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How an Election and Collective Bargaining Work

This information about union elections and collective bargaining is provided for non-supervisory staff within the bargaining unit, to make an informed choice about voting if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) holds an election for representation by the union.

Typically, supporters of the union will ask colleagues to sign authorization cards declaring their support for the union to represent them exclusively in negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment. 

A union that claims to have a “showing of interest” in a proposed bargaining unit will then file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking to represent a specified bargaining unit. If the NLRB finds the unit appropriate and determines that at least 30% of all staff within the proposed unit have signed an authorization card, it will process the petition and call for an election.

The NLRB will run a secret ballot election. All members of the proposed unit would have the opportunity to cast a "yes" or "no" vote in favor of or opposed to being represented by the union. It is important to note that signing an authorization card in support of the petition does not make you obligated to participate in the election or to vote in support of or against union representation.

If a majority of the voters who cast a ballot vote to unionize, the union will exclusively represent everyone within the unit, including those who vote no or did not vote at all. It is therefore possible that a small number of staff who participate in the election could dictate the outcome for everyone. The University encourages all staff members to make their voices heard by voting.

Representatives of the University and a team of union negotiators would meet at agreed upon times and places to discuss the union’s bargaining demands. The university is not required to agree to anything and all issues regarding terms and conditions of employment are open to negotiation, including existing terms and conditions like benefit policies. The University’s only obligation is to meet with the union at reasonable times and places and bargain in good faith.

Typically, a union has a paid professional staffer or attorney serve as its lead negotiator. The other members of the union “bargaining committee” are selected by members of the union. The exact process is usually set forth in the union bylaws.

That depends on the union’s rules. Usually, the union bargaining committee meets with members of the bargaining unit and solicits proposals. The specific demands that are communicated to the University at the bargaining table are usually decided by the bargaining committee.

No. Collective bargaining agreements focus on staff as one unit, rather than as a group of individuals. No exceptions are permitted unless the collective bargaining agreement explicitly allows for them.

The parties are required to bargain in good faith, but there is no guarantee that an agreement will be reached. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the University would have the right to declare an impasse in bargaining. If that were to happen, the University may have the right to unilaterally implement the terms of its last offer. Additionally, if no agreement is reached, the union may call staff out on strike.

All in or all out

Staff members in a bargaining unit cannot opt out - everyone is "in" the union or everyone is “out."

If a majority of the voters who cast a ballot vote to unionize, the union will exclusively represent everyone within the unit, including those who vote no, or did not vote.

It's important for staff who would be impacted to explore the facts about unionization, take a position, and vote.

If you have questions or feedback for American University regarding staff unionization, email