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I work in San Francisco, were unionized. My union dues were raised. Is there anything I can do?

San Francisco, CA |

I would like to switch unions, currently I feel like I'm not being represented by my union. I feel like the union is collecting money and not representing our collective for better pay. I feel like a good lawyer can help with switching unions; maybe not; I don't know, hence I seek expert advice.

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Attorney answers 2


An individual employee cannot decide what union will represent him or her. Unions gain the right to represent workers after winning the majority of votes in a secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency. After winning such an election, the NLRB certifies the election results as valid and the union as the collective bargaining representative.

When the workers voted in favor of the union, they voted for the union to be the exclusive representative of the workers for all matters related to wages, hours and working conditions. The union’s exclusive representation right is more accurately a right AND an obligation.

If enough of the workers believe their union isn't effective, they can organize to vote out the union. Again, this is done by secret-ballot NLRB election. This is decertification vote. After a decertification, no new union can represent the employees for an entire year. After that year, there is another certification election during which the workers can elect a different bargaining representative.

The description above is greatly over-simplified. There is far much more to the entire process than I can reasonably write in this response.

Sometimes, workers do not really understand the purpose and power of a union. Most unions try to do the right thing and obtain justice. Sometimes “justice” does not help an individual employee. One reason is that unions have their primary obligation to the entire group of job classifications the union represents; that group is called the “bargaining unit.” Unions have the right to decide whether to pursue a case or not.

Most local unions have limited money and staff resources so they must pick and choose which cases to pursue. Unions have to balance the need for more money (to hire more union reps or to take more cases to arbitration, for example) with the bargaining unit’s resistance to higher dues. This is similar to elected officials who must always balance constituents’ wishes with the need to raise taxes.

Some union reps are highly effective; others are incompetent, just as some attorneys and politicians are incompetent. Many local labor unions are run by volunteers. Many union representatives are full-time employees of the employer so do much of their union work on their own time, especially evenings and weekends. Only some unions have enough money to reimburse their reps for missed work hours, such as when handling a grievance. Only some unions have the strength to negotiate “lost time” with the employer, where the employer has to pay the rep’s wages when the rep is handling grievances; this time is usually limited to a low number of hours.

Nearly all elected and appointed union officers start out as rank-and-file workers. They may be elected due to work competence, seniority, intelligence, charm, good looks, having a big mouth, blustering, oratory skills, etc. – just like politicians. There is a range of skills and a range of experience among them. Most unions provide some training for officers and stewards, but others don’t have the resources to do so. The quantity and quality of training can vary widely.

(continued in Comment below)

@MikaSpencer * * * PLEASE READ: All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and must not be taken as legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts which are impossible to gather on a public web site like Avvo. * * * No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. * * *

Marilynn Mika Spencer

Marilynn Mika Spencer


(continued from Answer above) One of the best sources for information about unions and their relationships with the workers they represent is the Association for Union Democracy (AUD) <>. You may want to visit the AUD website and see if there is anything helpful there. Unions operate pretty much like other organizations. Those who participate have more influence over what the union does. The best way to make a union stronger and better-able to help all workers is to participate in its work. Read the collective bargaining agreement (contract). Attend union meetings, ask questions and think about what is happening at the workplace. Help your union help you.

Randy Jay Harvey

Randy Jay Harvey


Very thorough and informative.

Marilynn Mika Spencer

Marilynn Mika Spencer


Thank you, Mr. Harvey!


Ms. Spencer is correct. The bargaining unit representation was determined by a majority vote of the employees. You cannot individually decide to be represented by another union. If you feel you have not been represented by your union, you have certain administrative appeals rights. If you cannot get a satisfactory resolution, you should consult an employment lawyer concerning your rights and remedies.

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