Frequently Asked Questions About Unions and Union Organizing

What is a union and what is the SEIU?

1. What are the objectives of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500?

Answer: Unions are a business funded by employees’ monthly dues. While they are nonprofit organizations, they are always seeking new sources of revenue—in this case, more members.


2. What do union dues pay for?

Answer: Union dues pay for running the union’s business, including union employees’ salaries, benefits, perks, etc. Your union dues would also fund the SEIU’s efforts to organize new members, just like its current members’ dues are paying for its attempt to organize you right now. What union dues do not pay for are any wages or benefits for members, as even with union representation, your wages would continue to be paid for by Kennedy Krieger Institute, and your benefits would continue to be paid for as they are now, with Kennedy Krieger paying the majority of the monthly cost, and you paying your portion.


3. How much are dues?

Answer: SEIU Local 500, the union attempting to represent you, declares on its required financial disclosure forms that union dues are 2% of a member’s earnings per paycheck, plus an initiation fee of $20 for new members. Union dues are paid with after-tax money, i.e., not pre-tax, like a 401(k) deduction, and as of 2018, are no longer tax-deductible.


4. What are the salaries of the union leaders?

Answer: All unions must file reports with the U.S. Department of Labor each year declaring how they spent their members’ union dues, including the salaries, benefits and perks of union leaders. We will be sharing this public information with you so you may see how your dues would be spent if you were represented by this union.


5. What power does the union have to change salaries, benefits and working conditions?

Answer: The union has no power to unilaterally change salaries, benefits and working conditions, because no changes could take place unless and until Kennedy Krieger agrees to them. We believe that because we operate as publicly-funded private school, the union would have less ability to increase wages and benefits than we already have now, working together with no union.


6. Can a union force Kennedy Krieger to supplement school employees’ salaries?

Answer: No, a union cannot force Kennedy Krieger to provide any improvement in wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment. Kennedy Krieger is not legally required to agree to any proposal.


7. Is the union’s membership increasing or declining?

Answer: In 2017–2018, SEIU Local 500’s required financial disclosures showed a total membership of 9,947 members. In 2018–2019, its membership number had dropped to 9,508. In our opinion, this is one reason the union is trying to become your representative, to replace lost revenue caused by a loss in membership.


8. Can the union provide a list of current members whom I may call to get input about what they like and don’t like about being represented by the union?

Answer: This is a question you would have to ask the union, but please remember that the union is unlikely to refer you to a member who is unhappy with their representation. However, as some of your colleagues and leaders have been in unions before, and many of them have had bad experiences with unions, this would be a great question to ask your colleagues while you are doing your due diligence before you vote.


9. What is the typical contract period for an SEIU negotiated contract?

Answer: Union contract lengths vary, but the vast majority last three years.


10. If the union is trying to secure higher wages for members, what’s the logic in paying the union?

Answer: The union is a business that gets its revenue from collecting dues from its members. The majority of the dues collected go toward paying the union’s internal staff members, trying to gain more membership by attempting to organize employees at other organizations, and making political contributions to further its own agendas.


11. What makes Kennedy Krieger believe the union is not a good idea for us?

Answer: We believe that we can better address any issues or concerns by working directly with our employees, rather than through an outside party unfamiliar with our school, students and culture. We believe that this union does not have experience or expertise in representing employees in schools such as ours and they would not have any more power to increase funding to the schools than we have together now.  Finally, if you join this union you would be forced to pay union dues with absolutely no guarantee of any change or enough of a pay increase to pay your union dues.


12. What happens if I don’t pay my dues?

Answer: In Maryland, it is legal for a union to negotiate that all employees must pay union dues or be fired.


13. If employees vote to join a union, how will leadership work with the union to best serve our students?

Answer: Management would work to maintain control over how our students are served and would avoid agreeing to union proposals that would interfere with our right and responsibility to serve our students in the best possible manner. The risk is that if the union does not agree with our position, it could lead to a labor dispute that could be very disturbing to our students.


