Welcoming New Employees Into the Union

Welcoming New Employees Into the Union


  • Attitudes about the union are often formed during the first year on the job ...
  • Information about the union and the contract; the grievance procedure; and, the effectiveness of stewards play a major role in forming and maintaining membership involvement from day one.

Other key factors influencing employee attitudes about the union are:

  • The effectiveness of the steward's system (including the skill and availability of stewards;
  • The amount of information presented to the members about the contract and the union.

When researchers examine what’s different about local unions with high levels of membership participation and those that don't, one of the most important factors is that members have had "positive personal contacts" with the union during their first year of employment. It's not rocket science: we all feel good about those who help us feel comfortable in a new situation. If it's someone from the union (UE Stewards, for example!),  then those feelings will generally transfer to the union. This works especially well in a rank-and-file union like UE because UE Stewards are also co-workers, not someone from outside the workplace.

First impressions are the lasting impressions.

This saying certainly holds true for how new employees feel about the union in their workplace. Employees who only hear about the union from the boss, will not feel inclined to join the union and be an active member. However if they get a good impression from the union steward, they will be more inclined to join and take part.

Welcome new members during their first day on the job!

Don't wait — and don't miss this opportunity. The department steward should introduce themselves and give the new worker a brief rundown on the union and the workers rights. Most workers starting a new job will be thankful to see a friendly face and to have someone to talk to about the Union and the job.

Sign up the worker on a union card right away.

Although most workplaces have a probationary period before the worker becomes permanent, nothing prevents them from signing a union card on their first day. Explain that while they may not be entitled to all the benefits of belonging to the union until after completing their probationary period, they are entitled to union representation and are benefiting from the rewards of working in a union workplace. If the worker fears retaliation by the boss, tell them you won’t turn the card in until after they pass their probationary period.

The Union should always sign up a new worker.

The worst situation occurs when the employer has the new worker sign the union membership and dues authorization card. New workers will automatically assume the company runs the union. If the person doesn't meet a union representative immediately, they may assume the union is only there to collect their dues. Unfortunately with some unions this is the truth.

Explain about union dues.

They need to know how much they are and what they are for. Most workers, especially young people have never belonged to a union. All they know is the bad propaganda that they read in the newspapers. Some workers may have belonged to a corrupt or do-nothing union, so it is important to explain how UE is different. Tell them about the yearly National Convention and District Council meetings.

Legal Briefs
Do Probationary
Employees Have Any Rights?

YES. A probationary employee has all the rights that other union members have EXCEPT those rights that the contract specifically delays until they pass the probationary period.

Most contracts say that a probationary employee can be terminated any time and the union cannot arbitrate such termination. This does not mean that the employer can ignore other contractual obligations when dealing with a probationary employee.

If the contract calls for workers receiving time and a half for work over eight hours in a day, probationary employees must receive the same pay. This can be ignored only if the contract clearly states that probationary employees are exempt from this provision.

The union can file a grievance for a probationary employee for any violation of the contract that the employer commits. While some probationary employees may be scared to have a grievance filed on their behalf, the union cannot allow the employer to violate the contract.

Probationary employees also have rights under the same laws that protect other employees. Thus, a probationary employee cannot be subject to racial, sexual or age discrimination by the employer. Nor can they be made to work in unsafe conditions.

Develop a short history of your UE Local.

Write about the Union's accomplishments in improving the wages, benefits and working conditions at the workplace. Many new workers won’t think that "Frabelizer Co." is a good place to work because the union made it a good place to work. They think that there must be "good bosses" who made "Frabelizer Co." a good job. It is up to us to educate them. It is not too hard to put together a brief outline of union gains. What were the wages, health insurance, and vacations like? Was there favoritism and no way to solve problems? Contrast this with the current wages and benefits, and list some problems solved using the grievance procedure.

Let the new worker know what improvements the Union wants to see in the future.

There is always something that needs improvement. Especially in a newly organized workplace where many things could not be fixed during the first contract. The new employee needs to know the union is still concerned about workplace problems.

Explain Union language.

"Seniority," "grievances," "union contract" may be confusing words to a new employee. Don’t take it for granted that the new employee understands union terms. The union steward must take the time to explain what these and other terms mean. The worker may not even know what a union steward is, and maybe surprised and confused when someone introduces themselves as "Hi, I’m your Steward."

At one UE meeting for new members, less then half of the 50 workers present knew what a grievance was. Even less knew that they had a right to file one.

Present the Union contract to new employees.

Once a worker is past their probation period make sure they get all the Union material they need. This should include a copy of the union contract and the union constitution. The Steward should make sure that the proper forms are sent to the UE National Office to get the new member signed up for the UE News.

A new member's kit is also sent to new members from the UE National Office. Locals can also get these to hand out to new members. Let new members know the schedule for union meetings and be sure to invite them to the next meeting.

Chief Steward's Corner
Can the Employer Begin Using Temporary Workers Instead of Hiring Probationary Employees?

This is a tricky question. In some workplaces employers started hiring new workers from temp. agencies and paying them less than the hiring-in rate for probationary employees. When questioned by the union, the employer replied that these were temporary workers, not probationary workers and therefore not covered by the union contract.

Can the Employer Get Away with This?

Not in most places. It depends on what the past practice regarding temporary employees is and what the recognition clause of the contract says about temporary employees.

If the union contract does not specifically allow temporary workers then the union should treat any new hires as probationary employees. Sign them up into the union when their probationary period is completed.

Some employers may try to claim that since they are using temporary employees who are paid by a temporary agency, the union contract doesn’t apply to them. This is just double talk. When Frabelizer Co. pays a temp. agency to supply workers to work inside Frabelizer Co. alongside other members, and to follow the instructions of Frabelizer supervisors, our position is that they are members of the bargaining unit. They should be signed up and when their probationary period is completed they should receive the same contractual benefits as the other workers.

Don't Let the Employer Expand the Practice of Hiring Temporary Workers

In one UE shop, there was a past practice of hiring temporary workers in the summer months to cover vacations and long term illnesses. This was agreed to by the union. Suddenly the employer began hiring "temporary workers" in the winter when no union members were out on long term illnesses. The union objected to this, and the members demonstrated their support. Stewards signed up the workers, treating them just like any other probationary employees. The employer backed down and hired them as regular employees.

If the recognition clause says temporary employees are not union members, BUT the well-established past practice is that they are only hired for specific reasons, like vacation coverage, then the union must not let the employer EXPAND the use of temporary employees.

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