll have a written and enforceable contract which spells out and guarantees your rights; a real grievance procedure; job security; guaranteed wage rates; and a timeline for pay increases and benefits. It's written down in black and white - a legally binding contract that cannot be changed at management's whim.