You will have a voice if you vote in a union – your opinion will count. Who wouldn’t vote for that?

You will have a voice if you vote in a union – your opinion will count. Who wouldn’t vote for that?

This one always sounds good during a campaign.

Before voting on this promise it is a good idea to consider the mechanics of how your voice is heard in a union. The only thing a union wins in an election is the right to speak on behalf of a group of employees for purposes of collective bargaining. That’s it. So it is not accurate to say that you have a voice in a union. In fact the opposite is true.

The facts? You lose your individual voice the minute a union is voted in and give that voice to the union. The union may listen to you, but legally it can do whatever it wants as your representative whether you agree with it or not.So long as it meets its “duty of fair
representation” (and the NLRB almost always says it does) the union – and here I mean the
International or Local Union that is certified as the bargaining representative – can do whatever the heck it wants.

Employees who join the union do get an opportunity to vote on union leadership, and if enough people disagree with what the current leaders are doing then you might get new leaders. But again, it is their voice – not yours – that counts.

Organizers often tell you that you or your coworkers will actually sit at the bargaining
table and negotiation your contract. That does happen sometimes. What they don’t tell you is that the bargaining committee is almost always instructed to not comment at the table and to save discussions for “caucus” meetings away from the table. The committee is told that this shows a “united front” at the table. By the way, it is great advice (I always tell my management clients the same thing). But it does not give you a voice.

Even if you do get to speak at the table, don’t have any illusion about where the real voice lies. Only the local union can approve a contract with your company (and in many cases even the local union has no power to do this – it has to be approved by the International).

To say you have a voice in a union is the same thing as saying you have a voice in American
politics. Technically you do have a voice – you get to vote on representatives and you might even help to get rid of one who you don’t agree with. But do you feel like you have any kind of day to day voice about what happens in Washington (or in your state or local government for that matter)? That is the exact kind of voice you have in a union.

If you really want a voice at work you have three options. You could start your own company – then you get a say in every decision. If that isn’t your thing, you could search out a company that already does a good job of listening to employee input (I’ll give you this hint – they are almost never unionized).

However, the number one way to be heard at work is to start speaking up. Be constructive – if your input is ignored also think about whether the way you are presenting it is part of the problem. But whatever you do, don’t stop trying. You may feel your suggestions are ignored. If you can’t handle it any more, try one of the other options above. But I will tell you this. If your employer isn’t listening to its employees now, it’s not going to
start just because a union is voted. in.

The best way to illustrate this is through an Interview with an Organizer video. Your employees will see firsthand how an actual union organizer would mislead potential recruits about how much their voice would count – and explain how it actually worked on the other side. Powerful stuff.