National and international unions are composed of countless local branches containing collective bargaining units. Collective bargaining unit formation and procedure are governed by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA). First, employees in a workplace must file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) showing that at least 30% are interested in union representation. This is usually done through the use of authorization cards. Next, if employees meet the threshold and the petition is otherwise deemed valid, an election for union representation is held. While an employer can challenge the initial petition, he or she cannot legally interfere with an election. Third, if the employees vote to unionize, and the election is upheld, the unit of employees represented will be certified as a collective bargaining unit. The employees would then have the right to bargain collectively with the employer over wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. All union employees are bound by these collective bargaining agreements.
Needless to say, collective bargaining agreements will differ from workplace to workplace, and in some cases, local units may clash with the national union. Such is the case with United Parcel Service (UPS) (login required), whose members are represented by Teamsters. While the Teamsters leadership approved a national contract, local units — including Local 89 in Louisville, Kentucky, representing 10,000 members — are still dissatisfied with areas like restricting overtime, wages for part-time workers, and healthcare. Since UPS must negotiate with the local bargaining units, issues that were supposed to be resolved in June have resulted in delayed agreements.
It is unclear how far apart the parties are over the new labor agreements. A Teamsters official spokesperson declared that the master contract was the “best private-sector labor contract in the country,” raising wages by $4 an hour, creating 2,500 jobs, and adding several employee protections. At the very least, the national leadership and the local units are far enough apart that Local 89 in Louisville has urged its members to vote no on the latest proposal. Now everyone awaits to see whether the separation will result in a strike.
Too frequently, union employees get blamed for being “too greedy,” but it is difficult to know without knowing the facts. Each collective bargaining agreement reflects the unit’s individual needs. While the Teamsters spokesman may think that the terms of the national contract are fair, local union employees may compare them to what they were initially promised, or the cost of living in their part of the country, and find them lacking. Since part of being in a union means bargaining for the best conditions possible, it is not surprising that union employees would reject terms that they consider lacking. The differences between the local and national branches may be resolved, but it appears that this conflict has been brewing for a long time. Meanwhile, if you live in Kentucky and have a union representation disagreement, consult an experienced Kentucky labor law attorney as soon as possible.
Miller & Falkner is a plaintiffs law firm serving residents of Kentucky and Indiana. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm provides representation in the areas of personal injury and employment law. Contact us today for a free consultation.