The more members in a Union, the more effective the Union becomes. The power to achieve positive results in collective bargaining or individual disputes is directly linked to density (the percentage of members in the workplace).
Most people who haven’t joined Unions have never been asked. Recent research found that over 70 percent of non-members have never been asked to join a union.
But there are also those who have been asked and have objections. Here are some great ways to handle those most common objections:
NOTE: The staff of Union Built PC, Inc. have been members of the following Local unions and Labor organizations over the course of many decades. For the sake of this article we will be using IBEW as an example.
- CWA Local 9503 and 1101
- USWA Local 3844
- IBT Local 838
- UAW Local 889
- IBEW Local 17
- UWUA Local 223
- The Greater Kansas City Labor Council
- Michigan Labor Press
- Midwest Labor Press Association
“Why should I join the union when I’ll get exactly the same wages and benefits without joining?”
- “Right, you get all that the rest of us get. But we could get so much more if we didn’t have nonmembers. Aren’t you interested in further gains? Well, these can be won only if enough of us want them and are willing to work to get them.”
- “If every worker felt as you do, we would have no union at all to bargain for us or to represent us in grievances. The longer you remain a nonmember, the more difficult it is for the union to improve your wages and working conditions.”
- “Here is a card. Won’t you sign it so that you too can help to make possible the improvements we are all entitled to?”
- “If everyone belonged, the benefits would be greater and the cost would be spread among more people.”
- “As a nonmember, you are automatically on the side of the employer against the union at the bargaining table – you are agreeing with them that the demands made by the union are not proper, and that you are not entitled to any improvement in wages or working conditions. I’m sure you want to join with us to help make improvements possible rather than be counted as one who is against better wages and working conditions.”
- “The union needs you. Your involvement and participation will make the union more effective. By not being a member, you miss the sense of belonging, the friendship, the feeling of being fully accepted by your fellow workers.”
- “Each person has an obligation to share equally the cost of supporting the organization that wins the benefits. It’s just downright unfair to accept benefits that others are paying for. Suppose your next door neighbors paid no taxes on a house and yet sent their children to the public schools and used the roads and other public services. Would this be fair? Of course it wouldn’t. Nor is it fair for a person to realize all the benefits of unionism and not pay a fair share of the cost of gaining these benefits.”
- “As a nonmember, you have no vote on whether to strike; and you have no voice in contract ratification or in election of representatives.”
“I can’t afford to join. I’ve got a family to support and my check just isn’t big enough.”
Or, “The dues are too high.”
- “You can’t afford not to belong. It doesn’t cost to belong to the union. It pays in the form of job security, better wages, and improved benefits.”
- “Everything of value has a price. What you should do is to compare the value of a thing with the price you have to pay for it. If we do this with the union dues, I’m sure you will agree that union dues are a sound investment.”
- “Compare the cost with your returns on this investment. Your return each year is far greater than the annual dues. And understand, we’re just talking about wage increases here. We haven’t begun to talk about the advantages of increased job security, seniority, better working conditions, such things as this. These are all extras that you get in return for your dues investment.”
- “Did you ever stop to think how much less money you’d be making if it were not for the union? I’m sure that neither you nor I could afford to work for this employer at what we would make without a union. If it weren’t for IBEW, our wages would be far less than they are, and we would receive no fringe benefits. You owe it to yourself as well as to us to set aside a small portion of your higher wages to help raise wages even higher in the years ahead.”
- “You say you have a family to support. You owe it to your family, above all, to be a member of a union that ensures job security, wage increases, and fringe benefits. Your family benefits directly from all of these.”
- If the nonmember makes a specific reference to an inability to pay bills, mention the counseling service of the union (if this is available) and how union members with financial problems are afforded help.
- If the nonmember pleads debt problems, mention the availability of the credit union, if you have one, and how a union member can borrow money at lower interest rates than are obtainable from a bank or finance company.
“I don’t believe in unions.”
- Point out what unions have done historically. Describe how things were in American industry before unions. Workers were fired at the whim of management or arbitrarily at the age of 40. Describe the extremely low wages, long hours, no fringe benefits, no unemployment compensation, no social security, no workers’ compensation. Stress not only the contract gains but also the efforts of labor to enact better laws and create better communities.
