How to Start a Union at Work

Are you and your coworkers overworked, underpaid, or working in an unsafe environment? It’s time you got the respect and benefits you deserve, and you can take action to make these changes by organizing a union at work.

Bosses put short-term profits over the needs of their workers. If your boss ignores your demands for workplace safety and fair treatment, you and your coworkers need to take action to protect yourselves. As individual workers, we have no power, but when we act together with our coworkers as a union, we can make our boss listen to us.

How Do I Start a Union at Work?

Starting a union at work begins with talking with your coworkers. Ask them what issues affect them the most to determine which are most widely felt and deeply felt. From there, it’s a matter of organizing and making a plan for action.

The five steps below outline how to begin organizing a union. Be sure to also talk with an EWOC organizer to make your plan and avoid common pitfalls and know your rights.

Five Steps to Start a Union at Work

1. Talk with Your Coworkers

Your boss will sometimes do something that makes everyone furious. When this happens, your coworkers usually won’t need much convincing that it’s time to come together and take action. You’ll need to

  1. Form a group (an “organizing committee”) that can help move things forward across the workplace
  2. Decide what you want (your demands)
  3. Make a plan to win your demands

To do this, you need to talk with your coworkers.

2. Join Together with Your Coworkers

So you have a serious complaint about how your boss is behaving. You’re rightfully angry, but what’s your next move?

Whatever strategy you use to tackle the issues in your workplace, there is one thing you should always remember: don’t go it alone. Any effort to improve your workplace will only be successful if you and your coworkers are organized. Here’s how to form an organizing committee.

3. Identify a Set of Demands

Workers bear the brunt of every workplace emergency. Even if you don’t have a union, you can come together with your coworkers to demand that your employer protect workers and address your urgent concerns. Here are some ideas on what to demand of your employer.

4. Prepare for What Your Boss Might Say and Do

When you present your demands and take action, your boss may respond in a number of ways to try and minimize the need for changes or may even illegally retaliate against workers. It’s important to inoculate your coworkers against any possible outcome so you’ll be able to respond collectively and effectively.

Contact your EWOC organizer to help prepare yourself and your coworkers for reactions from the boss.

5. Present Your Demands and Take Action to Win Them

After you’ve talked to your coworkers, and you’ve decided that it’s time to take action, it’s time to put together a group of workers who are committed to see this action through. This group must be representative of your workplace: shifts, departments, gender, race, nationality, etc.

This group will be your organizing committee, and it should be made up of leaders in their departments, meaning that they are good workers, people respect them, and that they are well liked. Here’s how to develop a strategy for presenting demands and taking action to win them.

Special thanks to the United Electrical workers union for this material.

Ready to get started?

Be sure to talk with an EWOC organizer who can answer all of your questions and help you put together a successful plan. Bosses will likely push back against your efforts, so it’s important to know what to expect and how to win.