ORGANIZING YOUR UNION: QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Q: What is a union?
A: A union is a group of workers who pool their individual strengths to bargain better wages and working conditions. They negotiate a legally binding contract that the company must follow. HSTU Local 261 is a union that is part of the much larger UNITE HERE. We’re passionate about raising the standards for working people – helping them to have respect on the job and fair working conditions. We are made up of members just like you who decided that working together to get ahead was the best idea.
Q: How do you organize a union?
A: First, 40% of the workers will sign union cards — which the company will never see — then the Ontario Labour Relations Board holds a secret ballot election and if a majority of people who show up vote yes, you win your union.
Q: What does signing a union membership card mean?
A: Signing a union card means that you are requesting to join the union. It is the first step to winning your union. Once at least 40% of your coworkers sign union cards, with the union sends them to the Labour Board. The Board then sets a date for an election so the whole workplace can vote whether or not they want a union.
Q: What would change with a union?
A: You would have a legally binding collective agreement, or contract, – like a rule book – that the company must follow. We can guarantee the collective agreement will have a grievance procedure that allows you to get an independent person to decide if a rule has been broken. That means an experienced labour judge can make sure all rules are followed. These rules apply to every aspect of your job, such as how schedules are made and what the raises and benefits are. These cannot be changed on a whim, or if management doesn’t like you that day.
Q: I just want to focus on my career. Will the union get in the way?
A: No! Just the opposite is true. People who want to move ahead in their careers are able to do so. We want our members to succeed and thrive in their careers. For example, if people want to take a leave of absence to go back to school to continue their education or get their Red Seal, we make sure people can do so without fear of being replaced. We also make sure that there is opportunity for our members to be promoted first before they can bring in someone from the outside.
Q: How much are union dues, and why should I pay them if we are already covered by labour law?
A: As of January 1st 2015, Local 261 dues are a maximum of $38.85/month. They’re less if you work less. The dues structure cannot be increased without every member in Ottawa voting to do so. You will get more from raises and benefits than it costs being part of the union even if you are part-time and Union hotel contracts go far above what is covered by labour law. 300,000 hotel workers in our union across North America agree: it’s worth it!
Q: Isn’t job security based on the business doing well? If it’s slow, aren’t we still out of a job.
A: Right now management does a lot of work that should be for the workers. What the union has always done once employees choose to be protected is bargain a rule that managers have to let workers do the work of the hotel. In that way, there will be more hours available – even during slow times – and management won’t just take the hours.
But that is not “job security,” that is “job availability.” Job security is something you can only get with a union. It means that if management is having a bad day they can’t give you harder work or fire you just because they got angry. Without a union, you can be fired for any reason and no one can get you your job back. With a collective agreement setting the rules, an arbitrator — who is like a judge — can be brought in to have the final say.
Q: Isn’t the union just a third-party stranger that will get in the way of my relationship with management?
A: With the union, the first step when you have an issue is to go speak to your manager. If you are uncomfortable, you can bring your shop-steward with you. If you aren’t satisfied with the results, step two would be to take it to your union rep where they will help move things along.
Q: Doesn’t the union just want to see the hotel fail?
A: NO! A good running, profitable business is great for everyone involved. When your workplace is full of people who treat others well and with respect, people are happy to be there and everything works better. We aim to create the best workplaces possible with all the supplies and support that workers need to do their jobs. More business means more hours and more money that your can share in if you have a fair deal in your workplace.
Q: I’m scared that my manager will give me harder work or fire me if I show that I support the union. Can this happen?
A: First, it is against the law for the employer to target someone in any way because they support the union. You could automatically win your union if they do that. The company will never know who signed a card and how people vote in the secret ballot election. Then, once you win your union, you don’t have to worry about that ever again. The stress you feel at work will disappear and you will have someone there to really support you when talking to your manager or human resources. The union will be a much needed positive change at your work.
Q: What if we don’t like the union? Can we just try it for one year?
