What is a Union?
A union is a group of workers coming together to improve their jobs by having a voice and a say in their
workplace. Unionizing gives workers certain legal rights they don’t have as individuals, and creates an
equal balance of power between the employer and the employees.
As a union, we will have the right to collectively bargain a contract with our employer over wages, hours
and working conditions. And, as more and more workers within our industry organize, we can begin to
lift industry standards through collective action.
How do we form a Union?
First, let’s discuss our goals. What do we love about our work, and want to protect? What aspect of our
work do we want to improve? Some issues we might want to address will be specific to our employer,
while others are likely endemic within the yoga industry. Organizing is a way to work towards improving
Second, we need to prove to the NLRB that our group wants to form a union by having our fellow
instructors fill out union authorization cards indicating their support. The NLRB (National Labor
Relations Board) is the government agency that oversees most things pertaining to unions in the private
sector. Once we have enough cards filled out, the employer is given the opportunity to voluntarily
recognize our union or call on the NLRB to administer a secret ballot election. If the employer doesn’t
voluntarily recognize our union, a secret ballot election will be held within 2-4 months. If the majority votes
in favor of the union, the NLRB will certify us as a legally recognized union.
In general, having 65% support among a group is a good benchmark to move forward and ask for
voluntary recognition or an election. In either scenario, the employer never sees the union authorization
cards, nor will they know how individual employees have voted.
What happens after certification?
Once we are certified as a Union we will have legal rights that we did not have before. This includes the
right to collectively negotiate with our employer over fair pay structures, safety, transparent systems,
health benefits, and anything else that affects us day to day.
In order to begin the bargaining process we’ll need to form a bargaining committee to represent the varied
perspectives and interests within our “bargaining unit” (all the instructors in the union). The bargaining
committee then conducts a survey to start gathering everyone’s input about what issues matter to them
the most, and crafts proposals to bring to negotiations with the company. The company is obligated to
bargain with us in good faith, and is not permitted to reduce wages or benefits or change our working
conditions during this time. Instructors will get to vote to accept a contract or continue negotiations and,
when the contract is approved by both parties, those terms and conditions are in place until a new
contract is negotiated, typically about 3 years later.
How much are dues and when do we start paying them?
We don’t pay any dues until after we have negotiated our first contract and voted to accept it. We will
design a dues structure that works for us during bargaining. Since we all work varying hours at varying
levels of pay, a dues structure based on a percentage of earnings might be the most equitable. If what we
are getting with our contract isn’t worth the dues we will have to pay, we can vote to reject the contract
and negotiate further.
Who runs the Union?
We, the members, do! The model of union governance is a democracy. Collectively, we decide on our contract priorities. The Union’s legal staff and professional negotiators will be there with us during the process, but we have the final say.
Will being in a union stop me from being able to work at other non-union studios or from running my own non-union studio?
Nope, our contract would just affect our rights and working conditions at CPY. What we do outside of that is our own business.
Can our studios close down locations because we formed a Union?
No. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal for an employer to close part of its company because its employees organized a union.
But what if our employer just can’t afford a union?
We have a shared interest in seeing our studios thrive. As the ones on the ground, we instructors have valuable insight to share on the specifics of each studio, the needs of students, and what would help us be more successful in our jobs.
A fair contract is one that balances the needs of the company to be profitable and our need for our work to be sustainable. We think we are more than capable of finding that balance.
So, what about managers? Can they be part of our union?
Managers and supervisors are not protected by the NLRB and can’t be part of our bargaining unit. Therefore, they also can’t fill out cards or vote in an election. Most times managers and supervisors are caught in the middle.
Some managers are great advocates but don’t have the power to make the improvements that we want – many decisions about staffing, pay, and other working conditions are made many steps above our manager’s heads.
Forming a union isn’t going against managers, it’s about winning a voice to negotiate improvements with the company we work for. Forming a union also isn’t going against the company. As a company, our employer is owned by a private equity firm. Private equity firms ultimately set the directives for the companies they own, so managers may be forced to talk to us or send us emails about why we shouldn’t form a union.
What might our employer do when they find out we are forming a union?
Most employers, even good ones, feel threatened when they find out employees want to share power and control. Employers would much rather have unlimited say in the direction and future of the workplace without having to come to an agreement with all of its employees. The contract we negotiate will limit management’s ability to change policies, wages, benefits and working conditions without our agreement.
Most employers will try to convince employees not to form a union by using specific union-busting tactics. Many of these tactics are half-truths, designed to create a sense of futility and doubt, and discourage organizing. For example, an employer might say that the employees will lose all the benefits they already have during bargaining. That’s a half-truth because, while in theory employees could lose all their existing benefits, that would only happen if they agreed to give them up – and we know that’s not something employees are likely to do.
Other employers seek to convince employees that having a union is no longer necessary by making the improvements the employees are advocating for. In most cases those improvements are short-lived and can easily, and legally, be taken away once the effort to unionize is stopped.
Despite these tactics, workers successfully form unions all the time. Forming a union is protected by federal law, and employers cannot retaliate against employees for doing so. The key is to stay united and focus on the reasons why we want a union in the first place.
So, what union-busting tactics do employers typically use?
Here’s what companies usually say and do when workers start organizing a union to make improvements.
