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Unionizing Information

Smith College is committed to fostering positive work environments and leadership opportunities for all employees. We recognize that employees have the right to organize a union. As an academic institute, Smith College supports knowledge through education and believes that learning happens in many ways, in the classroom and in the workplace. Employees should learn the facts about union representation in order to make well-informed, independent decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about unions and the NLRB election process.

A labor union is an entity that represents a group of workers (the “bargaining unit”), and bargains with the employer on behalf of those workers with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The union negotiates collective bargaining agreements with the employer setting forth employment terms, and represents its members with regards to disputes over those terms. 

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is the main federal law that governs management-labor relations. The NLRA establishes certain employee rights, including the rights to form or join unions, engage in concerted activity for mutual aid or protection regarding their terms and conditions of employment or refrain from engaging in these activities.

The National Labor Relations Board is a federal government agency that enforces and administers the National Labor Relations Act. Among other responsibilities, the NLRB (through its regional offices across the country) receives and processes petitions from labor organizations seeking an election for union representation, and conducts and oversees those elections. 

At the election, each eligible voter will fill out a ballot that will ask whether they wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the respective union. If the answer is no, the voter casts a “no” vote; if the answer is yes, the voter casts a “yes” vote.  The NLRB will then tally the votes.

Workers are not required to vote, but Smith strongly encourages all eligible voters to vote.

Union representation is determined by a majority of votes cast, just like a political election. This means that not voting leaves the decision in the hands of those who do vote, potentially allowing a minority opinion to succeed. For instance, if 100 workers are eligible to vote, but only 25 actually cast their ballot, and 13 of the 25 vote for the union, then those 13 voters have bound all 100 eligible workers to be unionized. 

Smith College strongly encourages all eligible voters to cast ballots to ensure that all voices are heard.

No. Eligible workers must vote in person; there will be no proxy voting allowed at the election. 

No. The NLRB voting process is conducted via secret ballot. The NLRB tallies the votes, and then reports them simply with a total number of “yes” and a total number of “no” votes.

No. Each voting member is free to make their own decision in the election, regardless of whether they signed a union authorization card.

If a vote in favor of the union is certified by the NLRB, the union would become the exclusive representative regarding terms and conditions for workers in the bargaining unit. Smith College would no longer be able to legally work directly with individual employees in those areas (even those who voted against or otherwise do not support the union) with respect to wages, hours, schedule changes, time off and other terms and conditions of employment. Any changes to such terms would need to be taken up as part of collective bargaining with each union.

Collective bargaining is the process by which an employer and the union discuss and negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for the bargaining unit. A bargaining unit is a group of employees that share a community of interest with respect to their terms and conditions of employment, and are grouped together for purposes of collective bargaining. 

Unfortunately, there is no way to predict the length of negotiations. However, collective bargaining negotiations can be time intensive. It is not uncommon for negotiations of a first collective bargaining agreement to last a year or longer after a union’s certification.

No. Certification of a union effectively “freezes” wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. The college no longer can make unilateral changes for represented workers and all terms and conditions would be subject to bargaining.

Generally not. If a collective bargaining agreement is in place, the college generally has no ability to deviate from or make exceptions to the contract to accommodate the circumstances of an individual , absent agreement from the union. Once the bargaining unit is in place, a collective bargaining agreement between the external labor organization and the college would regulate all future terms of employment. This typically results in a standard set of rules and regulations with limited flexibility for specific or individual circumstances.

The NLRA requires employers and unions to bargain collectively over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. These are generally called “mandatory” subjects of bargaining, over which the employer and the union are required to negotiate. Other topics such as faculty employment matters, college governance, tuition and costs of attendance, or academic policies are generally not subject to mandatory negotiation. 

The extent to which each bargaining unit member can express their views and influence the contract depends on the internal procedures and the decision-making process of the particular union and its officers.

It depends on how long the parties have agreed the term of the contract will last, although three years is common. The parties are obligated to negotiate a new contract upon expiration of the previous contract.

Typically, yes. As part of the collective bargaining agreement, unions often negotiate for a union security clause that requires workers in the bargaining unit to join the union and pay dues as a condition of employment. Under such a clause, if a worker in the bargaining unit does not want to join the union, they are generally required to pay an ‘agency fee’ to support the collective bargaining process and, should the worker refuse to pay that fee, the union could insist that the worker be terminated from their job in the bargaining unit. The amount of dues/agency fees varies and depends on the local union’s dues structure. Each union can provide that information to students. The college does not set dues or have information about dues. 

No. Both Smith and the union have a duty to bargain in good faith towards an agreement, and both Smith and the union will put forth proposals. Neither Smith nor the union, however, are required to agree to any demand regarding terms or conditions of employment, including wage increases.

No. Once a union is certified as the collective bargaining representative for a unit of employees, everyone employed within the bargaining unit is represented solely by the union.

Eventually, but not for some time and it is rarely done. The NLRB does not accept decertification petitions for one calendar year following a union’s certification. In addition, the NLRB generally will not process a petition to decertify a union for the first three years of a valid collective bargaining agreement.

The most important thing is to be informed and vote.

Yes. If you would like to speak with the College about these issues, please reach out to your supervisor