Commonly asked questions about organizing



About Legal Rights...

Dues, Fees & Contracts...

Strikes and the Union...


What rights do we have under the law to help form a union?

You have the right under Federal Law:

* To self-organization
* To form, join or assist labor organizations
* To bargain collectively through representatives of your own choosing
* To act together for the purposes of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection


How does the government protect my rights?

The National Labor Relations Board, an agency of the Federal Government, applies rules under federal law which are intended to keep employee's 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. Where appropriate, the NLRB provides remedies, such as reinstatement for employees fired for exercising their rights including back pay.


What steps will we follow to obtain our contract and become union members?

First - A majority of employees must sign cards authorizing the union to represent you in collective bargaining with your employer. Second - A petition can be filed with the NLRB requesting that secret ballot elections be held to certify that a majority of eligible workers want the union. Third - If a majority of employees vote in favor (YES) of the union, the NLRB will certify the union as the official bargaining representative and the employer must meet and bargain "in good faith" on the proposals that employees want in the contract.


What are examples of employer conduct that interferes with the rights of employees?

* Threatening loss of jobs or benefits by an employer or a union
* Misstating important facts by a union or an employer where the other party does not have a chance to reply
* Promising or granting promotions, pay raises, or other benefits to influence an employee's vote by a party capable of carrying out such promises
* An employer firing employees to discourage or encourage union activity


Is there a quicker way for us to gain the union as our bargaining representative?

Yes, if the company would agree to a "voluntary recognition", where the union and the company agree for an impartial third party to verify the union's claim that they have a majority of the employees signed on authorization cards. This is done through a "card check", in which only the impartial third party, who is not a company representative, sees the signed authorization cards.


Is it true that the union is run by "outsiders"?

YOU are the union; YOU elect your own Local and National officers. YOU run your own Local Union affairs. EVERY UWUA Local is autonomous. YOU elect your own negotiating committee; the National Union will provide you with skilled negotiators to assist you; YOU make the decisions on your own union contract; YOU choose your own stewards; YOU decide important policies and actions of your own union by a majority vote; YOU are the final vote of authority and decision in YOUR union. YOU are the union's real "Boss". ARE YOU AN OUTSIDER?


Will we have to pay an initiation fee?

No. The UWUA will waive the initiation fee for ALL the employees on the payroll at the time the contract is accepted. This is done because of the extra effort you have unselfishly given in your struggle to win your NLRB election and negotiate your union contract. Only new employees will have to pay an initiation fee. Because. . . they will be deriving the same benefits that you have worked so hard to achieve.


How much are union dues?

Until a contract is approved by a majority vote, you do not pay one single cent! At the time that you vote on the contract, you will not only know what your dues will be, but also what improvements in wages and benefits have been negotiated on your behalf. Then you decide if those increases in wages and benefits are worth the amount of Union dues. The point to remember is no one pays a penny until you are working under the improvements and benefits of a Union contract. Dues are set by YOUR local union, not by the National UWUA.


What happens to the dues money paid to the Local Union?

A small part of the dues money goes to the National Union for staff, offices, research and publications. Some of this money also goes to a defense fund. The remainder is used by YOUR Local Union for office space and equipment, postage, legal fees, office supplies, printing costs, arbitration fees, legal fees, transportation, etc. . . THE MEMBERS HAVE TO APPROVE EVERY DOLLAR SPENT!


What about fees or assessments?

As stated in the National Constitution, Article VI, Section 5: Local Unions may establish monthly dues in any amount sufficient to adequately and efficiently operate their Local Union. No Local Union shall levy an assessment on its members without prior approval of the National Executive Committee.


You mention the National Constitution. If we wish, may we see a copy of it?

Yes, you may see a copy of it. Ask your Union Representative and we'll be glad to go over it with you.


When we win union certification, will the employer have to negotiate with us?

YES! Federal Law says that the employer must negotiate "in good faith."


What is the union contract?

A union contract is a document that is binding by law, negotiated with the employer, and provides for wage benefits, hours and general working conditions.


Who draws up our contract?

YOU DO! All the employees in the bargaining unit should contribute to the proposals. Some of the issues that have been expressed to us as being problem areas and/or areas that need improvements are (1) wages; (2) an effective grievance procedure; (3) job security; (4) scheduling; (5) shift differential; (6) weekend premium; (7) seniority rights; (8) layoff and recall protection.


Is there any limit to what we can ask for regarding wages or benefits?

No. Keep in mind, however, that what you ask for should be reasonable and justified.


Who will do the negotiating?

1. The employer and his labor relations representative.
2. An advisory committee elected by you along with your Local Union and National Union representatives.


Do we have to accept what has been negotiated?

NO! When negotiations progress to the point where the committee feels that the best agreement has been reached, a report is made to the membership. If the membership approves the results of the negotiations, the committee is then authorized to sign the agreement. If the membership rejects the results of the negotiations, it then votes upon a course of action to secure a satisfactory agreement. The National Union is a party to all collective bargaining contracts.


Can the union ever force us out on strike?

Definitely not! The only way a strike can occur is if you vote to go out on strike. Article IX, Section 1 of the National Constitution states that "No strike shall be called by any Local Union until the National Office is notified and the National President has given his sanction. Local Union Officers, before requesting strike approval from the National President, are required to have membership approval of such strike action." The National President will immediately attempt to settle the dispute between the Company and the Local Union.


What happens if some union or another Local Union goes out on strike?

Absolutely nothing! The employees at your facility would continue to work as normal. They would not have to go on strike in support of another union. But. . . as fellow trade unionists, we would hope that ALL union members would support a fellow union's strike by not crossing their picket lines.


What are the frequency of strikes?

Of all contracts negotiated nationwide each year, involving tens of thousands of people, only about 2% are involved in strike work stoppages. UWUA is proud of the fine contracts we have achieved through peaceful collective bargaining.

Chartered in August 1945, the Utility Workers Union of America is an AFL-CIO affiliated National Union with over 200 Locals nationwide.

We are a union of people working together to improve our job security, our standard of living, our working conditions, and our society in general.

The UWUA is men and women, young people just starting their career, and older people preparing for retirement. But whoever we are, wherever we came from, whatever our political view - we get together in cooperation and harmony in the UWUA.

A miracle? No. We get together because as working people we have a common purpose: to make this democratic union work constructively for us. There is strength in unity.

Give just a moment of thought to the long history of the trade union movement in this country and compare the days of the past with the here and now. Then look to the future. The big employers aren't getting any smaller, the rate of change isn't slowing, but it is opening up new kinds of jobs.

Think about the opportunity to join a union - about collective bargaining, about industrial democracy and peace, prosperity and security, and individual dignity on the job.

It's something to think about.

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