How Are Unions Formed?

How Are Unions Formed?
How Are Unions Formed? (Image: Image courtesy of cc license by flickr user CGAphoto


The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 guarantees employees in private sector industries the right to organize into unions. The purpose of these labor unions is to give employees collective bargaining power and curtail unfair labor practices on the part of employers.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, this type of negotiation increases the health of the U.S. economy by ensuring that wages are not depressed. The NLRB also states that cooperative bargaining helps prevent disruption of commerce that can be caused by strikes and picketing.


Forming a new union can be a long and complex process. However, there are some basic stages that are common to the formation of most of these organizations. First, the need for unionizing becomes apparent to the workforce. This is often because working conditions are poor, benefits are inadequate or wages are low. Employees may have attempted to negotiate a better deal on an individual basis and failed.

Sometimes, union representatives from other, similar industries initiate a conversation with employees about the advantages of collective bargaining. For example, a labor organization that represents hotel workers might approach employees in other service and hospitality-related industries. It may distribute informational materials that spark interest in unionizing.

A core group of workers who are committed to creating a union is generally formed early on. This committee gets in touch with local or national labor associations for assistance. Such organizations can provide education about the logistical and legal issues surrounding the formation of a new union. A union organizer and an attorney who specializes in labor law may be retained to provide additional help.

The core committee draws up a list of the goals it hopes to accomplish through unionizing. This could cover improving overall working conditions or negotiating a contract for higher wages and benefits. After these objectives are clearly outlined, committee members begin to approach other employees to discuss the benefits of organizing.

Once a solid level of support has been created, workers are asked to fill out authorization cards showing that they want to form a new union. When more than 50 percent of non-management employees have signed on, these cards can be turned in along with a petition to the NLRB. If this petition is approved, an election can be held to finalize the formation of the union.


Private sector employers are technically not allowed to prevent workers from attempting to unionize. This prohibition is difficult to enforce, especially in the early stages when workers are simply discussing the possibility of organizing. Employers often take steps to discourage employees from talking about forming a union. However, after a petition to hold elections has been filed, any violations of this law (such as intimidating or firing workers) can be reported to the NLRB.

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