Where there are unions things are better
New Member Handbook – By Andrea Zinder
Since 1936, a membership in Local 324 guaranteed a middle class lifestyle. But it wasn’t until the years following World War II that Southern California’s grocery industry became the nation’s pace-setter in negotiating contracts that establish wage and benefit thresholds.
Although UFCW Local 324 is known nationally for tapping the skills of highly trained and seasoned negotiators, it can take only part of the credit for the exemplary collective bargaining agreements under which its members work.
Evidence is overwhelming that the larger the percentage of union workers in a given industry, the higher the average wage rate. This holds true for virtually every job classification in every geographic region of the country.
Southern California is the standard bearer for this battle cry.
The region’s strong union presence has managed to keep wages and benefit levels high, an impressive feat given the relentless assaults on wage rates, health benefits and pension plans by the region’s primary grocery chains
It is precisely because of the large numbers of union members that Local 324 has been so successful in maintaining the pay and benefits that stand as the envy of the rest of the country.
Unfortunately, not all UFCW locals have fared so well. In depth studies also prove that when the percentage of union market share decreases in a particular region, wage rates decrease and the number of people without health insurance climbs dramatically.
Frequently Asked Questions
WHY DO I NEED A UNION?
The provisions of state law consider most workers “employees at will.” This means that except under very special circumstances, an employer can discharge its workers with or without a reason and at any time. Employers can also set wage rates, benefit levels, and work rules without any worker input or involvement. In other words, management can do or change just about anything it wants, whenever it chooses. When workers form a union, their employer is then obligated under federal law to negotiate wages, hours and conditions of employment with representatives that the workers designate.
ARE UNIONS STILL IMPORTANT TO WORKING PEOPLE TODAY?
Unions are as important as they ever were—because corporations are just as dedicated to their bottom line, regardless of the consequences for workers. The nature of work in America is changing. Employers are trying to shed responsibilities—for providing health insurance, good pension coverage, reasonable work hours and job safety protections, for example—while making workers’ jobs and incomes less secure through downsizing, part-timing and outsourcing. Working people need a voice at work to keep employers from making our jobs look like they did 100 years ago, with sweatshop conditions, unlivable wages and 70-hour workweeks.
WHO JOINS UNIONS?
Every kind of worker! Today’s unions include manufacturing and construction workers, teachers, technicians and doctors—and every type of worker in between. No matter what you do for a living, there’s a union that has members who do the same thing.
HOW MANY UNION MEMBERS ARE THERE IN THE UNITED STATES?
About 15.4 million men and women are members of labor unions in the United States today.
WHY DO PEOPLE JOIN UNIONS?
People join unions so they can work together and bargain together with their employer. On average, union workers’ wages are 30 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts and union members also enjoy the union advantage of better benefits, working conditions and a voice on the job about how the work gets done.
HOW CAN I JOIN A UNION?
Under current labor law, joining a union is more difficult than it should be. Generally, when a majority of workers at a worksite signify they want a union (by signing cards or a petition), the National Labor Relations Board sets up an election. (The National Mediation Board does this for airline and railroad workers.) Too often, though, employers fight to block workers’ freedom to choose a union.
HOW DO I FORM A UNION WHERE I WORK?
We will be happy to talk with you about the specific problems that you are experiencing and what can be done to correct them. These conversations are strictly confidential and you are under no obligation of any kind to our union. Because every organizing drive is unique, there is not a standard procedure that is used in each campaign. If a group of workers decide to organize and become part of the union, we will develop a program that is especially tailored to fit the needs of those particular
In order for workers to gain union representation, a majority must authorize the union to represent them. This is accomplished by signing cards or a petition that clearly states that purpose. The petition or authorization cards are kept confidential.
IS IT EASY TO GET A UNION IN?
No. It takes the work of employees who are dedicated to helping their co-workers as well as the active involvement of as many employees as possible. During the weeks before an election, it is very possible that the company will spend thousands of dollars to present an anti-union campaign compiled by paid consultants. Mandatory meetings with management may be held. You will be forced to watch films showing the horrors of organized labor strikes and violence. You will be told that unions are corrupt and that you don’t need a third party interfering with your relationship with management. They will beg for a second chance, but it is important that workers stay focused on their issues and why you decided to organize to begin with. The union isn’t a third party … YOU ARE THE UNION!!
AM I PROTECTED BY LAW?
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 gave most U.S. workers the right to join or form unions. It did not include agricultural workers, railroad and airline workers or public employees, whose freedom to choose union membership is covered by other laws.
The Federal Government guarantees you the right to organize a union. To put it simply, the United States Government itself guarantees you the right to help organize, join and support a union of your choice. This includes such activities as signing union cards, encouraging others to sign union cards and attending union meetings.
It also includes such activities as wearing union buttons, passing out union literature, and talking to other workers as long as it doesn’t interfere with work (production). It also means that employers are breaking the law if they question workers: (1) to try and find out how the workers feel; (2) to identify who has signed cards of who are union supporters; (3) to discover which ones are attending meetings, or if they engage in any other interference with your right to freely choose a union.
It also means employers cannot promise raises, promotions or other benefits in an attempt to influence workers. They cannot take away or threaten to take away any of your benefits because of union activity.