1. “THIRD PARTY” PARTY
The company may try to paint our union as an outside force. “We’re a family”, they may say. “We want to be able to communicate with you directly, and not have to involve anyone else.”
The truth is, the union is us. We make the decisions about what goes into our contract, what is improved, and what stays the same. A union is us coming together, exercising our legal right to represent ourselves and bargain over conditions that affect us and the work we do.
2. DUES BLUES
The company may tell us scary stories about how much “dues” we will have to pay. They may say that the union is only interested in getting our money.
The truth is, any organization that works for us is worth paying for. The improvements in pay, benefits, and fair treatment we gain when we win the union are far greater than the cost of dues. Remember: we do not pay any dues until we have a contract that we vote to accept.
3. CLOSING DOORS
The company may tell us that if we join the union the company will have to close because the union will drive their operating expenses up and they won’t be able to continue business.
The truth is, it is illegal for a company to close or even threaten to close if workers form a union. Should the company close claiming it is for economic reasons and we have unionized, they will have to open their books to prove that they were in bad shape financially. Even then, we are far better protected as a union than as individuals.
4. BABY COME BACK
Management may ask us to give them a second chance to fix problems at work. They may say they didn’t know we were dissatisfied with how things are. They may even start treating us better and show new concern for our well-being.
The truth is, too often when workers give the company a second chance they are disappointed. Even if things change temporarily, without a union nothing is guaranteed.
5. PRETTY PROMISES
Management may try to get individual instructors to turn against the union by suggesting they will get a promotion or better pay if they support the company. They will make promises, do special favors, and give special treatment, until the election is over.
The truth is, the special treatment will end on Election Day. Don’t be fooled. Private Equity firms are in the business of buying and selling companies, so nothing we have today is guaranteed tomorrow without a contract.
6. YOU MUST BE SO FLEXIBLE
The company knows everyone values flexibility. They may threaten to take away anything that makes our lives as instructors easier.
The truth is, the only way we will lose any of the flexibility we already have is if we agree to give it up, and we would never negotiate that into our contract.
7. CONTRACT CONTROVERSY
The company may tell us that they will never agree to a union contract. Or, they’ll say they do not have to agree to what we want in the contract.
The truth is, companies are legally required to negotiate with the union in good faith. They may talk tough before we organize, but it is in the company’s interest to keep work flowing. When we present them with reasonable contract proposals, we feel confident we will reach a settlement.
8. STRIKE TALK
Management may tell us that the union will force us out on strikes— whether we want to or not. They may tell us if that happens, we will lose our jobs.
The truth is, the union does not force workers out on strikes. A strike is the decision of the union members. If there is an issue that the members feel strongly about, we and our co-workers can vote to go on strike. If a 2/3rds majority of us votes yes, then and only then would there be a strike. Ninety-nine percent of disputes and contract negotiations are settled without strikes.
What else might an employer do?
The company may form an anti-union committee of employees. These committees are often promised special treatment or promotions for their help in their anti-union campaign.
The company knows that if we are united, we can win our right to make positive changes in our workplace. The aim of the anti-union committee is to divide us, create bad feelings among us, and dismantle the organizing work we have done.
The company may hire a union-busting consultant.
Anti-union consultants, often called “labor relations”, get paid a lot of money to help employers keep employees from exercising their right to form a union. These consultants will write all the anti-union flyers and instruct managers and supervisors to follow consultant-prepared scripts for talking to employees.
They may hold meetings themselves, or have managers do the meetings reading from their script. Employers often pay thousands of dollars per employee, to keep their employees from forming a union,
instead of putting that money into better pay, benefits and working conditions for employees. They do this because once employees unionize, they have a real voice to make improvements.
The company may hold captive audience meetings.
We may be required to attend “captive audience” meetings in which the company makes empty promises or tries to scare us about what will happen if we form a union. Most companies don’t come right out and tell employees they’re worried for themselves because with a union the power dynamic changes and employees will have more rights. They usually frame it as though they’re worried about what will happen to the employees. Most of what the employer says is either untrue or purposely misleading. That’s why it’s important to become well-versed in your rights and in union-busting tactics.
What can’t our employer do?
It is unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees seeking to organize a union. Our rights are protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, a federal law.
They cannot tell employees that management will fire or punish employees if they engage in union activity
They cannot bar employees from discussing the union during working hours provided it does not interfere with classes or trainings.
They cannot ask employees about confidential union matters, meetings, etc.
They cannot ask employees how they intend to vote.
They cannot, by the nature of the work assignment, create conditions intended to get rid of an employee because of their union activity.
They cannot threaten employees or coerce them in any way in an attempt to influence their vote.
They cannot say unionization will take away the benefits and privileges presently in effect.
They cannot promise employees promotions, raises, or other benefits if they get out of the union or refrain from joining it.
Any of the above acts constitutes a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. If any of these happen, make a note of what occurred and bring it to a union organizer.
Wow, ok. This seems like it might be hard to do. Why are we doing this again?
Yup, forming a union may be one of the most challenging things we have ever tried to take on. But it also stands to be one of the most rewarding.
We have a chance to have a real impact in our immediate community, and in our industry at large. Organizing is an expression of care for our practice, our students, and each other. With a union, we have the power to advocate for our collective stability and respect and create a more equitable, sustainable profession for all. We are stronger united.
If you have questions or want to become more involved reach out to an organizer today at pur private email: firstname.lastname@example.org