What is a union?
A union is an organization of workers united around common demands. Workers are stronger together. Forming a union
enables workers to negotiate for higher wages and benefits and improve conditions in the workplace. The employer can
no longer dictate these things without worker input. A labor union’s most public role is to collectively bargain a contract
between the employer and employees on the terms of employment.


What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a process in which a group of workers – a bargaining unit – negotiate a contract with their
employer to determine the terms of employment. These terms then apply to everyone within the bargaining unit in
order to negotiate a contract that is as fair as possible for everyone. Every year, millions of America’s workers negotiate
or renegotiate their bargained contracts. Like any other contract, it can be enforced by law. A Union Contract is a reflection of the power of the workers and their willingness to fight in a workplace at a given time

What can union members bargain with their employers over?

By law, employers are required to bargain over “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” This

● Wages
● Health and safety procedures
● Discipline and grievance procedure
● Arbitration
● Seniority

Fringe benefits are also negotiable. This might include:

● Vacation
● Holidays
● Pensions
● Health Insurance
● Sick Time
● Severance Pay


How does collective bargaining work?
After the Union is certified, one of the first things that happens is that all the workers will fill out a bargaining survey to
identify issues and problems they would like to see addressed during negotiations. A negotiating committee is elected
from your peers by your peers, who will then work with an IAM Business Representative to start contract negotiations. Once a “tentative agreement” is reached, the workers will vote on whether to accept or reject the contract offer.


Why do teachers and staff at Rocketship want to form a union?
A union will empower teachers and staff to work productively with Rocketship leadership to create a school that works in the best interests of all stakeholders, from students and families to staff and administrators. We want to be able to
provide input on decisions that affect their school and the students they serve. Our goal is to create classrooms that
are healthy spaces for everyone, and claim our right to participate in determining the future of Rocketship. We can use collective bargaining to fight for:

● Livable wages consistent with assigned work
● Sustainable work schedules that promote a healthy work-life balance
● Affordable healthcare
● Equitable hiring practices, guaranteed due process, and job security
● School policies that promote equity for staff, students, and families
● A dedicated space for social justice organizing and community partnerships


What is Seniority?
Seniority refers to the number of years a worker has worked at a workplace. Seniority rights is the way that a union
ensures fair treatment for all workers at a workplace, based on the number of years the worker has devoted to the employer. It’s effective because it promotes transparency and fairness; everyone knows that if they remain at the workplace long enough, they will have more seniority.


What is a Grievance Procedure?
What happens when the employer does not follow the rules written out in the contract? The workers, assisted by the union stewards, must move to enforce it. One way to enforce the contract is through communication and collective action. Another way to enforce a contract is to file a grievance. A grievance is a specific kind of complaint, based on the language of the contract. It is done through a formal procedure which is also written out in the contract. It usually involves a written grievance form giving the company notice of the violation of contract language and detailing the nature of the problem and the proposed solution.


What are the five main reasons why Rocketship staff are forming a union?
1) Respect
2) Equity
3) Accountability
4) Transparency
5) Job Security

(1) Respect: Rocketship will be a stronger institution when staff voices are included, valued, and supported.

(2) Equity: Rocketship Milwaukee has serious DEI issues that need to be addressed immediately. Rocketship needs to prioritize the findings and recommendations from its own 2021 equity audit.

(3)  Accountability: We love Rocketship, its students, and mission. We want to hold Rocketship to its own stated high
Standards.  Our students and community deserve nothing less.

(4) Transparency: Rocketship families and the Milwaukee community deserve transparency about what’s going on in
their schools.

(5) Job Security: Rocketship’s opportunities for promotion and pathways to leadership rely on favoritism and friendships rather than the most qualified candidates.


How does the unionization process work?

There are several phases to forming a union:

  1. Quiet Phase: Concerned workers discuss whether they want to form a union. Oftentimes, this happens quietly so that workers can discuss without experiencing pressure from the employer. Workers who support the union fill out a Union Authorization Card.

  2. Public Phase: Once the workers are ready, they bring their organizing campaign to the public. For the next
    period of time, employees have time to decide whether or not they want to form a Union. Once a strong
    plurality of workers have signed Union Authorization cards, the Union files for an election with the National
    Labor Relations Board.

  3. The NLRB sets a date for an election. If 50% plus one of the workers vote “Yes” in the election, then the
    employer must sit down with the workers and negotiate a contract.

  4. The workers elect a bargaining committee and together with their IAM Business Representative, sit down with
    management to negotiate a first contract.


How will unionization promote social justice at Rocketship?
In brief: stronger teaching staff, improved student outcomes, better communication, and more community engagement!

First, we use collective bargaining to fight to end the one-way relationship between Rocketship administration and its staff. This starts with having teachers on decision-making committees, a more transparent disciplinary process for staff, and communication with the Rocketship Wisconsin Board of Directors. We believe that giving teachers more voice will help prevent unequal treatment along lines of race, class, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. These opportunities, as well as the financial security that union contracts can provide, are key to advancing social justice goals both within the school and the city as a whole.

Second, teachers and other front line employees are the ones that first hear complaints and concerns from students and families; we need a guaranteed seat at the table to communicate those concerns in a safe space. We can also advocate for more decision making powers in the hands of students and families.

