How to Set Up A Union (California Public Employee)

By: Rafael Ruano

If you are employed by a public agency in California (state, county, city or district), then you have a right to set up a union to represent you and your coworkers. Chances are, if you are here you are interested in an outline of that process – you’re in the right place!

Read on for the basic steps you’ll need to take to form your own union, and know if you have questions at any time, that we are here to help and offer free consultations. Now let’s get started:

  1. Understand what a Union is: First things first, it is important to understand what a union is, exactly. A union, sometimes called an “employee association”, is a legally recognized organization whose primary purpose is to represent its members in their employment relations with their employer. In California, a series of legislative acts codify the relationship between public employers and their employees. Regardless of the type of public sector employee, the basic outline of how a union is formed and, just as important, recognized as the exclusive representative for its members, is pretty much the same.
  • Know the Required Documents: The actual formation of a union requires the incorporation of the organization, with the Articles of Incorporation being filed with the California Secretary of State. The individuals forming the union should also adopt an initial set of Bylaws that spells out how the union is to be governed (elections, membership requirements, meeting, etc.). With those documents in place, a union is formed and can start recruiting members. However, a union is not empowered with the authority to negotiate on behalf of its members until it is recognized as the exclusive representative by the employer.
  • Receive Recognition from the State: Recognition is accomplished through a process that, as a California public employee, is overseen by the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). The union seeking recognition as the exclusive representative of a group of employees (bargaining unit of similarly situated employees) needs to file a petition for recognition with PERB. This petition has to be accompanied by showing of support (signatures) of either a majority or at least 30% of the employees in the bargaining unit. Depending on the amount of support for the petition and whether any other unions seek to intervene and become the exclusive representative themselves, the petitioning union will either be recognized as the exclusive representative outright or have to prevail after an election overseen by PERB.
  • Begin Activities: Once a union is recognized as the exclusive representative, it has the authority and obligation to begin bargaining in good faith with the employer (equally obligated to bargain in good faith) over the terms of a collective bargaining agreement covering the working conditions, wages and benefits of the employees in the bargaining unit.

The process of union formation is not that complex, but there are important decisions about the way the organization is going to be structured, the manner of services it will provide to its members, and how it will be governed. These decisions can affect the union’s effectiveness in the future even if the union is successful in getting recognized as the exclusive representative for its members. Goyette & Associates is available to provide advice and share our experiences in helping California workers set up their own successful unions. Contact Goyette & Associates today at or (916) 851-1900.