The conversation that takes place around unions is often too political. Too ideological, too abstract. This is personal. Take it personally.
In the United States of America, you and all of your colleagues at work can get together and decide that you want to have a union. That is your right. Here is how it works: After much discussion (believe me), the majority of you sign union cards, stating that you want a union. When it becomes clear that a majority of the people at your job want a union, you present the evidence to your employer, in the form of those signed union cards. Then, your employer, recognizing that you are exercising your right to decide to unionize, formally recognizes your union, and you begin negotiating.
Forming a union is a decision made wholly by you, the people who work there. It is not a decision that the company has a vote on. It is a basic right that needs to be respected as such. Your boss might not like the color shirt you wear, or the kind of music you listen to, but he does not walk up and rip the shirt off your body, or cut your ears off. Likewise, your boss may be dismayed or fearful that you have chosen to form a union—(he shouldn’t be, but these things happen)—but, because the decision is yours alone and because you are human beings deserving of basic respect, he will deal with your decision, as he is obligated to, and you will all move forward in what one hopes is good faith.
That is how a boss with a basic appreciation for your rights and dignity would act. It is not how all bosses act. Sometimes, I am sad to say, employers refuse to even recognize the fact that their own employees have demonstrated that they want to have a union. Such employers take the occasion of a polite request for union recognition as a sign to start haranguing you all with alarmist anti-union propaganda. Rather than simply acknowledging your request for a union, they demand that the National Labor Relations Board hold a formal election. The purpose of this is to give them time to scare you out of unionizing, and to make the entire process as long, convoluted, bureaucratic, and difficult as possible. This is, to be clear, the only purpose. Claims to the contrary are lies. (Ask any objective reporter who covers labor issues.) There are many expensive, specialized anti-union law firms that advise employers on exactly how to erect these obstacles in the path of their own employees.
A refusal to recognize a proper union request is the workplace equivalent of voter suppression. It is not a fair or legitimate way to settle differences of opinion—that’s what the bargaining table is for. It is, rather, a brash statement that your company does not want to allow you a basic voice at work even though it is your legal right to have one. It is simple bullying. And it is indicative of the fact that your boss does not think you are worthy of the baseline sort of respect that we are supposed to offer one another as adults.
There is no innocuous reason not to recognize a union request. None. It is always malevolent. It it is always disrespectful. It is always, at its core, mean. Such an action reveals all of your employer’s talk about “valuable team members” and “people are our greatest asset” for what it is: bullshit. There is no holiday bonus or free lunch that makes up for a considered decision to treat you as less than a full human being. If your employer does not recognize your properly delivered request for a union, it doesn’t matter how cheerful the office decor is, or how nice the all-staff emails are. They are spitting your face. They’re just doing it with lawyers. The rage that you feel as a result of this situation should be proportional to the experience of having someone who makes a lot more money than you spit on you and refuse to sit at a table and talk to you about your own job, even as they keep a tight, corporate smile plastered on their own face.
I might not like your smug, patronizing face. But I do not deny your right to have it. And I do not spit in it. That would be wrong. It seems unfortunate that some bosses find it impossible to offer such an elementary level of manners to their own employees, whose work pays their salaries. You can be sure that working people everywhere take careful note of those who would be so rude.
Recognize the union. The union already recognizes you.