How do unions form?

Private-sector unions typically form through an organizing committee followed by a campaign to recruit supporters. If organizers hit a 30% threshold of employees willing to enter a union, they submit a petition to the National Labor Relations Board, which covers most private-sector employees.

The NLRB then investigates and certain procedures are followed by the employer and the union aiming to become the bargaining representative. At that point, a vote can take place and the election is decided by a majority of valid votes cast.

Labor advocates say many businesses will try to dissuade workers from supporting unionization. And in Congress, Democrats have been pushing to protect and expand worker organizing drives through the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act.

Not every worker is protected this way. Public-sector employees, agricultural and domestic workers, independent contractors, supervisors and some other employees are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act.

In California, public-sector employees are covered by the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. The quasi-judicial administrative agency administers collective bargaining rules for California schools and state and local public agencies, as well as courts and transit agencies. Public-sector unions have been well established since the 1970s. For instance, 80% of the state workforce is unionized. The rest are not because they’re managers, supervisors or ineligible. 

Public-sector workers generally adhere to the same two-step unionization process as the private sector; however, some public-sector workers have an option for a streamlined process. For example, if a union can get more than 50% support from teachers, then the school district has to recognize that union without having an election.

-Nigel Duara