How and Why Unions Are Created

Employees may unionize for a number of different reasons. The impetus is often nothing more than a desire to improve the compensation they receive for work that they may believe is undervalued. Poor job security, nepotism, discrimination, and the absence of opportunity for advancement are also frequent causes of employee unrest and interest in unionization.

Employee unionization in a particular workforce usually happens in one of two ways. The first is that the employees believe they are being treated unfairly or unreasonably by their employer and want to band together to exert greater influence over their wages, benefits, and working conditions. These employees may then either found a new labor union or organize to create a local affiliate of an established union.

The second way a labor union is created is when an existing union approaches the workers of a particular employer and encourages them to join the union, usually by promising job protection and expanded benefits.

This second process is similar under both Michigan and federal law, and usually begins with the union organizers distributing pamphlets about the benefits of joining a union. The employer may counter with information about the problems and disadvantages to employees involved with bringing a union into the workplace.

Under both the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Michigan's Public Employment Relations Act (PERA), the union organizers must convince 30 percent of the workers to sign employee election authorization cards. If the organizers succeed, they request that the appropriate government agency33 hold a "certification election." At the election, each worker is allowed to vote, by secret ballot, either for or against unionization. If the union receives "yes" votes from a simple majority (more than 50 percent) of the workers who cast a ballot, the union becomes "certified" as the exclusive representative of all the workers in the workplace, or "bargaining unit."