How to Form a Union
A Minnesota labor and employment lawyer lays out the five stepsBy Ross Pfund | Last updated on January 26, 2023
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Step One: Testing the Waters
- Step Two: Forming a Committee of Represented Coworkers
- Step Three: Building Majority Support
- Step Four: Making It Official
- Step Five: The Negotiation
Step One: Testing the Waters
First, coworkers should talk amongst themselves to see if there are shared issues—such as pay, work schedules, or safety—that the majority of them feel similarly about. “The tip I’d add: you don’t really want to make this public yet,” says LeBlanc. “You want to talk after work, or outside of work, or on breaks about this. You wouldn’t want to talk during work hours yet. Wait until you feel like you’ve got a good number of people who feel strongly about a similar issue.”
Step Two: Forming a Committee of Represented Coworkers
LeBlanc says the organizing committee should represent about 10% of the total number of employees. “You want to make sure these people are active, engaged, and feel strong about the issue,” he says, adding, “You also want to have that committee of union supporters to be as diverse as possible.”
At this time, workers should investigate preexisting union membership to determine if joining one would be the right move.
Step Three: Building Majority Support
If forming a union comes down to a vote, at least 50% of employees have to vote yes. “Committee members want to try to focus about talking to your co-workers about how the union can help you with this,” LeBlanc says, “making sure they understand that in this process, the union is actually them. It’s their responsibility to try to be union members actively involved in this process, and that’s how unions give them a voice in their outcome.
Step Four: Making It Official
This can involve having coworkers sign union authorization cards to let an employer know that there’s enough support to win a majority vote if there’s a union election. Then you must inform the National Labor Relations Board—or the Bureau of Mediation Services, if it’s a public institution—that you have enough support to request a vote. Alternatively, you can request the employer voluntarily recognize the union, bypassing the election.“Sometimes the employer will skip the election, sometimes the employer won’t,” LeBlanc says. “But if they do recognize voluntary recognition, or you win the election, then you go on to the next step, which is negotiating the contract.”
Step Five: The Negotiation
The last step involves creating a team that can get a strong contract in negotiations with the employer. “One of the big advantages if you’re working with an established union is they usually already have a lot of contracts that have been negotiated,” LeBlanc says, “and have language that they can adapt to help you, which could really help you get a strong contract.”
And don’t lose sight of the original goals. “Think back to why you formed this,” he adds. “If it was job safety, job security, working conditions and health care, you really want to put those protections into the first contract and fight for it. This gives you a chance to get a voice into your workplace.”For more information on this area of the law, read our labor and employment law overview or seek out a reputable attorney.
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