How to Start a Labor Union

Written by roger jewell
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Through the collective bargaining process, unions and employers negotiate in order to execute a collective bargaining agreement covering wages, working conditions, benefits and other terms and conditions of work. In some cases, union workers can vote to strike which involves refusal to work under an existing contract. There are some hurdles that can occur in starting a union. Follow these steps to start the process.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Hold a meeting of all of the workers who are interested in learning more about starting a union. Meetings can be held and distribution of union literature is permitted while at work but only during breaks and off-time. Distribution of union literature can only be done at the employer’s location but not where production takes place.

  2. 2

    Collect signature cards from workers who are in favour of starting a union. You will need to collect cards from at least 30 per cent of the workers in the proposed collective bargaining unit. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union recommends obtaining signature cards from at least 65% from the proposed members since some workers may change their minds as the process progresses.

  3. 3

    Solicit voluntary acceptance of the union. This is usually done by union representatives. They will contact the employer and request voluntary acceptance of the union’s right to engage in collective bargaining.

  4. 4

    Submit the completed signature cards to the appropriate regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) office where the proposed union files a petition for election. The NLRB will then set a date for the election voting which will be held by secret ballot.

  5. 5

    Win the election by a simple majority. The NLRB will then certify the union. Collective bargaining will then begin with your employer.

Tips and warnings

  • Joining a union does not always benefit workers. Carefully consider the benefits and detriments that are involved in joining a union. While employers are often at fault for violating NLRB laws, the same is true about unions. Violations by any party (union, employer or union member) can be reported to the NLRB by filing a formal grievance. The NLRB will then review the facts and decide whether a violation of law has occurred and impose a proposed remedy.
  • Although protection of worker’s rights is provided for by labour rules, many employers still violate these laws by either firing workers who are attempting to unionise or by shutting down operations without complying with the law.

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