News & Events

How to organize a union

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
October 2005 Edition

Short Term Goals: Develop an organizing committee; have 70 to 75 percent of members sign cards
Long Term Goals: Establish a union; achieve first contract

Assessment is continuous throughout the organizing campaign at your facility.

  • Facility information: The MNA will compile all information on the facility: whether it is a single or merged facility; whether there are satellite units; relevant financial information; information on the Board of Directors , Trustees; information on any pending sales or mergers; and any and all other pertinent information.
  • Outstanding issues and patterns of decision making: It is important to know what the issues are, how decisions are made and who is involved in the process.
  • Employee and benefit information: The MNA will collect information on the number of units and the number of nurses on each unit, what shifts they work, work status, whether full, part time or per diem, name, address and phone numbers of all potential members, all positions that would be included, policies and procedures, present benefits. Also important to know whether there was a previous union drive, are other employees represented by a union in the facility.


  • Identify and recruit leaders
  • Develop organizing committee
  • Educate all members, build union
  • Have 70–75 percent of members sign cards; if unable to reach this goal, review plan
  • Request voluntary recognition from employer
  • File a petition for election with the National Labor Relations (NLRB)
  • Maintain union strength throughout hearing process at the NLRB
  • Educate members to get out the vote


  • Schedule small group meetings that cover all units, shifts, and groups of employees
  • Identify the issues at facility, establish goals
  • Assess leadership commitment to building a union
  • Build organizing committee with representatives from at least 80–85 percent of the units involved
  • Train the organizing committee, continue with group meetings to educate all members
  • Assessment by the organizing committee and MNA organizers for readiness to commit to a union campaign; when 70–75 percent ready, have card signing
  • Educate all members on what to expect from the “union busters”
  • Stay positive and focused on the members issues
  • Focus on union building by doing contract surveys, and by working on by-laws that will govern the group after the election
  • Test strength of card signers (i.e., have members wear union buttons) to determine their continued commitment

Evaluation is continuous throughout the organizing campaign.
Win or lose:

  • Length of time to reach goal of 70–75 percent card signers
  • Number of committed leaders
  • Number of units/groups represented by leaders
  • Number of meetings held during campaign and the average number of attendees
  • Number of education sessions with leaders
  • Effectiveness of “anti-union” campaign (who, what, when, where)
  • Effectiveness of tests used to assess strength of card signers