How Can I Form A Union In My Workplace

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) about organizing a Union

in the Broadcast Industry

Many broadcast workers have been organizing their workplaces into Union shops throughout the Country in the last few years and while each worker has their own particular issue or reason there are some common questions raised in each organizing drive. We have put together a few of those and broken them down into three categories; process, rights and industry issues. Please read through these FAQ’s to find out more about organizing your shop.

What is a Union?

A union is a group of workers in a Company that chose to bargain collectively for their wages, benefits and working conditions with their Employer. They are offered this right by law through the National Labor Relation Act. This act is enforced by The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which is a Federal Agency. A union is an organization committed to representing the individual, and it establishes a true sense of democracy in the workplace. IBEW Local 1228 has been organizing broadcast workplaces since 1941, just 6 years after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act on July 5, 1935.

Why do Employers opposed to unions?

The union acts as the collective voice of individual employees. The Contracts we negotiate limit management’s ability to change policies, wages, benefits and working conditions on a whim or in a fashion that is detrimental to the workers we represent. Unions challenge unfair or arbitrary decisions made by an employer or company.  Managers would much rather have unlimited say in the direction and future of the workplace without interference by all of its employees.  

A union ensures that the individual employee takes part in decision’s regarding issues such as hours of work, level of wages and salaries, job assignments and safety. Companies sometime overlook the fact that the success or future of the company is a direct result of the success of their employees. A union maintains a sense of democracy within a company and should be considered a constructive influence.

How do we form a Union?

Organizing a Union in your workplace is a project as well as a process and should not be rushed if you want it to succeed. First, co-workers discuss with each other why they think forming a Union would be beneficial to them and what issues or conditions a Union would improve. Then they speak to a Local Union affiliated with a national Union to get their help in organizing the workplace.

In order to form a Union in the private sector, workers need to file a petition for an election with the NLRB to have a Local Union become their Representative. By law, all they need is 30% of the group they are trying to form into a Union, but experience has shown that unless you have 75%-80% you will most likely lose the election. The proof of that is presented to the NLRB in the form of representation cards signed by the workers along with the petition for an election. The NLRB will then set a date for the election between 15 and 28 days of filing of the petition.

What happens if I sign a union card?

Signing a union card is just the first step of a legal process. Once the Organizers determine they have a sufficient number of cards a petition can then be filed with the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), requesting that a secret ballot elections be held to confirm that a majority of employees want to be union. If that majority votes in favor of the union, the NLRB will certify the Local Union as the official bargaining representative. The Employer does not see these cards.

What is a Bargaining Unit?

A Bargaining Unit is the group of workers who wish to form a Union. The way this is determined is fairly standard according to NLRB cases. They usually fall into one of a few categories:

A Technical Unit, Clerical Unit, or a Professional Unit. Most broadcast bargaining Units fall into either Technical (technicians, photographers, editors, master control, directors etc.) or Professional (reporters, anchors, writers, producers). But sometimes the Board will approve what is considered a “wall to wall” Unit such as Local 1228 has in WJAR Providence which includes both technical and professional staff.

The NLRB looks for determining factors among the group in what they refer to as a “Community of Interest”, meaning common supervision, similar craft assignments, regular interaction, same benefits and a few other factors.  If the Company and the Union “stipulate” or agree to the Bargaining Unit members then the election is set. If there is a discrepancy between their interpretations of who is in and who is out then must attend a hearing within 10 days of the petition being filed to present their case to the NLRB. The NLRB makes the final determination on the size and makeup of the Bargaining Unit.

What is the Campaign Period?

After the petition is file the Company will hold what are commonly referred to as “captive audience meetings” where they gather many of the workers into a room to tell them why they think you should not form a Union. They will also do this one on one with your supervisors or through your co-workers who oppose the Union. The following are examples of employer conduct that interferes with the rights of employees:

  • Threatening the loss of jobs or benefits.
  • Threatening employees about their union activity.
  • Promising or granting promotions, pay raises, or other benefit in return for being against the union.
  • Discriminating or firing employees to discourage unionism.
  • If any of these Section 7 violations do occur the union will file charges with the National Labor Relations Board on your behalf. You have the legal right to support and join a union of your own choosing and we will make sure that right is not interfered with by unscrupulous employers.

Is the company allowed to speak out against the union?

Yes, and it is very likely they will. It is in the employer’s best interest (not yours) to keep the company union-free. Your employer will tell you anything, even lie to you, to remain union-free. On the other hand, it is in the union’s best interest to be as up front and honest with you and also to let you know the type of tactics that will be used by your employer. This is the most important time to stay together and not fall for the implied or real promises, threats or innuendos.

What happens after the Election?

The Local Union will work with the Bargaining Unit to draft Contract proposals pick a Bargaining Committee made up of Employees and set up meeting dates with the Company to begin the process of negotiating their first Contract. This usually takes quite a few months and can take up to a year. But during that period, the Employer is forbidden form reducing wages or benefits or changing working conditions. When the Contract is signed by both parties, those terms and conditions are in place until a new Contract is negotiated. In the broadcast industry, the normal Contract length is about 3 years. The company must bargain in good faith with the union toward reaching an agreement.

What about Dues?

You do not pay anything until you get your first Contract. At the time that you become a member, you pay dues that have been determined by the entire membership of the Local Union and the IBEW.  Local 1228’s dues structure is $22.50 per month and 1.55% of straight time gross wages. We do not take dues from overtime wages.

Just like gyms, health clubs or any other membership organization, dues are a fact of life. We all realize this fact and are willing to contribute our fair share. The goal is to increase your wages and benefits well above and beyond your union dues. If we can’t do that then you don’t need us.

If a union is voted in, are union supporters given preferences in wages and job assignments?

No. By law, no employee can be given preference in wages and job assignments just because of his/her union support.

Could the union force the company to do away with work rules?

No. However, if you find those rules unjust or discriminatory, the union, as a collective bargaining agent, can help ensure that your workplace is operated fairly.

Could the union tell the company how to run their operation?

No. The union acts as the collective bargaining agent in matters concerning wages, hours and conditions of employment. A union does not run the company in which you work; it provides you the right to have someone represent you on matters with which you disagree with the company.

Can the union require the company to replace supervisory personnel with people of the union’s choosing?

No. It is management’s prerogative to select supervisory personnel.

How strong are Broadcast Unions?

As we said above Local 1228 of the IBEW has been around since 1941 and has organized and improved wages, benefits and working conditions for workers and their families in each shop since then. In the last few years we have had three very successful organizing drives and secured excellent first Contracts in two out of three those. The third is still in bargaining but we hope to have that Contract by years end.

Steve Katsos
IBEW Local 1228 Organizer
508.472.5018
katsos@ibew1228.org

John Murphy
IBEW Local 1228 Assistant Business Manager / Organizer
860.995.3389

murphy@ibew1228.org

Fletcher Fischer
IBEW Local 1228 Business Manager
860.281.4185
fletcher@ibew1228.org