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UCOMM Ed: What's a Microunion?

Daniel Hinton's picture
Sep 27, 2015

Ever since Target pharmacy workers voted to organize for the first time in the company's history last week, the term "micro-union" has been popping up a lot more in the media. It's a relatively new term in the labor movement, so it's understandable if even the most pro-union brother or sister doesn't know what it is.

The NLRB officially recognized the legality of so-called micro-unions in 2011, when a group of certified nursing assistants (CNAs) tried to organize at Specialty Healthcare, a rehab center in Mobile, Alabama. Their decision did away with the requirement that a collective bargaining unit be "wall to wall," opening the door for unions to exist in workplaces even as a minority faction. Now the NLRB defines a collective bargaining unit based on workers' "community of interest," rather than their size in numbers.

For the vast majority of organizers, what are now known as "microunions" have traditionally been categorized as "minority unions," or workplaces in which a minority of workers support the union. These have existed for decades and remain useful organizing tools today.

In fact, the term "microunion" doesn't even originate from within the labor movement. According to Jay Lederer, communications director of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), business lobbyists and corporate lawyers invented the term to disparage the tactic itself. No surprise, it's been widely adopted by the media.

"It's a complete fabrication of the right wing," Lederer told In These Times.

No matter what you call them — minority unions or microunions — they are a path forward for some union drives. The NLRB's Speciality Healthcare decision was upheld by a U.S. appeals court, and in 2014 they extended it to cover retail and department stores. Already, workers from Macy's to Target have made history using this very strategy, perhaps setting a new standard in their respective industries.

You ask. UCOMM answers.

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