If you don't belong to a union, the AFL-CIO is trying to woo you as a
potential member with quite an attractive pitch. It states that union
members earn as much as 30 percent more than you do, and that's true,
whether you're white, a woman, an African-American, Hispanic or other
Nor is that all. A union can get you better health-care and pension
benefits than if you act alone. Working conditions are a lot better. And
you don't have to go cap-in-hand to ask your employer for a wage increase
or register a complaint, because the union acts in your behalf by
bargaining with your boss.
But you just can't walk into a union headquarters and ask for a union
job. It's not that simple. A union is not an employment agency. If you want
a union job, you'll get one by organizing a majority of your co-workers to
sign union authorization cards. When you've done that, the union will go to
bat for you and do what is necessary to get you a contract that will
entitle you to a package of wage increases and improved benefits.
You are warned that it's not easy to join a union, because your boss is
adamantly opposed to dealing with a labor organization. If he finds out
you're pro-union, he has many ways to pressure you into changing your mind.
His supervisors will watch your every move on the job whom you talk
to on the shop floor or in the bathroom.
You will be forced to attend "captive audience" meetings and listen to
anti-union speeches and videos. You may be told that the company will shut
down or relocate if the workers vote for the union. You'll have to be
constantly on guard to prevent the boss from suspecting you're pro-union.
What happens if the boss finds out that you're trying to unionize his
company? He can change your shift and work schedule, downgrade your job,
change your lunch-time and use other ways to intimidate and harass you to
abandon the union. And if all else fails, he'll fire you.
Every 23 minutes, a worker is fired or discriminated against for
supporting a union, according to American Rights at Work, based on National
Labor Relations Board reports.. In FY 2005, as many as 31,358 workers, who
were fired illegally, received back pay and an offer to return to their
former jobs under the NLRB ruling.
When workers are discharged during an organizing campaign, the union
sends the NLRB an "
"unfair labor practice" (ULP) charge with the names of those fired. Those
discharged workers are not given union membership cards or any other
consideration. They are left out in the cold. Their cases before the NLRB
may take years, during which they are on their own. (In 50 percent of the
decisions issued by the NLRB in unfair labor practice cases, it took more
than 1,232 days from the filing of the charge to the Board's actual
Employers can fire pro-union workers at will, with fairly little
expense. When they lose their NLRB cases after considerable legal delay,
they have to pay their discharged workers an average of $3,800. They or
their company pay no fine for violating the law. For large employers, it's
a cheap way to bust a union organizing campaign.
'No More Firing of Pro-Union Workers, Mr. Boss'
Let's suppose unions announced publicly that it would not permit any
employer to fire a worker for union activity. Unions would have to be
prepared to follow through on their promises if employers continued their
practice of discharging pro-union workers. Let's look at a possible
Company X has just fired five employees for "insubordination," but
actually because they were trying to form a trade union. The five meet with
the union organizer, who tells them "we're going to fight like hell until
you're all back on your jobs." The organizer calls the CEO of Company X for
a meeting to discuss the reinstatement of the five employees. The CEO or
his subordinates refuse to talk to a union representative.
At this point, the union swings into action. It sets up an information
picket-line before Company X, with appropriate placards and batches of
leaflets to hand out to passersby about the injustice done to the five. It
calls a press conference, at which each of the five tells his or her own
story. It invests in a full-page ad in the local newspaper, with photos of
each of the five "victims," with a synopsis of their experience. The union
can buy local radio and TV time to inform the community and win public
The union strives to make the reinstatement of the five a cause célèbre
in the community. It may ask that a committee of community residents meet
with management and the union to discuss the firings. It may challenge the
CEO to a public debate on the discharge issue. It could picket the home of
the CEO and the key stockholders. It can call on civil rights organizations
in the community to intervene in the case, because of the violation of
Nor does this exhaust the actions the union can take, carefully timed
and prioritized, to force the company to reinstate the five discharged
employees. And if the union can win their reinstatement, all the workers
will have evidence that they can count on the union to defend their
interests It will demonstrate union strength. It will make it considerably
easier to organize any anti-union company.
Does anyone have a better strategy to offer?
Article (5) of "Why Workers Don't Join Unions" will be posted here on
Wednesday, January 30.
Our weekly column, "The World of Labor," reports the
struggles and victories of unions in countries around the globe. Check our
web site: www.LaborEducator.org.