It also means you cannot be penalized in any way because of your union activity or support. You cannot have your overtime cut, be transferred to a less desirable job, be suspended or discharged. If an employer does any of these things because of your union activity or support, the law says you must be reinstated to your former job without loss of seniority, and the employer must pay you for all the lost wages plus interest.
We service and negotiate thousands of separate contracts for our members in various industries including retail food, drug and mercantile stores, food processing plants, plastics manufacturing and health care.
We have the strength, know-how and capabilities to help you gain a written contract, too.
It is your legal right. YES! IT’S THE LAW! YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO HAVE A UNION!
HOW DOES THE UNION WORK?
A union is a democratic organization of a majority of workers in a facility. The basic idea of a union is that by joining with fellow employees to form a union, workers have a greater ability to improve conditions at the worksite. In other words, “In unity, there is strength.”
WHO RUNS THE UNION? THE COMPANY SAYS THE UNION IS JUST A BUNCH OF OUTSIDERS — A THIRD PARTY.
You run your own union. You elect your negotiating committee and prepare your own list of improvements for a union contract. You elect your own officers. The union is not an “OUTSIDER.” The union is YOU!
HOW MUCH ARE THE DUES AND WILL I HAVE TO PAY AN INITUATION FEE?
The dues rates are established by the members. However, no dues are paid until the majority of workers vote to accept a contract they helped to negotiate. All initiation fees are waived for members of newly organized facilities.
WHERE DO UNION DUES GO?
The union dues are divided between the International Union and the workers’ own local union, which has its own treasury. Dues are used to run the union and keep it strong. Dues pay for contract negotiations, grievance arbitration and organizing.
WILL THE UNION MAKE US GO ON STRIKE?
No one can force you to go out on strike. In fact, strikes are actually very rare. The chances that you’ll go out on strike over any given contract are about 1%-2%. There can only be a strike at your place of employment if a majority of the workers vote to go on strike. The only reason that strikes come to mind is that the companies stress the fact that they could happen in order to scare employees, and the media loves them when in reality over 97% of all union contracts are negotiated without a strike.
CAN I GET FIRED FOR HELPING THE UNION OR FOR ATTENDING A UNION MEETING?
It is illegal for you to be fired, punished or harassed for attending union meetings or for supporting the union. The law protects your rights as workers to improve your working conditions.
DOES THE COMPANY HAVE TO NEGOTIATE IF WE VOTE TO JOIN A UNION?
YES! The law requires the company to bargain “in good faith” with the committee which the employees elect.
WILL THE OPERATION CLOSE IF WE VOTE TO JOIN THE UFCW?
It is illegal for an employer to threaten to close or close a facility to avoid a union. Companies use this common scare tactic to avoid successful organizing campaigns. The worst possible disservice that a union could do to its membership is to drive the company they work for out of business. The UFCW even publishes “Shop Union” guides to promote our Union facilities and the products we help produce.
WHAT IF I AM HAPPY WITH THE COMPANY I WORK FOR?
Our hat is off to any employer who treats its workers with the respect and dignity they deserve. But let’s face it, in today’s economy mergers and acquisitions, buyouts and hostile takeovers are as common as weddings. If you are lucky enough to work for the same company for 10, 15 or 20 years it is likely to change ownership at least once during that period. An ironclad collective bargaining agreement will prevent someone new from coming in and “cleaning house” on a whim. Many workers also fail to realize that the owners of their company have little or nothing to do with the good or bad treatment they receive on a daily basis. Supervisors or managers can have a huge impact on an employee’s positive or negative feelings about his or her job. Those very supervisors or managers can be here today and gone tomorrow and so too can your job satisfaction. Collective bargaining agreements negotiated by a union are not as unpredictable.
MY COMPANY SAYS THAT UNIONS ARE CORRUPT.
Studies have been done that have demonstrated that less than 1% of local unions had corruption problems. Compare this with an investigation into corporate corruption by Fortune magazine that found that corporate corruption ran at 11%.
WHY ARE UNIONS SO POLITICAL?
Negotiating terms and conditions of a contract often requires weeks, sometimes months of give and take from both management and unions. When unions began growing more sophisticated in the ways of negotiating and American companies found themselves regularly making concessions on pivotal economic issues, corporate attorneys discovered that they could call upon their friends and allies in elected office to re-write the laws and remedy any issues that didn’t go their way at the bargaining table. But instead of complaining about the injustices around us, unions set out to find friends and allies of their own. And they succeeded. Unions never get everything on their agenda enacted into law. Who does? But today, they are no longer shut out of the process.
HOW IS UNION POLITICAL ACTION PAID FOR?
Political activities are paid for by voluntary donations from union members. Local 324 has the Active Ballot Club for that very purpose and regularly requests that members donate a mere 25 cents a week to support it.
DO UNIONS TELL THEIR MEMBERS HOW TO VOTE?
Many national unions, central labor councils and state federations endorse candidates for office and let their members know why they believe the endorsed candidates would do the best job for working families. Local 324 goes one or two steps further by listing candidates and their stands on issues that directly impact our members. Think about it this way: if one candidate for office wants to destroy your union and his or her opponent wants to strengthen it, wouldn’t it be irresponsible of Local 324 NOT to tell you about it. No one can tell union members how to vote—that’s up to each individual. Making suggestions on the topic is part of the democratic process.