- “Unions are just associations of people banded together for mutual protection and benefit. Everyone – farmers, merchants, bankers, lawyers, utility companies – everyone joins together today to increase their effectiveness. Why not workers?”
- “The newspapers do their best to make unions look bad, and this is understandable since employers spend a lot of money on ads. But prove things for yourself – join us, come to our meetings, and then decide whether unions are good or bad.”
- Try to find out the specific reason behind this objection, and then try to correct the false impression the employee has.
“I don’t need a union; the employer is fair. The employer will take care of us without a union. I get along fine with my boss. What has the union gotten for us that we wouldn’t have gotten anyway?”
- “This is a good place to work now, and the union played a big part in making this so. But of course, this is no reason why we shouldn’t try to make it an even better place to work. Your job has been made more pleasant and secure because of the union representation afforded you on the job. Your supervisor has to treat you fairly since the contract requires that he or she do so. The employer is fair because the union is always looking over its shoulder. Even so, almost every employee at one time or another has a grievance or complaint. That’s where the union comes in.”
- Rely on history, and point out the job security clause in the contract including the final step of arbitration. Explain about conditions of work, including low wages and poor working conditions before IBEW. You might want to call in an older worker to give a firsthand account. Discuss the history of bargaining in the specific bargaining unit. You might contrast the first offers of the employer versus the final settlement and show the difference in terms of cents per hour or dollars per year. Point out that the employer often admits that the union forces them to grant more than they would like to grant. You might want to use a prepared sheet showing union gains over the years. Also point out specific grievances the union has won (use cases that you personally are familiar with).
- “The employer will treat you well so long as this is the profitable thing for them to do. But you’re like the rest of us. We’re merely numbers on a page. There’s no room for sentiment or humanity in this employer or any other giant firm today. The union provides protection from arbitrary and unfair treatment by the employer.”
- “You never know when you might need the help of the union. The union has been able to get a clause in the contract that assures employees fair treatment if the need should ever arise. If too many people felt the way you feel, there would be no union and no protection for anyone.”
- Point out that very frequently personality clashes arise between employees and supervisors. Ask: “What would you do if this should happen to you? What would you be able to do to help yourself if the employer fired or demoted or otherwise mistreated you?”
- “Individuals may not know their rights under the law and under the contract. In today’s complex world, organizations of all sorts are necessary to achieve any important objectives. This is the reason for the union. The union has to be able to bargain from strength in order to adequately protect employees from arbitrary treatment, to get better wages, longer vacations, more adequate pensions, and so on.”
- Point to the article in the contract which makes IBEW the sole bargaining agent. This means that the employer as well as the government recognizes that only IBEW is able to speak for all of the employees. The employees can’t by law deal directly with the employer.
“I’m only going to be working here a short while (on a temporary or part-time job).”
- “Even if you do leave within a few months, you are receiving all the benefits that all the rest of us pay for while you are here, and we think it only right that you pay your share while you remain on the job.”
- “While you are with us, we want you to be one of us. We want you to fit in with the group and be an equal. You will enjoy it more and we will enjoy having you.”
“Whether you stay here six months or thirty years, you’ll get full benefits and full protection while you are employed.”
- “Who knows, you might decide to stay on, or you might decide to return a year or five years from now. You know that we have a leave of absence and job return policy. You can get a withdrawal card from the union if you do decide to leave.”
“My spouse would divorce me.”
Or, “My parents don’t like unions.”
- Find out why the spouse or parent objects. Offer to sit down and talk things over. Offer to go home that very evening with the nonmember to discuss the matter with the relative. (House calls are very successful.)
- “Your (husband, wife, father, etc.) lets you work and accepts your contribution to the household. They should let you do your part to make your job more pleasant and better paying. You’re the one who is working on the job. You put up with the working conditions. You get the paycheck. You know better than anyone else whether a union is good for you. Let me visit your home and discuss this matter with you and your family this very evening.”
“The union doesn’t do anything for you (as in, grievances are not settled satisfactorily).” Or, “I don’t like the people who are running things in the union.”
- Insist upon specifics – the specific grievance the nonmember has in mind. Check out the problem, obtain the facts, and report back to the nonmember. Concede that the union can make mistakes, but point out that many grievances have been won, again being specific.
- “Officers and stewards do their jobs the best way they know how. If you or someone you know has not been treated fairly, tell us about it so that it can be remedied.”
