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How to Start a Union: The Ultimate Guide to Collective Action

Labor unions have had a historic comeback in approval ratings by the public. 

UNT’s student workers still face meager compensation for their work ($9.50/hour), even if they work in the Starbucks which pays at least $15.25 across the nation.

International students primarily work the lowest-paying jobs at UNT because they are largely not allowed to work outside of the university because of their F-1 visa status.

If you want to know how to start a Union, there are two main ways everyone can help the workers who run our university’s services secure higher wages: Unions and collective action.

Free From below of satisfied curling players spreading hands and joining palms together during game Stock Photo

How to help workers unionize

Unionization requires effort, and the responsibility usually falls on workers, but there are ways everyone can contribute. If you are interested in helping a union, here is what you can do to help even if you don't work at the workplace that is trying to unionize.

  • Put up flyers lawfully in public spaces.
  • Post about your union on social media.
  • Hand out pamphlets or brochures to employees during non-work hours.
  • Create your own document with all the information you that is tailored to your needs. Consider adding information that talks about how a union can specifically target the main issues workers face.
  • Familiarize yourself with the talking points and union-busting strategies.
  • Talk to your friends or coworkers about what a union can do for them.
  • Refrain from entering a store or applying for a job that has striking workers (also known as crossing the picket line) This is how consumers can tell business owners they refuse to purchase from them if they refuse to agree to a contract. 
  • Refusing to take the job of a striking union worker, especially if it is a temporary job.
  • Donating to a strike fund. This will help striking workers continue to pay for their necessities.

One thing to know is that workers can still work in other sectors unrelated to their current line of work while on strike. It is also important to know that passing out pro-union information to an employee in front of their manager could get them in trouble. Just because it would be illegal if they got punished for this doesn't mean it won't happen.

What is a Union?

Unions bargain for better wages, benefits, working conditions, and hours on your behalf to the employer. Labor unions are organizations that can represent you and your coworkers. They level the power imbalance between employers and employees while acting as an intermediary. 

Representatives are elected by your coworkers and bargain on your behalf.

Union dues are collected only and paid after a bargaining agreement is met and pay has increased more than the dues cost.

How to form a union

If you would like to unionize your workplace, there are some important steps to take:

  • Talk to your coworkers about pay or benefits. Learn if someone is getting paid less for doing the same work as everyone else.
  • Get together and garner interest in creating a union with your coworkers.
  • Reach out to a union. They can help you with the next steps and can give you advice about what to do next.
  • Circulate a petition. You will need to get at least 30% of all employee's signatures to either be voluntarily recognized by the employer or hold an election with the NLRB.

If your employer does not choose to recognize your union, the National Labor Relations Board will conduct an election. At this time, the pro-union employees will campaign for the union, and the employers will most likely campaign against it. Employers have the option to recognize the union.

Union campaigning

It is your and your pro-union employee's job to campaign. There are a number of ways you can promote the election to your coworkers, but most of convincing should be done ahead of time.

  • Wear clothes that promotes the union
  • Put up posters 
  • Talk to your coworkers about the upcoming election
  • Discredit any anti-union partial truths or misinformation provided by the company.

Your employer can also use this time to campaign against the union, much like the current situation of Starbucks’ unionization and their actions against it. These anti-union campaigns can present themselves as credible sources of information about forming a union but can use this cover to spread half truths or leave out important information. See "10 things to know about a union", an anti union website seemingly owned by Starbucks. Employers can even require you attend a captive audience meeting or play anti union videos in your workplaces.

If the election was successful and your union is certified with the NLRB, collective bargaining begins — the longest part of the process.

How unions leverage power

Workers are the ones who produce the profits, not the employers. Corporations need the workers to function and be profitable.

Workers can refuse to work if employers refuse to bargain in good faith or because of unsafe work conditions, insufficient hours, or irregular hours, which would stop the flow of money to the employers.

Workers vote on decisions like authorizing a strike, how much union dues will cost, who represents the union, and what the workers want in their contracts.

Because of the threat of homelessness, someone will always be willing to take a job with poor working conditions. Workers are replaceable, and companies will try to temporarily fill their positions, however, if a majority of the workers go on strike, there will be too many positions to fill in a reasonable amount of time, which would hurt profits.

The National Labor Relations Act protects worker’s right to engage in concerted activities, free from the threat of termination or shutdown of facilities. 

It is important to know that while there are laws to protect workers engaging in collective action, unlawful union busting can still happen because the NLRB does not have the funds to go after every case. 

Why Starbucks and SWU haven't reached an agreement

Starbucks has to bargain in good faith according to the National Labor Relations Act. However, they have continuously refused the basic demands of the proposal that the union has given them. 

Because Starbucks has continuously refused proposed contracts, meaning Starbucks Workers United has not been successful in obtaining their wage increase and benefits.

Free Starbucks Cup Stock Photo

Benefits are only secured when the collective bargaining agreement has been met. Dues are only collected after workers earn more than they have to pay. Deciding to unionize your Starbucks is a long battle that has been going on since 2022.

The push for more Starbucks stores to unionize helps all union stores eventually reach a collective bargaining agreement.

Don't be discouraged, the contract has been in the works since 2022. According to Starbucks' website, they are looking to find an agreement with Workers United:

“In the last year, the company reached a third collective bargaining agreement in Canada with the United Steelworkers, and negotiations are progressing with other represented stores in Canada.”

Starbucks Workers United is hoping to reach an agreement before the end of 2024. Once the agreement has been reached, every unionized store will receive the benefits.

Although UNT’s Starbucks workers need a raise right now, voting to unionize can help them raise them in collective action. There does not need to be a collective bargaining agreement or even a union to secure higher wages. There are other similar ways to secure higher wages by applying the principles of how unions leverage their power and organizing workers, even without a union.

Collective Action for non-union workers and allies

The NLRA protects workers when raising concerns about working conditions, as well as protecting them when collectively bargaining themselves. Non-union workers can engage in many different types of  “concerted activities” described by the NLRB

  • Talking with your employers as a group about better pay (also known as collective bargaining)
  • Signing petitions
  • Striking
  • Circulating brochures
  • Discussing pay and benefits with coworkers

The difference in union representation is that unions provide intermediary representation that is on your side, balancing the power imbalance in workplaces. They also provide and pay for legal counsel with dues that can help your union take the best steps to secure your benefits, as well as sue for unlawful union busting such as firing employee union organizers.

Collective organizing doesn't always require a union: for example, contractors or gig workers can still organize together. 

According to this article by The Nation:

There are also dozens of alliances that aren’t unions but fight for workers’ rights in similar ways. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has won wage increases and helped enact legal protections for domestic laborers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has organized tomato farm laborers into a hunger strike, eventually winning wage increases across the industry."

Your responsibility to act now

When workers organize, they have the power to call for work stoppages and have their needs heard and then met.

The responsibility of helping others obtain decent wages is not only in everyone’s interests but also in your hands. Please do not neglect this issue if you are able to, do not let this problem persist at UNT. This has to be changed, and someone has to change it.

Learning how to form a union is an important first step, but securing higher wages is the priority, with or without the anticipated union contract. Now that you know how to start a union, you can learn more about how unionizing address poverty from our previous blog.