How to Start a Union: Part 2
In the smashingly brilliant NBC show, “Superstore,” employees at Cloud Nine, a big box retail chain (think Walmart), are distraught after a pregnant co-worker (Cheyenne) is denied paid maternity leave. Two employees (Amy and Jonah) call corporate and complain that a union employee would receive this benefit, however they assure corporate that nobody is going on strike.
Cloud Nine corporate reacts by sending a “labor relations manager” to the store, who forces employees to listen to anti-union arguments on company time. Finally, Cheyenne ends up giving birth while working. Her manager (Glenn) gives her six weeks of unauthorized maternity leave, and is subsequently fired.
Thus begins a five-season story arc in which the Cloud Nine employees strike, organize, vote to unionize, and enter into a bargaining agreement meeting with corporate.
While Superstore is a comedic take on employment relations, it highlights the problems faced by low-paid workers in the United States under a brutal capitalistic system that exploits labor at every possible turn.
Millions of American workers would benefit from labor unions, but we are a long way from 1954, when the percentage of American workers belonging to a labor union peaked at 35%. In 2021, only 10.3% of American workers belonged to a union.
You may think that forming a labor union is a complicated process. Certainly, it’s not a subject you were taught in high school, or even college. It may be daunting to you now, but be reassured by the success of the 300 Starbucks stores that successfully unionized in under a year’s time. If they can do it, so can you.
To form a labor union, first visit the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) at www.nlrb.gov to find out if your employer is covered under the National Labor Relations Act. Almost all private-sector employers, including retail, private universities, and health care facilities, are covered.
Second, organize. Talk to your co-workers. Find out as much as possible about your employer, departments, and operations. Identify union leaders. You will need to adopt an issues program. These are the demands and conditions you would like addressed after your union is certified and you begin bargaining a contract with your employer.
Third, vote. If you can get 30% or more of your co-workers to sign a petition saying they want a union, the NLRB will conduct an election. If the majority of those who vote choose to unionize, the NLRB will certify your union and you may move on to collective bargaining with your employer.
Fourth, negotiate. The representatives you elect to bargain for your union will meet with your employer to negotiate contracts. Know what you want and what is reasonable.
The steps to unionizing are simple, though the process can be fraught with stress and panic as your employer will likely fight back and may attempt to illegally retaliate against organizers. Remember that there are laws against this and your employer can be held accountable in a court of law.
If your place of employment is exploiting workers, withholding or cutting back benefits, creating a hostile environment between workers and managers, or simply asking you to increase production without a commensurate increase in pay, there are steps you can take. As an American, you have the right to form a labor union and a right to strike! You, too, can bring power to the people and fight corporate greed.