With the economy in the tank, things look bleak for a lot of retail workers right now. But at unionized retail stores, things look a lot better. That's because union members have, on average, 30 percent higher wages than non-union workers, better benefits, and real job security--especially important in these tough economic times.
Because I work for the UFCW--the retail workers' union--I sometimes get questions from retail workers on how to unionize their stores. The UFCW already represents workers from stores like H&M, Macy’s, Saks 5th Avenue, Bloomingdale's, and other retail giants. And in all those stores, the first step was simply workers getting together and deciding they needed to improve conditions in their store.
They came to a simple decision: things won't improve in the workplace until workers have a voice on the job--which a union can help secure.
Here are 10 steps to form a union in your retail workplace:
Step 1: Talk with Your Co-Workers
First, initiate confidential discussions with your co-workers. By having these private discussions, you can figure out whether or not there are other workers who might be interested in organizing.
Step 2: Make the Call
Call the UFCW local union in your area. Try the UFCW Local Union Locator Page to see who is in your area.
Step 3: Set Up a Meeting
A UFCW representative needs to meet with members of your small group. There, you can ask questions on what it takes to build a union. When you and your co-workers agree that the UFCW Union is the best union to organize with, you use this initial meeting to develop a basic plan to organize your store.
Step 4: Build the Union. Create a Strong, United Organizing Committee
Your UFCW organizer will help you and your co-workers craft an organizing plan. Your organizing committee needs to be composed of key leaders from each department. You will also want to make sure that your committee reflects the diversity within your store.
It's important to "map out" what the workplace looks like and who works where. Lists and charts are developed so that your organizing committee can assess the sentiments of the whole group and identify work areas where the committee might concentrate its efforts.
Step 6: Information Is Power
As the organizing committee forms and undertakes some basic assignments, such as identifying who works with whom, other committee members will help the UFCW organizer make sense of the information, including worker info, store info, and employer info, as well as community groups you might partner with in your effort to join a union.
Step 7: Identification
The organizing committee begins to identify the issues that workers care about. These might include having a voice on the job, better wages, a better schedule or hours, fair treatment, affordable health care, etc. Once the committee identifies who cares about which issues, it will work with the UFCW organizer to develop a game plan to highlight those issues.
Step 8: Training & Sign Up
As the organizing committee grows and develops, the UFCW organizer will want to train committee members on what to expect and how to reach out to their co-workers. One of the most important aspects of the organizing campaign is when committee members ask co-workers to sign Authorization Cards. The goal of this project is to secure overwhelming support and a solid majority of cards before proceeding on to the election phase of the campaign.
Step 9: The Union Election
The signed cards are used to petition the federal labor board or authority to schedule an election. Before the date is set, the labor board will determine which workers are eligible to vote in the union election. Once an election date is set, the organizing drive heats up. Workers continue to recruit union supporters as election day approaches. Winning requires that the organizing committee and its supporters stand up to the employer campaign that is always focused on destroying confidence and unity. When the union wins, the employer must recognize the union and bargain a contract.
Step 10: Negotiate!
The organizing campaign continues as workers press for a first contract. The contract should address the needs and wants of the workers, from fair wages and job security to better health care or pension. The contract is negotiated by worker representatives and their union representative and forms the basis for more improvements in the years to come