The power of the union comes from the workers themselves banding together with co-workers to collectively represent the interests and needs of the workforce. The other power comes from the fact that the right to organize a union is a fundamental human and civil right. When employers, as some do, try to trample on those rights and engage in union busting, Workers United (WU) has proven time and time again throughout its history that the community, other unions, and customers can be mobilized to support workers trying to organize.

Recently, when Spot Coffee workers were met with strong anti-union behavior by management, the local unions, progressives, and Spot workers joined together to boycott the company. That resulted in an historic settlement with the employer, reinstatement of fired workers, and one of the strongest union contracts ever negotiated in the service sector. We have a saying in the movement that comes from labor history and the Industrial Workers of the World – “an injury to one is an injury to all.” This generation of the new labor movement intends to enforce those words vigorously. We will work with employers, but any employer who denies a worker this fundamental right to form a union will be met by a collective force for justice.

Without a union, workers are “at will”. In US labor law, at-will employment is an employer’s ability to dismiss an employee for any reason (that is, without having to establish “just cause” for termination), and without warning, as long as the reason is not illegal (e.g. firing because of the employee’s race, religion or sexuality).

Think how many times your employer has disciplined, bullied or even fired a co-worker. Without a union, bosses are judge and jury of their own case. With a union and a union contract, employers cannot engage in such abusive conduct.

We organize to build a working-class movement. We don’t care what political party you are in: Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, or Socialist. We unite to fight for a better world for the working class. We strongly support other struggles: the struggle of transgender people, human rights for people of color, immigrant rights, LGBTQ, and women’s rights. We unite around the rights of the working class to lead our lives with dignity, without discrimination, with fair pay, and without exploitation for our labor.

Successful organizing depends on two things: Having a strong representative worker committee, and the ability to pressure an employer who tries to deny workers the right to organize. A committee is a voluntary steering committee of you and your co-workers that guides your new union through the organizing process. Working on a union organizing committee can be a fun and rewarding learning experience. A Workers United union representative can explain how to form a strong and effective committee.

The National Labor Relations Act encourages U.S. citizens to form unions and the Act protects that right. It is illegal to interfere with, coerce, or restrain workers in the exercise of these rights. WU has lawyers and experienced organizers to help out with legal issues if they arise. However, the true power of your new union comes from the court of public opinion, rather than the court of law. The public and customers can be mobilized to support any group of workers who are organizing and that can be a much swifter and effective justice than waiting months to win a legal proceeding. Both are needed but the community pressure is most effective.

In January, negotiations for an initial collective bargaining agreement began between Workers United’s newest members and the Ithaca Sciencenter which is a nationally recognized children’s museum. Negotiations have been difficult, as they often are, for an initial agreement as we are starting from scratch. The Sciencenter Workers United Union committee is a band of five worker leaders representing their co-workers who dedicate three days a week to winning a good contract. They meet every Sunday evening to prepare for their weekly Monday bargaining sessions and then debrief and draft new proposals.

At the heart of these negotiations is the goal of real power-sharing by the workers.  As we know we must demand more power if we want more justice. To this end the workers of the Sciencenter Union are an inspiration to us all. Stay tuned – it will be interesting to see their first contract. All of Workers United and the labor movement will stand with them if they need our support to bring this fight home.

Richard Bensinger
Union Organizer

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