Your Teamsters contract is a powerful tool - it provides negotiated wage rates and benefits, job security, and a process for addressing grievances. The contract is a codified framework that reflects your voice in the workplace.
But your contract is not the only avenue for asserting union power at work.
The right of workers to take collective action is protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This right exists for all workers - whether they have a contract or not.
When workers act together to improve their conditions of employment, it’s called “protected concerted activity”. Workers can take collective action to address issues like unsafe working conditions, excessive overtime, or a hostile work environment.
It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against its employees for engaging in this type of action. The key is that, to be protected under the NLRA, workers must act together - not as individuals.
In a Union workplace, a well-coordinated action can have a real impact, both in terms of building solidarity and affecting change.
Recently at Seattle Iron & Metals, a majority of Local 117 members signed a petition demanding safer working conditions and respect. The workers, together with their Business Representative, presented the petition to their boss. Ultimately, the employer agreed to hold a formal meeting to address the workers’ concerns.
Just last month Local 117 members at IKEA took a similar action.
The company was having night shift employees work an excessive amount of overtime. After talking with his Business Representative, Tyler Thomas, the Shop Steward, led a group of workers up to the office to confront the labor relations manager about the issue. At the meeting, one of the workers said, “You care more about your batteries than about the people who work here.”
The meeting had a major impact. In Tyler’s words, “open and honest words were spoken.” Although the group didn’t get everything they wanted, management agreed to cut back workers’ overtime by more than 50%.
These kinds of collective actions can affect change and build union power and solidarity in the workplace. They energize workers so that when contract negotiations roll around, the group is ready.
If you and your co-workers want to engage in “protected, concerted activity”, be sure to talk to your Business Representative first. Any ideas can be run through our legal office to ensure that your rights under the law are protected.