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Union Facts

Your Rights & FAQ

pencil-listWhen union bosses try to gain new union members and begin collecting their dues, they make a pitch to employees. But they usually only tell half of the story. Before signing anything or voting, employees should consider these points:

  1. If the union wins, can I drop out later if I decide that it isn’t worth the cost? Can I be forced to be a member of the union?
  2. If the union wins, will I still be able to negotiate for myself or represent myself if I have a grievance?
  3. Is there a contract between the union and the workers?
  4. Who sets the level of union dues?
  5. Can the union spend dues money on politics that I either don’t care about or oppose?
  6. What if there is a strike and I need to work?
  7. If the union wins, when will there be another election?
  8. Isn’t there any way of getting rid of a union if the workers become dissatisfied with it?
  1. If the union wins, can I drop out later if I decide that it isn’t worth the cost? Can I be forced to be a member of the union?
    The answer depends on where you live. In the 26 states that haven’t passed Right To Work laws, employees working under a “union shop” contract must either join the union and pay dues, or decide not to join the union and be forced to pay an “agency fee” (which is usually just slightly less than full dues). For employees in the 24 states with Right To Work laws, they are not required to pay either fee. Even then, the union remains the exclusive representative for all workers, even those who are not members, and employees who refuse to become members have no voting rights in union matters. Bottom line: Unionization is not like joining a club or trying out a new Internet service provider, where you can easily quit or stop paying if you aren’t satisfied.
  2. If the union wins, will I still be able to negotiate for myself or represent myself if I have a grievance?No. By law, the union becomes the exclusive representative for all of the employees in the bargaining unit, including those who did not want it. Therefore, individuals are prevented from attempting to negotiate for themselves if they think they can get a better schedule or payscale. They may not pursue a grievance or complaint on their own — the union representative has the right to be present even if the employee does not want them there.
  3. Is there a contract between the union and the workers?No. The union is not contractually liable to the workers. Its promises are not legally enforceable.
  4. Who sets the level of union dues?The union sets the dues, according to the terms of the union constitution and by-laws. In general, if the union local is part of an international union (such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters), the international can require dues increases of all locals if delegates to a meeting of the international approve of a dues increase.
  5. Can the union spend dues money on politics that I either don’t care about or oppose?Yes. In one case decided by the Supreme Court, Communications Workers v. Beck, the union was found to be spending almost 80 percent of its dues money on matters unrelated to collective bargaining, such as campaign contributions. Under the law, if workers who are not union members object to the use of their money for things that are not directly related to collective bargaining, they are entitled to a refund of the portion of their dues spent on politics and other non-bargaining activities. When non-unionized workers have attempted to get their money back, they have usually met with opposition and stonewalling from union officials.
  6. What if there is a strike and I need to work?The union can legally fine members who return to work during a strike. Non-members cannot be fined or threatened under the law, but unions have been found guilty of doing so anyway.
  7. If the union wins, when will there be another election?Union elections aren’t like political elections, where regular elections are held to see if the voters want to keep someone in office. Once a union is certified as the exclusive representative of the employees, it remains so indefinitely.
  8. Isn’t there any way of getting rid of a union if the workers become dissatisfied with it?Yes. Workers can petition a government agency, the National Labor Relations Board, for a decertification election. That requires getting at least 30 percent of the employees to sign cards calling for such an election. The union will, of course, actively oppose decertification, and the people who support it often face harassment.