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Being Heard: How to Form a Labor Union

This is another one of those posts that, for some reason, I forgot to write about. The weird thing is that over the last few weeks, I was suffering from some severe writer's block, but it seems to be slowly but surely clearing up.

I feel like this topic will be interesting to a couple of employees and/or students, simply because people are unaware that you have the option to form a labor union if you don't have one that exists in your current area. As a matter of fact, there is an organization for forming new labor unions specifically for campus workers and students. The link to the website is here:

This website should be able to provide you with the basics needed to make a new labor union, but do be advised that this process is long, and dragged out. It is highly likely that even if you pioneered the labor union movement at your workplace or institution, it is unlikely that you would be able to see any of the benefits. It would mostly be an altruistic endeavor, or perhaps a way to leave your mark.

So, now that we know an organization exists for college labor unions --- what do you actually have to do? We will summarize the steps in the following list:

  1. OPTIONAL: Reach out to a group that has already unionized - preferably one that is local in your area.

  2. OPTIONAL: Explain to them your interest and why you want to be represented as a union.

  3. Draft a mission statement (if you followed steps 1 and 2 correctly), most of your mission statement will be what you've already stated in your e-mails. You may need to polish it up though and make it more professional.

  4. Assemble a steering committee of at least 5 individuals (we will discuss more in a later article). Ideally, your steering committee should represent everyone that you're trying to represent in your union (in this particular case, graduate students, staff, faculty).

  5. Set up a financial infrastructure (i.e. club dues and a bank account).

  6. Start scheduling meetings in private with individuals that you can trust.

  7. Generate an interest --- you need at least 30% of the employees to sign a petition for your labor union to be officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board. (NLRB)

  8. Complete an application on the NLRB and inform them that you would like the NLRB to hold an election for your institution's employees to be represented.

  9. Your new union will be able to represent your school if a majority of the voters vote favorably.

  10. Be very patient. This will take a long time, a lot of energy, and a lot of resources. The leadership/steering committee might even have to change periodically as old students/faculty/staff move out, and new students move in.

  11. Congratulations. You've just exercised your rights as a worker to form your union.

Obviously, all of the above is a lot easier said than done. The big issue with forming a union is trust. In an ideal situation, you would have a union that is rich with diversity and inclusion. A lot of this is a numbers game. The reality is, to find people that you can really depend on that won't stab you in the back is a difficult endeavor.

Also, as a reminder, it will take a very long time for you to see the fruits of your labors, if you're lucky enough to see them at all. This is one of those routes that you should consider as a last resort. I know it's kind of disappointing news to hear, but that's part of the reason why there are so few student labor unions, even if it seems appropriate and ideal to be protected and represented by a union.

Congratulations on forming your labor union. Now, get out there and start striking!


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