IBEW Facts

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Unions and You ...  The Facts

How does the union work?

 A union is a democratic organization of a majority of the employees in a facility. The basic idea of a union is that by joining together with fellow employees to form a union, workers have a greater ability to improve conditions at the worksite. In other words, “in unity there is strength.”

We hear a lot about the Union, just what is it?

The IBEW, Or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is a non-profit Labor Organization, as defined in the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. Basically, the IBEW is an organization of workers with common concerns and aspirations.

 One of the goals of the organization is to “cultivate feelings of friendship among those on our industry”. This means the IBEW’s goal is to maintain a friendly but firm relationship with employers employing IBEW members. The goals of members composing the IBEW are achieved by the process of industrial democracy.

Who runs the union?

The union is a democratic organization run by the members. Members elect the local officers. You vote on many issues important to you. You vote on your contract. Union members elect delegates to national conventions, where delegates elect national officers and vote on major issues affecting the union such as constitutional amendments.  The union is the people themselves.

What is Industrial Democracy?

The IBEW believes employees of a company can only realize their workplace goals and aspirations if they institute democracy in the workplace. Without a union, employees effectively work under an industrial dictatorship. Employees have little or no say on their terms and conditions of employment. With a Union, employees empower themselves by forming an organization to achieve their goals. Employees then can speak with one strong voice to address their issues and concerns with management. Therefore, industrial democracy if the right of workers to form or assist labor organizations which can better their working lives.

Does the IBEW have other goals?

Yes. The IBEW strives to promote community activities by its members. We all know working together, we can accomplish what we cannot accomplish alone. The IBEW serves a vehicle to bring together people of many talents to achieve services to the community and mankind. Together, we all add to the organization.

Won’t is cost the company a lot of money if the union comes in?

In the short run, it’s true the unions cost employers more in terms of wages and benefits. But in the long run, that doesn’t necessarily hurt the employer. Many unions are good for the employers as well as for the workers.

The reason is simple. With union there is higher morale, and there is a mechanism for workers to have a voice in how the workplace operates.

Satisfied employees are more productive, and less likely to quit, so there is less turnover. Also, management benefits when it gets input from the workers on how the operation could be run better.

How do we go about getting a union here?

We’ve already taken the important first steps in forming a union. We’ve formed a voluntary organizing committee of which many of you are members. This committee was formed to investigate and to inform of the ways that a union may help us. We’ve held meetings to inform other employees as to what their rights are now and the rights they gain by forming a union.

Now it’s up to us to vote Union and to ask others to vote for their future by VOTING UNION.

Do Unions limit my ability to function in the workplace?

No. In fact, unions enhance the ability of employees to be productive in the workplace by eliminating dissention between workers and management. With a union, workers are provided a vehicle to address their concerns about work issues. Without a union, employees are limited in effectiveness to what the employer believes the employee needs to perform the job effectively and safely.

 Does the union limit my individual ability to communicate with management?

No. Unions encourage communication between individual workers and their supervisors. In fact, unions provide the ability of workers to speak to supervisors or managers about a problem without fear of repercussion, since union members enjoy legal protections under their contracts and national labor laws.

Does the union limit the ability of workers as a group to communicate with management?

No, it increases that ability. Workers and management can only work together if workers have the power and ability to address concerns as equals. Without that power and ability, the employer has no obligation to address employee concerns and needs.

Does the union provide a vehicle for communication between employees?

Yes, most definitely. Unions exist for the sole purpose of worker advocacy. Workers, helping workers. If workers form a union and band together, they begin to discuss among themselves their needs in the workplace. A union allows these workers to meet with management as a group to address changes.

What if I don’t agree with the majority of my fellow workers?

Each worker in a union has the right and obligation to express his or her point of view on a subject. Union members are encouraged to speak out to address their concerns. Many ideas contribute to a more intelligent solution of a problem. Unions are fully democratic organizations. Just as in any democracy, there will be persons who don’t agree with the majority on certain issues. A union promotes the idea of a voice and dignity for all. Unlike unorganized workplaces, unions have room for many differing viewpoints and ideas, and all viewpoints and ideas are heard. Members then act upon the debate, by making up their own minds and voting.

