Typical Questions Raised about Organizing
Why is the company opposed to unions?
The union acts as the voice of individual employees. Unions challenge unfair or arbitrary decisions made by an employer or company. A union ensures that the individual employee takes part in decision's regarding issues such as hours of work, level of wages and salaries, job assignments and safety. Companies sometime forget that the success or future of the company is a direct result of the employees. Therefore, employees must have a say in the future of the company. A union only maintains a sense of democracy within a company and should be considered a constructive influence.
What is a Union?
A union is an organization committed to representing the individual. It establishes a true sense of democracy in our private enterprise system and corporate oriented economy; it represents the individual's interest when the company's interest conflicts with it or even fails to consider it; it represents public or government employees as they seek to apply industrial democracy to their jobs and working conditions.
Why is the union so interested in us?
Unions are interested in any employees who are seeking stronger representation within their companies.
What happens if I sign a union card?
Signing a union card is just the first step of a thorough process in determining whether a company wants to obtain a union contract. In order to obtain this contract, a majority of employees must sign union cards, authorizing them in collective bargaining with their employer. A petition can then be filed with the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), requesting that a secret ballot elections be held to confirm that a majority of employees want the union. If that majority votes in favor of the union, the NLRB will certify the union as the official bargaining representative.
If I have not signed a card before an election, does this mean I will be treated differently if the union wins?
No. Such actions would be discriminatory and are neither permitted by law nor practiced by unions.
If the union loses the election, will the people who signed cards lose their jobs?
No. The NLRB applies rules under federal law which are intended to keep employees' rights to organize into a union fair and honest. If an employer acts in such a way as to interfere with your right to help organize a union, charges can be filed against the company with the NLRB.
Am I obligated to vote for the union just because I signed a card?
No. The United States Government (NLRB) will and does guarantee that all representation elections will be by secret ballot; you are free to vote as you please.
If a union gets in a company, are union supporters given preferences in wages and job assignments?
No. By law, no employee can be given preference in wages and job assignments just because of his/her union support.
If a union gets in a company, does the company have to pay any money to the union?
No. The law prohibits a company from paying money to the union.
Does it cost money to belong to a union?
Until a you become a member of the union, you do not pay anything. At the time that you become a member, you pay dues that have been determined by the entire membership. Just like the Moose, Elks, American Legion, health clubs or any other membership organization, dues are a fact of life. We all realize this fact and are willing to contribute our fair share. In the end your employer pays your union dues many times over because of the increased wages and benefits you will receive through your union contract. Just ask yourself, "What am I paying in nonunion dues?"
Is it true that the union can make promises to employees during their organization drive just to get their votes?
A union can promise workers the right to have someone represent them on matters with which they disagree with the company. It can also promise to act as the collective bargaining agent in all matters concerning wages, hours, and conditions of employment. The record demonstrates that promises made by the unions are fulfilled. In recent years some 150,00 collective bargaining agreements covering more than 18 million workers have been made and less than 2% of them were affected by strikes. Therefore, in more than 98% of all cases, collective bargaining was successful. Local 103, IBEW has not had a strike against our signatory employers since 1926.
Do employees lose their right to bargain individually with management about wages, hours and working conditions if a union gets in our company?
The union negotiates contracts that provide for improved wages and benefits. These betterments establish the minimum wages and benefits an employer must pay for all employees that the union represents. An employee can get more money from the employer on his/her own, so long as that employee and the employer do not violate the contract to the detriment of the other employees that the union represents.
If the union wins a representation election, does the company automatically have to sign a contract with the union?
The company must bargain in good faith with the union toward reaching an agreement. 99% of the time a contract is reached with the company.
Can unions guarantee job security?
The only guarantees in life are death and taxes. The union cannot and the employer cannot guarantee anyone job security; however, employees represented by unions historically have enjoyed greater job security.
Can the union get me a raise or any other increased fringe benefit?
The union will be the collective voice of the employees in advocating for wages and fringe benefit increases.
Can a company close down because a union is voted in?
No. It is against the law for a company to close down simply because a union is voted in.
Could the union force the company to do away with work rules?
No. However, if you find those rules unjust or discriminatory, the union, as a collective bargaining agent, can help ensure that your workplace is operated fairly.
Could the union tell the company how to run their operation?
No. The union acts as the collective bargaining agent in matters concerning wages, hours and conditions of employment. A union does not run the company in which you work; it provides you the right to have someone represent you on matters with which you disagree with the company.
Can the union require the company to replace supervisory personnel with people of the union's choosing?
No. It is management's prerogative to select supervisory personnel.
Can the union automatically get employees the things that the union had promised?
The union will not make promises to you about any issue that it cannot deliver on. Although nothing is automatic, union success in bargaining is evident. It has already been mentioned that 150,000 collective bargaining agreements have been made in recent years with a majority of employee issues being satisfied.
Is the company allowed to speak out against the union?
Yes. And it is very likely they will. It is in the employers best interest (not yours) to keep the company union-free. Your employer will tell you anything, even lie to you, to remain union-free. On the other hand, it is in the union's best interest to be as up-front and honest with you and also to let you know the type of tactics that will be used by your employer.
Are there things that a supervisor cannot do about our union activities?
