"Union from The Start": you don't have to wait, organize now

Dayne Goodwin

Union from The Start (You Don’t Have to Wait)
by Colette Perold and Eric Dirnbach, Labor Notes, January 30, 2023

Win a union election, and it’s a long road to a signed contract. Lose a union election, and workers may think the fight is over.

But win, lose, or not even close to an election, workers at all kinds of workplaces can fight for their unions and win demands here and now. It's a strategy called “pre-majority” unionism, and the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC) is here to help navigate it.   https://workerorganizing.org/support/

Where an election or contract victory doesn’t seem possible for years to come, workers are often ignored by existing unions that don’t have the resources to support them. But their continued organizing is key, we believe, to helping the labor movement grow.

While they may not be able to win official recognition or a contract right away, these workers can still build shop floor unions and fight for and win improvements. This type of pre-majority strategy is open to all workers and can even lay the basis for long-term organizing in important sectors of the economy.

In a pre-majority union, workers organize and act like a union even when winning a contract does not seem realistic any time soon. In other words, it’s about being a union whether or not the bosses recognize that union as a legal entity they are required to bargain with.

Versions of this approach have also been called “minority unionism” or “solidarity unionism.” ...
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 ... Pre-majority unionism gives workers a way to build the lasting strength necessary to take on hostile employers over the long term. It allows workers to win widespread gains through direct action at any time—not just during bargaining every three or more years. And there are no contractual “management rights” or “no-strike” clauses that can inhibit organizing.

Workers in some pre-majority unions can also build “wall-to-wall” unions across job categories, since they are not constrained by decisions made by the NLRB or local employment bodies about which workers are allowed to be in a particular bargaining unit. Workers often report that this cross-job solidarity adds major strength to their organizing.
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The longest-running pre-majority union that we know of in the private sector is the United Electrical Workers’ (UE) Carolina Auto, Aerospace and Machine Workers Union in North Carolina, in existence for over 30 years at a factory now called Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant. Workers there decided to pursue pre-majority unionism after witnessing repeated narrow losses in NLRB elections at local factories in the 1980s and 1990s.

Since they won their first campaign for a paid holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1990, they’ve won reinstatement of workers fired unfairly, shorter shifts, and better benefits and pay. They’ve also won several unfair labor practice charges protecting their right to distribute union materials.

The largest active, nationwide pre-majority campaign is the Communications Workers’ United Campus Workers, with thousands of members at public universities in a dozen states that prohibit public sector collective bargaining. https://workerorganizing.org/premajority-unionism/case-studies/united-campus-workers/  The union has a list of wins on many campuses, including stopping job privatization and raising wages.
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Despite the many roadblocks, legal and otherwise, to worker organizing, the good news is that all workers can start organizing now—whether or not they have formal NLRA organizing rights, work in the public sector, are considered independent contractors, work for a small family-owned company, or work for a huge corporation.

Don’t wait for union organizers to show up—you can form your own union on your own, right now. Contact EWOC to discuss!  https://workerorganizing.org/support/

Colette Perold and Eric Dirnbach are volunteer organizers with the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC), a joint project of the United Electrical Workers and the Democratic Socialists of America.

For more information on pre-majority unionism, including detailed case studies of the Carolina Auto, Aerospace and Machine Workers Union, the Plastic Workers Organizing Committee, and the United Campus Workers, see EWOC’s report here.  https://workerorganizing.org/premajority-unionism/
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