Union Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not purport to be exhaustive coverage on the topic. Answers have been compiled from the sources listed at the end of the article.

What is a union?

A union is a group of workers that join together to increase the strength of their bargaining position with employers on issues such as pay, working conditions, benefits, and job security.

How are unions formed?

Federal laws guarantee workers the right to organize and collectively bargain through representatives of their own choosing. Workers in a company may ask their employer or a federal or state agency, such as the National Labor Relations Board, to hold an election to determine if the majority of workers want to unionize. The agency determines which employees will be covered by the election. Once a vote for a union is won, workers in the bargaining unit will be represented by the union whether they voted for it or not. The bargaining unit may be as local as employees in a company or as broad as employees in an occupation. Workers in the public sector would ask the Federal Labor Relations Authority to oversee the process. (Union FAQs)

What are some unions that have library worker members?

According to the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, the union movement is now almost 50 percent white collar, and approximately two-thirds of all unionized white-collar employees are professionals. www.dpeaflcio.org/pros/workplace/library.htm.

What are some of the benefits of union membership for library workers?

Union membership provides many benefits for highly skilled white collar workers, including having a say in their work and in their workplace, dignity and improved status for themselves and for their occupations.—Wilson, Pamela. 2001. Current Statistics on White Collar Employees: 2001 Edition. Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO.

Union contracts often provide for fair and flexible working hours, better pay for overtime and work on evenings and weekends, more paid holidays, paid family and medical leave and employer help with child care and elder care. Besides your union contract, unions lobby for better laws and programs to help America’s working families. Unions were a major force behind passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act and are working hard for improved childcare, elder care and other policies.

Unions have been on the front line in the fight for fair and equitable salaries for white-collar workers such as those employed in libraries. Workers with unions earn an average 25 percent more than do workers without a union. Their health benefits, pension coverage, and disability benefits far exceed those of non-union workers. In part due to job security that unions offer, six out of every 10 union members have been with the same employer for 10 years or more—compared with only three of every 10 un-represented workers. Unions help remedy discrimination in the workplace. Union contracts raise earnings by 30 percent for working women and African Americans and 45 percent for Latinos. Union women earn 40 percent more than non-union women, African American union members earn 44 percent more and for Latino workers.

Unions set professional standards. Union workers have a say in decisions that affect the quality of the products they make and the services they deliver. Unions have been shown to lower turnover rates and raise productivity. Unions train more workers each year than any organization outside the U.S. military.www.dpeaflcio.org and www.aflcio.org

Do I receive any benefits if I don’t join the union?

Yes, by law, all workers in a bargaining unit are entitled to the benefits gained through collective bargaining, irrespective of their union affiliation. (Union FAQs)

What is a “right to work” state?

Workers in these states do not have to join a union, where one exists. There are currently 23 right to work states.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is negotiation between a group of employees and their employer, with the goal of achieving a compromise.

What is a grievance?

A grievance is a complaint. The union helps workers proceed with the grievance, following steps outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.

What is arbitration?

Parties in dispute submit their differences to be judged by an impartial person or group. Arbitration may be used to settle a grievance or clarify terms of a contract.

Why do unions strike?

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives private sector workers the right to strike. Public sector workers are not covered by the NLRA. Under the act each state is required to pass laws to establish open shops in all unionized workplaces. About half of the states have passed these laws. These states are know as right to work states and although a union may represent your bargaining unit, you are not require to join the union or to pay union dues. It should be noted that strikers by public sector workers are prohibited by law. Unions representing public sector workers will frequently ask their members to take part in informational pickets on their own time to make the public aware of their issues.

Strikes are usually a last resort because they cause disruptions for all parties involved. Strikes are work stoppages that occur for a variety of reasons, including backing up a bargaining agreement, inter-union or intra-union rivalries, who has the right to represent workers, or disputes over issues.

Can striking workers lose their jobs?

Yes, but it occurs rarely. The right to strike by private sector employees is a protected status and employers may not discharge, transfer, demote or discriminate against strikers. The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) has established rules of conduct for strikes which strikers must observe in order to preserve their protected status. Strikers are also required to observe all local, State and Federal laws. Most public sector workers are forbidden by law form striking or conducting work stoppages. In private industry, striking workers may be replaced with non-union workers if the strike was not caused by unfair labor practice. Participants in illegal strikes can also be replaced.

What is a local union?

The local union makes decisions about many of the decisions that really affect you members the state level. The local union takes care of the contract, helps employees who want help with managerial problems, etc. This structure ensures that decisions regarding local issues are made by the membership at the local level rather than dictated from on high. The parent union oversees national operations.

What is an open shop, an agency shop, and a union shop?

If you work in an open shop, a union represents the bargaining unit but you are not require to join the union or pay dues. Open shops are usually found in right to work states. In an agency shop, a union represents the bargaining unit but you have decide if you want to join or not. If you choose not to join the union, you are required to pay an agency fee equal to the cost maintaining and servicing the union contact. Most agency fees are close to the amount of the dues that you would pay if you joined the union. Under the Hudson decision, unions are required to report to agency fee members the dollar cost of maintaining and servicing the contract on an annual basis and refund any overage that the member might have paid. Under an agency shop, the union is required to represent all members of the bargaining unit no matter what status they have chosen. The third type of shop is a union shop. In this case all workers are require to join the union once they are hired, often within a specified time period after hire. There has been a challenge to this type of shop but in most cases, as long as you pay your dues and fees to the union you will not be terminated.

How are union representatives elected?

Union officers are elected by the membership of the union using a democratic process. Federal law requires that secret ballot procedures be used, and that elections for local officers be held at least every three years.

How much does it cost to join a union?

Dues amounts vary.

What is done with union dues?

Dues are divided between the local union and the national headquarters to pay operating expenses. In addition, salaries for contract negotiators, researchers, attorneys, and other personnel are paid through union dues. Federal law requires that all union money be held and used only for the benefit of the union and its members.

Does the law protect workers joining unions?

Under the law, employers are not allowed to discriminate against or fire workers for choosing to join a union. However, some employers violate these laws. www.aflcio.org.

What is a union contract?

A set of agreed-to rules that governs our economic relationship with management and the stockholders who own the resources and tools we use to build our shared product. Are unions for everyone?

Some Misperceptions about Unions

Unions force workers out on strike often.

Workers vote whether or not to strike in most unions. Ninety-seven percent of contract negotiations are settled without a strike. No one ever wants a strike.

Companies close due to unions.

Companies close for economic reasons-and the vast majority of companies that close are nonunion. Studies have shown that, in fact, unions help decrease employee turnover and can increase efficiency.

Unions stifle individual achievement with things like raises and promotions determined solely by seniority.

Salaries and promotions are bona fide subjects for collective bargaining. Without a union, management makes these decisions unilaterally, usually without any worker input. Through collective bargaining, management and union must agree on the mechanisms to be used, and that agreement is included in a legally binding contract. There are no preconditions. Employees, through their elected union representatives, may bargain for any viable system they believe best suits their profession and employment condition.

Unions used to be but are no longer effective.

Unions are still an effective way for working people to win economic security and have a voice at work.

Being “pro-union” means that you are “anti-management.”

Unions want the employer to be successful, and it is not ungrateful or disloyal to want a voice in our workplace. Unions allow you to have a voice in exchange for your contributions that make the employer successful.

Union Resources