Born in the U.S.A: Talking Union

Recently I was asked a question concerning my “Right to work wrong for workers” column published in the Feb. 8 edition of The News. “What are union dues?” It caught me completely off guard. Growing up in a union household kind of insulates you to these kinds of questions.

I’d been writing from within the bubble of my upbringing in a union household and missed the big picture. I’d fumbled, dropped the ball on bringing the good news of what unions are and what they do for workers and their families. With this column, I’m going to burst the bubble I’ve been writing from the inside of.

What is a union? A labor union is an organization of workers that work together to achieve goals such as higher pay, better working conditions, shorter hours, benefits, etc. Unions are a voice for workers on the job. Being a union member means that when you have a problem with your boss, you have a chance to get it resolved. If you’re not a union member, and there’s a problem, you’re SOL.

Where do I sign up? Joining a union where a union already exists is pretty easy. It comes with the job in the state of Kentucky because Kentucky isn’t a right-to-work state (for more information of why right-to-work is wrong for workers, check out my Feb. 8 column on thenews.org). But what if there isn’t a union already there? What if you are working minimum wage full time and still don’t have enough money to pay the rent? What if you can’t afford to get sick because you don’t have paid sick days?

If you have a job where you have to deal with middle management on a day-to-day basis, you need a union. The only way to get one is to organize it with your fellow workers.

The first step in organizing a union is getting together with a few of your fellow workers you think would be interested. Come up with a program. You want $15 an hour instead of $7.25? You want paid sick days and paid vacations? Start talking. Then, take your case to your fellow workers.

At this point you should contact a professional union organizer from a union that represents workers like you (for example, if you work in the deli at Walmart, you’d probably want to contact the United Food and Commercial Workers; a Google search will help out a lot on this one, most unions have contact information online). The organizer will show up and from there you start passing out membership cards. If 30 percent of workers sign ‘em, you can then petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election.

This is where things get tricky. Employers will try and prevent their workers from voting yes to form a union. Layoffs, slowdowns, whatever they try, it’s to encourage you and your fellow workers to vote no. If you win, you have yourselves a certified local union. Congrats! Your employer is legally obligated to negotiate with you.

What now? Well now that you have a union, you get to sit down and negotiate a contract. You’ve still got a lot to do!

Now that the good news has come to you, you have the choice of doing with it what you will. If you’d like to go about your daily life, put up with a terrible boss and low wages, that’s your choice. But if you’re fed up with $7.25 an hour, if you’re tired of being treated like dirt, you now have all the ammunition you need to make a change for the better.

Column by Devin Griggs, opinion editor. Devin serves as vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.