Union 101

What is a union?

A union is an organization made up of workers in order to advocate for better working conditions, wages, and benefits. Workers coming together through their union have much more power negotiating with employers than if everyone is on their own.

Unions are democratically run. Decisions are made by officers that are elected by the membership.

Why do we need a staff union?

AFSCME is an organization that fights for working families, but it is also an employer. They have incentives to cut costs by using contractors, working staff longer hours and paying us less. USU is how we keep AFSCME honest and ensure that staff are treated fairly.

We advocate to improve working conditions, which is especially important due to the grueling work while on organizing and political assignments.

We also ensure that staff are not unfairly disciplined by a capricious supervisor or and combat favoritism in the workplace.

What is a collective bargaining agreement?

It is a formal written agreement over wages, hours and conditions of employment entered into by an employer and the union representing employees in the bargaining unit.

What is a shop steward?

Your union shop steward is a co-worker that has been elected by his or her peers to represent them with management and to help enforce the contract. USU stewards serve as department-level organizers and worker representatives to management.

A steward’s duties include:

  • Welcoming new employees and explaining what USU is all about
  • Explaining the contract
  • Addressing co-workers’ concerns and problems
  • Representing co-workers during disciplinary actions with management to ensure that the process is fair and the co-workers’ rights are upheld
  • Working with management to solve workplace issues
  • Informing co-workers about USU news, calls, meetings, elections, etc.
  • Advising leadership on how their co-workers feel about certain issues
  • Building power in our department by organizing through 1-on-1 conversations!


What do the President/Recording Secretary/Treasurer/Vice-President/Trustees do?

Here is a useful table summarizing the roles and responsibilities for different elected USU positions.

What is a grievance?

A procedure described in the contract to remedy work-related problems such as abuse of employee rights or contract violations.

For example, being unfairly passed up for a promotion, being unfairly treated by a manager, or not being allowed to take recovery time after working 7 days a week for a month on an organizing campaign.

What is the grievance process?

There are four steps to a grievance process.

Step One: The aggrieved employee and their steward will take up the grievance or dispute with the employee’s immediate supervisor and try to resolve the situation.

Step Two: If the situation is not remedied the grievance is taken to the Regional or Department Director.

Step Three: If the grievance has still not been settled it escalates to the AFSCME President and his/her designee, usually AFSCME’s Chief of Staff or Director of Human Resources.

Step Four: If the grievance is still not settled, it can be taken to arbitration. An impartial arbiter, or judge, will examine the case and make a decision.

What is Seniority?

Preference accorded employees, based on length of service with an employer, in such areas as layoff, recall, promotion, transfer, vacation accrual, scheduling, shift assignment, etc.