Social Question

judochop's avatar

I am interested in starting a union at work, details inside.

Asked by judochop (15991 points ) March 7th, 2012

Our working conditions sort of suck and we have over 400 employees. They treat most everyone like cattle and the management is horrible. What steps do I need to take to get this going? How do I avoid getting fired while doing this?
We are a food and beverage company that handles all the food and liquor, beer, soda and snacks for a professional game arena. The company owns 23 arenas so this potentially could become huge.
I want to improve the cleanliness of the environment, stop favoritism, improve the system that is in place and allow for training to management which they currently do not have. I also would like to change some of the guidelines that are in place and provide benefits for employees at a discount.

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16 Answers

Ron_C's avatar

Of course, the first thing that will happen is that you will get fired. If you are in a right to work state (right to work for less, actually), you will have no recourse.

judochop's avatar

Are you sure about that? What if I distribute fliers first? Can’t I then say that they are firing me because of the union? And yes, I am in a right to work state. Can I still try to form a union if they fire me?

Ron_C's avatar

Please do not take my above statement as a no vote. I wish you luck but no matter what the cards are stacked against you. Your best bet is to contact a union organizer for help.

judochop's avatar

I should have been more complete in my question. I am aware of the first 7 or 8 steps but advice on getting there and executing them without being noticed is damn near impossible.

CWOTUS's avatar

Forming a union is the not necessarily the best way to improve conditions. I’ve worked for both union and non-union employers, and whether there was or was not a union didn’t matter a whole lot in terms of conditions. (I currently work for a non-unionized employer, and it’s the best that I’ve ever had; we treat rank-and-file workers well here, too, and it’s a very desirable place to work.)

I would suggest that instead of trying to form a union (and probably risk worsening relations, if not firing) that you and very few others who you know well work up a list of things that you think should be improved – and the negative effect on safety, productivity and profitability that those things cause – and then a corresponding cost / benefit list. With those things in hand, have a small, informal and non-confrontational meeting with your immediate supervisor and whatever management level they think needs to be involved, and try to arrange to get things improved, in order to aid the bottom line. In other words, help them to invest better in the plant (and people) that they already have.

“Forming a union” doesn’t automatically fix things. I expect that things would get worse before they got better if that attempt was seriously undertaken.

Responsible management is not focused on squeezing every penny of value out of the plant, equipment and employees and then throwing away the husks. If you’re working for people who have that attitude, then nothing short of “regime change” will suffice. Best to find yourself a new job – or start your own and go into direct competition with such a firm.

judochop's avatar

That’s just it though @CWOTUS I do not desire to go in to competition with them and I surely do not desire to be looking for another job in this economy. I want things to improve for the workers and for myself. What I want is not out of line however the company is giant. I don’t want to name them here on the net but they are huge. They ignore things, I’ve even seen management rinse out a moldy plastic cup and tell a bartender to I understand that things may at first be worse but we are talking about seasonal work with plenty of down time between events to manage and fix things. One of the bathrooms in the locker room is filled with moldy paper towels that someone jammed down the toilet to stop a leak! This place is gross.

marinelife's avatar

Contact an existing union that covers similar workers. They will help you. The National Labors Relations Board will oversee your efforts and prevent management from firing you or otherwise hurting you.

Jaxk's avatar

It sounds like a quick call the state health department may get the ball rolling. My experience with the health department is that they’re pretty strict. One inspection and they will turn up much more than you can see.

JLeslie's avatar

I tend to be anti-union, but you certainly could organize with other employees to use your power as a large group. You can also utilize requirements under the law to improve working conditions. OSHA, health department, and labor laws might already be on the books to help you, especially if you live in a state that is heavily unionized in general.

About them having better training and paths to promote, you might have to wait until you are higher up in the management chain to affect change. Sometimes if a company really sucks it is best to move on to a better one if you can. Corporate culture is hard to change.

Also, remember with a union you will have to pay union dies, so you will lose part of your pay. If you and a large group of employees organize on your own it won’t cost you anything, and if you are in large numbers they are less likely to fire you, because how can they fire everyone? Unless there are hundreds of people waiting for your job? Which might be possible in this job market.

Write down some of your demands like a petition and get a lot of people to sign it. You can threaten to strike if demands are not met. You will lose money while striking too remember.

jca's avatar

You are not starting your own union, you are going to organize a unit that will be part of a larger (umbrella) union, like Teamsters, for example. However, if you are in a “right to work” state, it will be hard going. Also, trust me that management will be scrutinizing your every move and “getting you” on something that you do wrong, or they will trump something up that you did wrong (even if it’s something that you have been doing or not doing for years, and everyone else is doing it).

YARNLADY's avatar

You don’t form a union, you invite an existing union to move in.

Bellatrix's avatar

I agree with @marinelife and @YARNLADY. Contact an existing union for your field and talk to them. I am pro-unions but you do have to keep your own best interests and those of your colleagues in mind here. Sometimes, like any other organisation, the action a union wants you to take may not be in your own best interest. And do it quietly. Seek advice quietly, find out what the union will/can do for you. Do some research of your own @judochop. Read up on workplace legislation for your state and at federal levels. Then, if you feel it is the right thing to do, you can start approaching your work colleagues. Do it carefully though. I wouldn’t put up flyers or wave what you are doing under the noses of your bosses. You really could end up fired. Especially if they are not looking after people, they will not like it and are quite likely to see it as a threat.

Paradox25's avatar

The first two things that I would do here is to find out as much as you can, privately, about the union you may be interested in representing your workplace. The second thing I would do is to make sure that you would get enough votes and support from your co-workers/employees to actually bring a union in. From my own past experiences not all employees vote the way that they talk (referring to union representation voting polls) so be sure that you’re confident enough with the type of support you will likely get, or not.

I would keep in mind here that even though I’m not familiar with a great deal of unions or with the food/service sector that I have some experiences with attempted union representation in non-union companies. What I can tell you is that there is no way (that I’m aware of) to guarantee the safety of your job. If you’re in management (I mean legally by law) your company would likely get rid of you for attempting this, especially if the company is vividly anti-union to begin with. Even as an hourly employee there are no guarantees and most hourly employment today is done on an “at will” basis, which essentially means that they can eliminate your employment at any time without reason. There is also no guarantee that any certain union would be the answer to you and your companies problems. One of the worst companies that I’ve ever worked for was unionized. Tread lightly.

john65pennington's avatar

To save your job, solicit an outside union to come in to get the ball rolling and you stay in the shadows.

linguaphile's avatar

I agree with the answer about the health department and health codes. You could call them anonymously and see where that goes—they’re able to do much more than you can.

If you want to change things on the size and level you’re saying, you have to be willing to be fired and be willing to keep going after being fired.

Unions protect workers from employers, yes but they can be more of a headache than they’re worth. Nothing happens without a committee and committees take forever to get work done. It will take probably 1 to 3 years to get an union in place. You’ll be fired long before and labeled a disgruntled worker—if you want a short term, quick response, try the health department and OSHA first.

JLeslie's avatar

If you call a union, and they start working the employees, asking around, the management will likely start holding meetings to see if employees are unhappy, and what changes they want. Management will do their best to block a union coming in, which sometimes means employees get a little of what they wanted without the need for them to come in.

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