How does voting work?


1. If I don’t want to be in a union but the union wins the election, may I simply choose to keep my situation the same?

Answer: Unfortunately, you may not. If the union wins the election, according to federal law, the union will represent each and every employee who was eligible to vote (collectively called the voting unit), whether they voted for the union or did not vote at all.


2. How many votes does the union need to win an election?

Answer: To win an election, the union needs a simple majority (one more than half) of the votes actually cast in the election. For example, if there are 400 employees in the voting unit and they all vote, if the union receives 201 votes, the union wins, and ALL employees in the voting unit are now represented by the union, even the 199 who voted against unionizing. If there are 400 employees in the voting unit and only 100 of them vote, if the union receives 51 votes, the union wins, and ALL 400 employees in the voting unit are now represented by the union, even the 49 who voted “no” and the 350 who did not vote.


3. If I vote “no,” will I still have to pay dues if the union wins the election?

Answer: In Maryland, it is legal for a union to negotiate that all employees in the bargaining unit (as the voting unit is called after a union wins an election) must pay union dues or be fired.

4. If I vote “no,” do I have to be represented by the union if it wins the election?

Answer: If the union wins the election, according to federal law, it will represent each and every employee in the bargaining unit, whether they voted for the union or did not vote at all.


5. The union led me to believe signing an authorization card was just to get more information. May I ask to have my card back?

Answer: You may ask for your card back from the union, but unfortunately, the union is under no obligation to return it to you. So, it’s important to thoroughly read anything before signing. Remember, if enough employees sign a union card or form, the union will use them to file for a new election, whether or not they told you the truth about the legal ramifications of signing a card. 


6. Does the union have to collect new authorization cards to file a petition?

Answer: An authorization card collected by the union is valid for at least one year from the date on which it was signed. If it takes the union longer than that to get enough cards signed to file for a new election, they would need to collect new authorization cards to submit to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to trigger an election.


7. Why have there been discussions about the union visiting people’s homes or taking other intrusive measures?

Answer: We want our staff members to be prepared for and educated about how the union works, including its organizing tactics. It is common for a union organizer to visit employees’ homes in an attempt to get them to sign authorization cards, and to gain their support. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the way unions operate has changed, so you may not receive a home visit and may instead be contacted by phone, email or social media. It’s important to note that if you should receive a visit from an organizer at your home, you have the right to ask them to leave, just as you would any solicitor.


8. What happens if we aren’t happy with the union?

Answer: If employees represented by a union are unhappy and wish to vote their union out, they must follow the procedures of the NLRB to decertify the union:

      1. Wait for the appropriate moment in time: at least one year from certification of the union, or the expiration of a current union contract, or three more years, whichever comes first. At those times, a 30-day window opens up 60 to 90 days before the expiration of the union contract.
      2. During the 60-to-90-day window before the expiration of the union contract, employees must file a petition for decertification with the NLRB supported by the signatures of at least 30% of the bargaining unit employees.
      3. Important notes:
        1. No member of management may help or encourage employees to decertify the union; it must be done by employees alone.
        2. An employee has to sign the paperwork, which means the union will know who is trying to decertify it.
        3. The union will fight back; it would stand to lose close to $240,000 per year in union dues collected from your paychecks.
        4. The bottom line—it can be a lengthy and complicated process to decertify the union if you are unhappy.


9. How will leadership handle employees who are interested in joining the union?

Answer: Kennedy Krieger respects the right of each employee to decide whether a union is in their best interest. We will provide factual information to employees so everyone may make an informed choice.


10. If the vote for a union passes, will employees be required to join regardless of how they voted?

Answer: If a majority of employees in the voting unit vote to join the union, all the employees in the voting unit will be in the bargaining unit and will be subject to the terms and conditions contained in the contract. Additionally, it is extremely likely that all bargaining unit employees will pay union dues.


What is collective bargaining?


1. Is it possible that employees could lose wages or benefits during collective bargaining?

Answer: Absolutely. Under the law, there are no guarantees in collective bargaining, and no one can predict the outcome.