A: The contract will be made up and negotiated by you. You get to decide if it is the right deal for you in a second secret ballot vote. That’s a second chance to opt out if you don’t like the way things are going. You also decide how long the contract will last. After the contract expires we renegotiate another contract. At the end of every contract, you can decide that you don’t want to be represented by a union. We’re confident that you’ll be happy you decided to join the hotel and hospitality workers in Ottawa who are saying yes to a union workplace.
Q: Won’t we have to go on strike?
A: We have not had a strike with our union in Ottawa since 2007 and we have renegotiated the contracts in every union workplace twice, without having to go on strike. A strike cannot be forced on you. You will only go on strike if a majority of you vote to do so, and only if it’s the last option left.
Q: Aren’t unions just to protect the lazy people?
A: Unions require employers both to treat people fairly and to let people work with dignity.
First, it is true that the union will defend people when it is not fair to fire them. Sometimes this means considering that people make mistakes. For example, if you are late in your first year and late in your fifth year, you may be worried for the rest of your life that if you are late again, you will be fired. In our contracts we bargain a “sunset clause” where all old disciplines can’t be used against you after a certain number of months. Sometimes giving people a second chance if they make a mistake allows them to change their behaviour or be re-trained. A union is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. People who steal or threaten their co-workers with physical violence still have to suffer the consequences.
Second, unions also allow people to grow old with dignity. Someone may not be able to work as fast or as hard when they are 60 years old as when they were 20 years old. Allowing people to continue to work over their lifetime at their potential, without being disciplined, gives people the ability to retire with dignity and ensures people they won’t be pushed out for not being able to keep the same pace.
These are two of the things give people job security so they know they can make a real career for themselves.
Q: Aren’t unions only good for full-time workers? I’m part-time so how will I benefit?
A: Part-time workers have the same vote as full-time workers, therefore their input matters just as much. Part-time workers are also covered under the contract. They have the same protection from unreasonable discipline and termination as full-time workers. In our union, part-time workers who want to have the opportunity can move up to full-time work before an outside person can come in. As well, since management cannot do our members work, more hours are freed up for part-time workers to take.
Q: Can unions guarantee a contract, better wages, benefit and conditions?
A: No one can guarantee everything that will happen. On the other hand, all you have to do is look at decades of experience in the hotel industry. Unionized employees are better paid, on average, than non-unionized employees. You might also ask yourselves what would happen if employees reject the union. There is nothing that guarantees employees that wage increases or other conditions at a non-unionized hotel will keep pace with their unionized counterparts.
Q: Could we negotiate less than what we have by joining the union?
A: Once the negotiations committee – elected from your co-workers – brings a proposed contract to the membership, everyone has to vote whether they agree to the whole contract. This is called ratifying the contract. You have to ask yourself whether you think you and your co-workers will vote to accept less than what you already have. You are in control of this process. More importantly, if the employer acts badly during bargaining and refuses to recognize the authority of the union, you can ask the Labour Board to order a first contract arbitration. That means a neutral arbitrator would give you a fair contract and the company would have no choice in the matter.
Q: I heard that unions are outdated, and not needed anymore.
A: This is exactly what bosses want people to think, but more than ever, it’s important that we have unions. More jobs are becoming part-time work, or full-time workers who retire are being replaced with two, or even more, part-time workers and people must work two or three jobs just to keep up. We are trying to create as many good meaningful jobs as possible – jobs where people have security and dignity at work. This in turn will create a stronger, more vibrant economy for all of us.
Q: My family member was in a union and they didn’t do anything for them.
A: It’s the law: unions are legally obligated to take care of all their members. We have to represent you in good faith and without discrimination. The Labour Board can hear any complaint about a union that didn’t properly represent its members. Local 261 has never been found by any labour board not to have represented its members. We take our work very seriously.
Q: Where can I find more information?
A: Call, email or visit us and we would love to talk about it!