- “Your local officers and stewards work for this employer just as you and I do. They need lots of training, experience, and help from you to do the job well. Your signature on this card will give you the right and the opportunity to help in running this union better.” Point out that the members have an obligation to replace those officers and stewards who continue to do their job poorly.
- “You are the union. You can get involved and run for office to help change the things you don’t like.”
- Enumerate the contract benefits – choice of hours, vacations, sick benefits. Remind the nonmember that these didn’t come automatically.
- Discuss the need to use the grievance procedure properly. Frequently some of the complaints we have about grievances occur because the proper procedure was not followed.
- “Hundreds of grievances are settled satisfactorily. But with 100 percent membership, we could do an even better job of investigating and processing grievances.”
“I can’t afford to strike. How can I be sure I won’t be out on strike? I don’t believe in strikes.”
- “It’s up to the members to decide whether to strike. Of course, if you’re not a union member you will have no say whatsoever in the matter.”
- “When unions are weak, employers force them to strike or else accept low wages or poor working conditions. But if unions are big enough to hurt the employer in a strike, management will offer more and thereby avoid a strike. In short, if workers are unified, a strike is less likely.”
- “Strikes are very infrequent in this union.”
- “Do you know about the union’s defense fund? If workers are forced out on strike by an impossible employer position, this fund exists to assist members in meeting their more important bills. We now have millions of dollars in the defense fund so that no one will go without or be badly hurt if we are forced to strike.”
- “Year after year, less than one-fifth of one percent of all working time is lost by strikes. Now this is only a small fraction of the time lost through layoffs or industrial accidents or other sickness. You read in the newspaper about strikes because, of course, strikes are news. You never read in the newspapers about the hundreds and thousands of negotiations that are settled without the necessity of a strike. What I’m trying to say is that strikes are really very unusual.”
“I can handle my own affairs. I can take care of myself. I’ll make my own decisions. I don’t intend to stay on this job forever; I’m looking for a promotion.”
- “This may be true, but the chances are that you might need help somewhere along the way. Besides, all your fellow employees aren’t as fortunate. They need help. They need your help.”
- “You are working in a large industry and necessarily are a cog in a very large machine. Unless you fit into this machine, you are not a desirable employee, so your future depends in large part on your ability to get along with everyone, including your fellow workers.”
“My religion doesn’t permit me to belong to any outside organization.”
Possible Answers (and yes, this can be a sticky one):
- “I’ve never heard of a faith that bars membership in a union. I would like to discuss this matter with you and with your pastor so that we can clear up any misunderstandings. Unions have always worked closely with churches. Our goals are similar: to help our fellow human beings.”
- Follow through on this. Contact the pastor or minister. Verify the church’s policy and report back to the nonmember.
- “Your religion and all other religions teach you to love your neighbor, to be responsible for your brother’s welfare. And that is what the union is designed to do. There is no conflict between the goals of unions and religions.”
“My boss doesn’t believe in unions. I’ve seen what happens to union members.”
- “It used to be that many supervisors didn’t like unions, but most of these have either changed their ways or have been transferred.”
- “At one time, supervisors were virtual dictators with power to hire or fire you on the spot. Now they must live up to the contract and treat people with respect. If a supervisor can’t do this, management will get rid of them.”
- “The law, the contract, and public policy guarantee you the right to join and engage in union activity.”
“I don’t want anything to do with unions. They’re all corrupt.”
- Show the nonmember a copy of IBEW’s constitution and point out how the constitution assures democratic procedures and membership control of the union.
- Point out that membership in the union gives you a right to choose your own officers and to correct abuses.
“I don’t know enough about IBEW or the union movement.”
- “The officers of the local union and I will be glad to sit down with you anytime, any place, and tell you everything you might want to know about IBEW and answer any questions you might have. After you’ve learned some of the history of the union and how it operates, I’m sure you will want to become a member of IBEW.”
- “What do you need to know about IBEW? IBEW is a large union; it is honestly run; it is efficient; and it is democratic.”
“I’m not interested. I just don’t want to join.”
- “You can’t afford not to be interested in the union. What happens in the union and between the union and the employer affects you; it affects all employees. Contract negotiations, grievances, etc., concern everyone in one way or another.”
- It might be necessary to go into a general explanation of the reasons people join unions.
Have you come across these or other objections? We want to know how you handled them! Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly #Union Strong email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.