2. If Kennedy Krieger wanted to give a market adjustment to employees covered under the bargaining unit while a contract was in place, would the union have to approve it?

Answer: All wages, hours of work, benefits and working conditions would be subject to collective bargaining, and no changes could be made by Kennedy Krieger unless agreed to by the union.


3. Will my flex days and other time-off benefits be impacted in collective bargaining?

Answer: They very well could be; these and all other benefits would be “on the table” and subject to collective bargaining.


4. Would union members who are not part of our school staff or Kennedy Krieger be part of determining what schedules work best for our students and staff members?

Answer: Not technically, but the officers of the local union are answerable to all of the local union’s members, so unions can be very reticent to negotiate special provisions for special institutions such as Kennedy Krieger.


5. Would we still get tuition assistance for ourselves and our children if we elect to join the union? What about our other current benefits?

Answer: These and all other benefits would be “on the table” and subject to collective bargaining, and no one can predict the outcome of bargaining.


6. Kennedy Krieger has provided increases for school staff members over the last several years. Would that still continue if we elect to join the union?

Answer: All wages, hours of work, benefits and working conditions would be “on the table” and subject to collective bargaining, and no one can predict the outcome of bargaining.


7. How would promotions be handled under a union?

Answer: All working conditions would be “on the table” and subject to collective bargaining, and no one can predict the outcome of bargaining.


8. What is the union’s platform, what is it offering, and what would we be giving up if we unionize?

Answer: The union typically has a vague or generalized platform to start, and as union representatives talk with more employees about their concerns, they might promise anything to gain the employees’ votes. Ultimately, it all comes down to collective bargaining, and the NLRB states that in the end, employees may gain more, stay the same, or come out with less. We’re not sure what, specifically, the union is promising, but be aware that the NLRB says it is legal for the union to make promises to you because union promises are like political propaganda. They know that the union has no way of guaranteeing anything, because it must get Kennedy Krieger’s agreement to make any changes to wages, benefits or working conditions.


9. How would being in a union at Kennedy Krieger be different from being in a union at a public school?

Answer: Every collective bargaining agreement (union contract) needs to be negotiated. The terms of agreements vary from organization to organization. Kennedy Krieger is unique, and is very different from a public school, and therefore functions differently. So, what works for a union at a public school may not work for us. Working for a private institution is very different from a public institution, as the laws and the politics are very different.  We do not believe that this union has experience representing employees who work for a school system like ours, nor do they understand the intricacies of how we are funded.  Therefore, in our opinion they would be ineffective in representing you and have little ability to effect change. 


In addition, while unions are common in public schools and agencies, in the private sector unions have been losing members for years and now represent less than 7% of employees in the country.  As they lose members, they lose power as well.


10. Why did Kennedy Krieger request to add employees with different roles and responsibilities to the bargaining unit?

Answer: Our collaborative model provides the best experience and outcomes for our students. We feel the division that would be caused by having a restrictive collective bargaining agreement would negatively impact our collaborative culture. It would create challenges if some employee groups had to follow a specified contract, while other employee groups—who work closely with the groups following the contract—operated under different policies.


11. What do employees stand to lose?

Answer: When employees select a union to be their exclusive representative for collective bargaining, they give up the right to deal directly with their supervisor or other management over wages, benefits and working conditions. In collective bargaining, the union could agree to trade something you currently have and enjoy for something considered more important to the union and the small number of employees on the bargaining committee. In addition, the union will expect all employees in the bargaining unit to join the union and pay union dues as a condition of employment.


12. If Kennedy Krieger school staff members vote to be represented by the union, would that eliminate the ability of staff members to create flexible schedules, and the ability of supervisors to give employees comp time?

Answer: If the union wins the election, all current wages and benefits would be subject to negotiations, and after bargaining, may increase, decrease or stay the same. Management would lose flexibility, as managers could no longer deal directly with employees about working conditions, and would be required to follow whatever was agreed to in the contract.