Why join a union

Forming a union changes the basic power relationship at work. Without a union, employers have almost all the rights. They can change your pay and working conditions at any time as long as they do not violate certain laws, like the minimum wage. Any benefits you receive are at the discretion of your employer.

Once you form a union, your employer cannot make changes in your working conditions unless they are negotiated with you as union members. Any benefits or working conditions covered by your contract are protected by law.

When you negotiate your contract, you and your co-workers decide what kinds of things could be improved at your work site and make proposals to your employer. Your employer is legally obligated to negotiate over most proposals that affect the quality of your work life. A union gives you strength in numbers to improve your pay, benefits, and working conditions.

How does SEIU Local 503 work?
Like all unions, SEIU Local 503 is made up of and run by its members. You elect your own committee for contract negotiations and vote to approve your contract. After you negotiate your contract, you elect your own stewards to help make sure your employer honors your contract.

The officers of our Local are also elected by the membership. Members discuss the issues that are important to our union at regular membership meetings.

“The union” is not made up of outsiders. You and your co-workers are the union. Union staff assist members in negotiating contracts, filing grievances, training stewards, and helping make workplaces better.

Do I have a legal right to form a union?
Almost all public employees in Oregon have the right to form a union, and Governor Kulongoski has stated strongly that all non-management employees in State service have that right.

However, if anyone is in any way discriminated against for forming a union, SEIU Local 503 will file charges with the Employee Relations Board and will take other appropriate action.

How much are union dues? What are they for?
The dues rate is set by a membership vote. In SEIU/OPEU the dues rate for this local is 1.7% of your gross pay plus $2.75 per month.

It takes money to run an organization, like a church, a club, or a union. Union dues pay for contract negotiation expenses, office and support services, legal services, union newsletters and other communications, training for stewards and members, and organizing.

How much is the initiation fee?
There is no initiation fee for SEIU Local 503 members.

Will everyone have to join?
All non-management, non-confidential, non-elected employees have the choice to become union members once a majority of employees at your employer or workgroup have voted to form a union. However, unions are legally obligated to represent everyone within the bargaining unit, whether or not they are union members. Non-members are covered by the contract, may file grievances, are represented by the union, and are even represented by a union attorney in arbitration hearings.

For this reason, in most unions, those who choose not to become union members have to pay a “fair share” fee — their fair share of the cost of bargaining and administering the contract that protects everyone. In work sites where everyone is a union member, workers find that they can act most effectively as a union because management knows that all employees are united.

What will forming a union guarantee?
Forming a union can only guarantee one thing: when workers stick together we have more bargaining power than we do as scattered individuals.

After you vote to form a union, you — with the assistance of union staff — will negotiate a contract. Your employer must negotiate with you as unionized workers about wages, benefits and working conditions. The contract you negotiate will be legally binding on the employer. While there are no guarantees about what you choose to negotiate in your contract, you can see what other SEIU Local 503 members have negotiated by viewing or downloading existing union contracts. Acting as a union,workers can make sure that the administration follows the contract.

What is a grievance procedure?
A grievance procedure is a method for solving employee complaints. Without a union contract, you can take your complaints to management, but management has the final say on whether to make improvements or correct a problem.

With a union contract, you have the help of a union steward (a co-worker you elect, who receives extra training from SEIU in filing grievances and enforcing your contract), to help you file a grievance. If your employer refuses to settle the complaint, the grievance will be heard by a neutral third-party arbitrator chosen by mutual agreement between our union and your employer. The employer and the union are legally bound to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

If we form a union, does it mean that we can’t deal directly with our supervisor?
In a union setting, most problems are resolved directly between workers and their supervisors. A union steward is available to help, but only if a member requests that help because he/she has been unsatisfied with attempts to work something out directly with the employer.

In a non-union workplace, you can talk all you want with management — but management has the last word, take it or leave it.

When you are protected by a union contract, you can still talk all you want with management, but you don’t have to take “no” for an answer. Being part of a union gives you the right to effectively appeal unfair decisions and force your employer to correct unfair actions.

If we form a union, will we have to go on strike?
The decision to go on strike is very serious and occurs only when workers feel that they must take dramatic action to protect their rights, wages, and benefits. State workers have gone on strike only twice in the last 25 years, but as a result, they have been able to maintain fully-paid health insurance and avoid pay cuts. Members only go on strike if they vote overwhelmingly to do so. The decision about what to fight for and how hard to fight is always up to you, the union members.

For more information, contact Danica Finley at 503.408.4090.

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