AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Forming a Union

1. Organize a committee. Your group should determine a core group of people who are committed to organizing workers to act collectively to better their conditions of employment. This working group or “organizing committee” will be responsible for building a structure for the organization and providing leadership for a larger group of activists who will talk with colleagues and urge them to commit to forming the union.

2. Affiliating with the AFT. Contact the AFT. The AFT or a state or local affiliate will assign staff or officers to assist you and your colleagues in your efforts to organize a union. From providing guidance on the process to building support for your effort to other forms of assistance, the AFT and our state and local unions want to help you from the start. The earlier in the process that you contact us, the more we can be of assistance.

3. Working towards establishing the union as the legally-recognized representative of the employees. This process is called “gaining recognition.” Unions gain recognition through different democratic methods. Remember, throughout this process that you and your co-workers are the union – as you build it and when you win it.

  • In states that do not allow collective bargaining, the employer can voluntarily recognize a union. This is relatively rare, but it can happen in situations where the union maintains an effective political action program and where elected policymakers see the value of giving employees a voice at work. Also, in such states, working together as a union, we can win a process in which the employer must meet and confer with the employees’ organization.
  • In states that do allow collective bargaining, the employer can voluntarily recognize a union after the union has collected authorization cards signed by employees showing a majority support for the union.
  • However, given many employers’ resistance to unions, more often to prove that a majority of employees want union representation, the union will petition for an election to be conducted by either your state labor board if you are at a public institution, or by the National Labor Relations Board if you work for an employer in the private sector. This may involve a simple check of authorization cards for majority representation or a more complicated petition process with a follow-up election. Where there is a petition/election process, the employees launch a "card drive" to collect authorization cards.

4. Determining who is in your unit. A bargaining unit is a group of employees with common interests who are protected under the same contract. Only those employees who are considered to be prospective members of your unit will be allowed to vote in an election.

5. Chartering a local. Chartering a local is the process of formally affiliating with the AFT. More often, the local is officially chartered after recognition is achieved either through an election or voluntarily. However, a local can be chartered at any time – before recognition or after a first contract is negoatiated. The local then goes through the process of establishing a constitution and by-laws, electing officers and establishing dues.

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