The following are examples of employer conduct that interferes with the rights of employees:
Threatening the loss of jobs or benefits
Threatening employees about their union activity
Promising or granting promotions, pay raises, or other benefit in return for being against the union
Discriminating or firing employees to discourage unionism.
If any of these Section 7 violations do occur the union will file charges with the National Labor Relations Board on your behalf. You have the legal right to support and join a union of your own choosing and will make sure that right is not interfered with by unscrupulous employers.
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Why We Organize
As we enter the twenty-first century, the electrical industry and our union stand at a crossroads. Starting with little more than electrical skills and a desire for a better life for all electrical workers, the founders of the IBEW built powerful and respected local unions, won for their members decent wages, benefits and conditions, and provided the electrical industry with stability and order.
The IBEW is the only socioeconomic force capable of saving the electrical construction industry from continued decline. By revitalizing unionized electrical construction the IBEW can promote an industry where managerial efficiency, craft pride and skill and progressive labor-management relations are once again honored. As the IBEW strategizes and organizes the electrical construction industry, we now confront a challenge that may be as formidable as that faced by the founding fathers of the IBEW over a century ago. Our founding fathers understood that the basis of union strength, in an industry like ours, was control of the labor supply. For that reason, they defined as their primary goal: To organize all workers who work in the electrical trade.
There was a time, not too long ago, when electrical contractors actually came to the IBEW locals to be "organized," because the only way to gain access to the skilled labor supply was to become a signatory contractor. In fact, as long as the IBEW represented most electrical workers, contractors had to come to the union. The successful "bottom up" organizing of the electrical workers, in the first half of the twentieth century, enabled many IBEW local unions to organize thousands of contractors to become "union" without appealing directly to their workers. But the truth understood by our founding fathers remained the same: Organizing electrical workers is he best way to unionize the electrical construction industry. Organizing workers requires a genuine commitment to universal membership and to worker-to-worker organizing. History teaches that as the percentage of electrical workers who are union members grows, union strength grows. That is why we organize.
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Resurgence in Organizing
The fundamental source of union strength has always been organizing workers.
In virtually every region of the country, there is a resurgence in construction, organizing. In part, this is because the ability of unions to gain improvements in pay and working conditions is a function of the percentage of the workforce which is organized in the labor market area.
As growing numbers of IBEW members renew the commitment to the organizing mission, a progressive path to revitalize the unionized electrical industry is emerging. Rather than lowering the costs of our labor in order to compete, and thus driving down the standards in the industry, IBEW locals are pursuing strategies that improve the conditions of members and put our contractors on equal footing with non union contractors in order to elevate the conditions of the entire industry. From salting to job targeting, from intervention in the permit process, to the creation of community coalitions, we are now on the move. By regaining control of the skilled electrical labor supply through organizing, we are recapturing the market share, and restoring wages and benefits to levels where they rightfully belong. New tactics are being employed and age old strategies are being revisited.
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What About Dues?
The Best Investment: Union Dues
Investments and union dues are concepts that are not often paired together. But from an economic standpoint, union dues are one of the best investments that anyone can make. If you put savings in the bank you will get a return in the 5-6% range. Certificates of Deposit return slightly more, but your money is tied up and is not readily available. The rate of return on Real Estate investments has averaged nearly 20%. History has shown that investments in the stock market have returned an average of 11-12% per year since the Great Depression of the 1930's. It is axiomatic, the greater the risk - the greater the reward. In order to get the relatively high rates of return on real estate or stocks yon need to put in personal time and effort. When you invest, you assume the risk that the bottom will fall out of the real estate market in your area or there will be a major "correction" in the stock market that can send prices tumbling 20-30%, or more. Union dues require no risk, no time and little effort from the union member.
According to statistics prepared by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Earnings (January 1999), the average union wage earner in the United States will earn 32% more salary than their non-union counterparts. Benefits for union members including health care, disability benefits and retirement are all superior to what the average non-union worker receives.
The advantages received from paying dues go far beyond wages and benefits. Dues can be looked at as insurance - job insurance. Just as homeowner's or auto insurance won't stop an accident, they do provide a measure of security if an accident should happen. By paying dues you are not guaranteed future employment. An insurance policy always has some exclusion. You will not be reimbursed in all circumstances. Paying union dues does not mean that you can never be terminated. It does mean that you can only be terminated for "just cause" or some other legitimate business reason. If you are unjustly terminated, the union will right to save your job - at no cost to you. Dues are also used to pay the cost of negotiating and then enforcing the contract that you work -under.
It is the collective efforts of many and the relatively small contributions that each member pays in the form of dues that allows for all of these advantages. Many employees have worked their whole career under the umbrella of a union contract. Some employees look at dues as a costly inconvenience. They believe everything they have was given to them by their employer or earned throughout their own efforts. For them, union dues are just another deduction on their paycheck. The most dedicated union members are often those who are new to the union. They have worked for non-union employers for low wages, have been fearful when they stood up for their rights and have kept quiet when less senior or less qualified co-workers received promotions. These workers know that dues are not an expense, dues are an investment.
When you join a Union Local you have more then the staff at the Local standing behind you; you leave the entire Local fighting, for your cause. The resources of the International Offices are available to your local's staff and officers. Wherever you go you are part of a Brotherhood.
By Mike McElfresh
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