In honor of Labor Day weekend, we wanted to tackle a subject that’s been on everyone’s mind lately. The more we hear about Amazon and Starbucks employees unionizing, the more it can feel like a good option—especially if you feel that your work isn’t being properly valued by the company you work for. Job protection is always a good thing and strength can be found in numbers; hence the recent desire to create more unions.
What is a Union?
There are many different types of unions. A union is typically a membership-based collective of employees that elect their own representatives to be a voice for all employees (whether organized by trade or through a single corporation). The benefits of belonging to a union are many. Union representatives supply members with advocacy in times of need, like aiding in disputes, overseeing that contracts are fair, and bargaining for improved benefits of all employees. Unionizing offers improved job safety and security for workers, where members look out for one another through paying dues and banding together under their own representation.
Why would I need to unionize?
In working for smaller agencies, startups, and companies, you may find it much easier for your voice to be heard. This is why unions aren’t typically started in these smaller settings. Plus, many brand new businesses tend to treat their employees well, as they recognize they can’t do anything without their close-knit teams. But once a company grows into a behemoth, the worker can sometimes get lost in the shuffle and even feel expendable. And if you work for yourself (hello, freelancers), isolation can be another source of those expendable feelings. When these feelings creep in, know that you’re probably not the only person feeling this way. It might be worth it to meet up and discuss unionizing. You'll likely find that your collective voice will be taken much more seriously.
How do I start one?
There are so many resources these days online, so do your homework as it applies to your industry. Here is a standard list of steps you’ll need to take to unionize. The big takeaways? Set up meetings to discuss the needs of workers that aren’t being met. Next, do your research and meet with a local union organizer, who’ll help answer all your questions and give you the tools to create contracts, drum up support, hold fair elections, and more. As you gather this information, ask coworkers to help you start a dedicated committee. You’ll need to ensure you have support, too, so you’ll need plenty of employees to sign support cards for union creation. Once you have strong support (the majority of your coworkers), then the company has a legal right to allow for unionization. They are not allowed to discourage or intimidate you from supporting unions, either. Your final step will be to hold elections for representation.
I’m a Freelancer. What are my options?
Great question! Many major cities have freelancer unions that you can join. In New York, the Freelancer’s Union is free to join and offers everything from low-cost insurance, to advocacy to free classes, training, and networking events—all in the name of helping you succeed and get paid on time. Even if you don’t live within this city and can’t attend their workshops, they still have remote-based aid available. Depending on where you live, there might be a great freelancer union nearby. If not, you can band together with like-minded freelancers on platforms like Alignable and Linkedin and form your own local union (see above for steps on how to unionize).
Unions can be a powerful tool to help ensure workers feel connected and heard when their voices might be invisible to a large company. But if you work for a smaller company or are a lone freelancer, feel empowered to speak with your coworkers and network about any unfair treatment, pay inadequacies, and the like. Everyone deserves a safe place to work where mutual respect is a core value. Unions can help make individuals feel supported and make workplaces more equitable.
Looking for a new gig? Maybe some help from a recruiter who knows their stuff? We’re here to help.