Can I be fired for participating in the campaign?

First of all, the law prohibits any employer from discriminating against people in any way because of their union activity. If an employer does harass or discriminate against a union supporter, the union files charges with the Labor Board, and prosecutes the employer to the fullest extent.

The best safeguard against the employer harassing anyone is for everybody to stock together and win their union. Without a union, management has a free hand to treat people as they please. But with a union, everyone has a protection of a union contract.

What can the union do about favoritism?

Fairness is the most important part of the union contract. The same rules apply to everyone. If any worker feels that he or she is not being treated fairly, then he or she, of course, still has the opportunity to complain to the supervisor, just like before. But under a union contract, the supervisor or manager no longer has the final say. They are no longer judge and jury. If the worker is not satisfied with the response of the supervisor, the worker can file a grievance.

The first step of a grievance procedure is for the steward to accompany the worker to try to work it out with the supervisor. If the worker is not satisfied, the steward and the employee, with help from the Union Business Manager, can bring the grievance to higher management. If the complaint is not resolved, then the issue can be placed before an outside neutral judge called an arbitrator.

Management is hinting that we could lose the benefits we now have. Is that true?

The purpose of forming a union is to win improvements in wages and benefits, not to lose them. We start with what we have and go up. On average, unionized workers earn a third more than non-union workers in wages and benefits. Occasionally in organized facilities workers agree to grant concessions to aid an ailing company, but this comes after years of winning improvements.

Management says the union is just after dues money. Why should we pay money to the union?

Dues are used to run your union and keep it strong. The dues are divided between the local union and the national union. The money is used to provide expert services to your local union, including negotiators, lawyers, economists, and educators; to pay the salaries of officers and staff, including organizers; to provide newsletters and conferences. The local union’s money is used for reimbursing stewards for lost time, for the union hall, and for other expenses of your union.

Did you know that the employer also pays dues to organizations? Employers have their own “unions” – such as the Chamber of Commerce or the National Association of Manufacturers. They pay for representation-why shouldn’t you?

Besides, since when is the company so concerned about your money?

How much are union dues?

The dues will depend upon what the local needs to operate efficiently and effectively. However, the dues will be set by you, as a local union, with the exception of the International portion of the dues, which is set and voted by all Local Unions at the International Convention every (5) years. However, no dues are paid until the majority of workers vote to accept a contract they helped to negotiate. All initiation fees will be waived for members in newly organized units.

The employer says the union can’t guarantee us anything. Can you?

The union can guarantee this: that when workers stick together as a union they have more bargaining power and more of a voice than they do as individuals.

When the union wins, you will negotiate a contract with the employer. We can make no promises on what the contract will contain. That is for you to decide when you vote on your contract.  We can guarantee that the contract will be legally binding, and the union will make sure the contract is enforced.

What does signing the authorization card mean?

It means you want the union. That card is commitment of support. And, it gives us the legal support for an open and free union election.

We hear a lot of bad things about unions by management. Is there a bad side to union organization?

There can be. Just as in any organization, if the members don’t participate in the process and direct their organization the way they want it, the organization will fail to represent the interests of the members. Some unions do have these problems. However, all unions are not the same! The IBEW is founded on the principle of Local Union autonomy. Each Local Union is dependent and functions as a single, independent unit. In this way, the members of the union are responsible for their own successes and destiny. The International Union exists soleyu to assist the Local Union when asked. This formula has proven highly successful. IBEW has a proven track record of being an effective advocate for employee interest, because employees direct the efforts the efforts of the IBEW.

How many members are in the IBEW?

The IBEW represents nearly 800,000 members in all branches of the electrical industry, including employees of electrical construction, telecommunications, electric, gas, and water utilities, broadcasting, government employees, and manufacturing. A full 90.2% of all utilities nationwide have representation of employees by the IBEW.