Finally, unions are organizations with a long history of being involved in the community. With a union, we have another
pathway to being more involved in community issues and have a formal organization with the weight of its resources to
back our broader social justice work. In fact, the Chicago Teachers Union listed more affordable housing for their families as one of their union demands.

Unions were and are the way sustainable, living wage jobs were built in this country. Our students and families
deserve to see it is possible to fight for a better world.


Why is equity one of our bargaining priorities?
Racial justice and equity demand a change! Teachers of color, LGBTQ teachers, and other underrepresented identities are often asked to do more work and often face unfair attention when trying to advocate for change. Everyone deserves the protection of a contract and formalized channels for addressing issues, without the fear of risking their livelihood.


To what extent are unions in Milwaukee anti-racist?
It’s important to recognize that when the labor movement kicked off in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were many
racist practices and many racist unions and union leaders. Some unions saw their role as protecting existing white
workers from immigrants and the Great Migration from the south. Despite this, communities of color have seen past the
bigotry of past labor leaders and recognized the necessity of organizing in the workplace. The most important labor
leaders in America are from communities of color, such as Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin.  Civil rights leaders saw the racial justice and labor movements as intertwined, as Martin Luther King Jr.’s final campaign demonstrated as he fought for striking Memphis sanitation workers. In fact, it was labor organizers who trained Civil Rights organizers, like Rosa Parks, at institutions like the Highlander School.

The history of race in the IAM reflects the history of race in the US. The IAM was not exempt from this and had oppressive and racist provisions in its constitution excluding women and people of color from membership.  But the core principle of unionism is fundamentally opposed to racism and discrimination.  The IAM admitted the first woman, Nellie Patterson to membership in 1904 and its first black member, Roman Mayfield, to membership in 1950.

Today, inclusion, diversity, and equity are core values of the IAM, and are reflected in the union’s staff highest leadership. If we advocate for policies that allow us to hire and retain advocates for equity and social justice, our union will always be a vehicle for social justice. 

Furthermore, the protections and benefits that unions afford most strongly benefit workers of color – specifically Latino and Black workers. https://aflcio.org/what-unions-do/empower-workers

Unions, at the end of the day, are made up of their members.  Here in Milwaukee, there are active chapters of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA).  Learn more about these organizations and their worker advocacy here:

CBTU https://cbtu.nationbuilder.com/

LCLAA https://www.lclaa.org/


Who is the IAM?
The IAM is a diverse labor union made up of some 600,000 active and retired working people in North America, representing workers in hundreds of diverse job classifications such as librarians, lobster fishermen, art museum workers, veterinarians, flight attendants, retail workers, machinists and mechanics.  The IAM has been representing workers in Wisconsin for over over a century, and today represents the workers at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, GE Healthcare, Harley Davidson, Ocean Spray, John Deere, Mercury Marine, and more.  


Have other charter schools organized before?
At this time, we are aware of no other charter schools in the state of Wisconsin that have unionized – yet.  However, many charter schools similar to Rocketship have unionized in other states, such as Illinois, California, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania, as well as in Washington, DC.


Why are teachers at Rocketship unionizing with the Machinists Union?

Rocketship teachers reached out to the IAM to find out more about how to have a voice at work. It might seem strange for an educator to join an organization called the Machinists Union. When it was founded way back in 1888 it was exclusively for railroad mechanics. But a lot of time has passed, and the labor movement has evolved.

The IAM is a large, diverse international Union that represents workers in virtually every type of industry.  It has experienced labor negotiators and resources to help workers bargain, but it’s the workers themselves who ultimately know their workplace the best and will shape their contract.  When workers are in the driver’s seat, they fashion contracts that best suit their priorities and needs.     (Learn more at About The IAM.)


What is a bargaining unit, and who will be in the Rocketship Wisconsin bargaining unit?
A bargaining unit is the group of employees that are covered by a contract and who are represented by a union. We
believe that all non-management teachers and support staff at RTP and RSCP will be in our bargaining unit.  Ultimately, the National Labor Relations Board is responsible for making the final decision of who will be included in the bargaining unit at Rocketship. 


Do undocumented and immigrant workers have the right to organize a union?
Yes!  The National Labor Relations Act guarantees basic workplace rights for all workers in the United States, including immigrant and undocumented workers.  All workers, regardless of their immigration status, have the right to organize a union and take collective action.

Immigrant Employee Rights Under the National Labor Relations Act


If I don’t vote in the election and a union gets voted in, am I still covered by the collective bargaining agreement?
Yes, if a union is voted in, all employees in the collective bargaining unit are subject to the terms of the collective
bargaining agreement regardless of whether they voted in the election.

In the same way that our government elections work, the results of the election apply to everyone. This makes it
incredibly important for you to vote and make your voice heard! Without a union contract, Rocketship makes unilateral
decisions about your job without any worker input, usually to their benefit. Whereas, with a union contract, employees
are guaranteed a seat at the table when it comes time to make decisions about workplace policies. Workers collectively
decide which issues are most important and bring those proposals to the negotiating table. Unionizing gives workers a
process to make their voices heard, requiring that management listen.


Will having a union increase my job security?
Absolutely! Without a union, you are an at-will employee and Rocketship can choose to discipline, fire, or change your
working conditions at any time, without notice, and for any reason (with the exception of Federal protections which
protect against discriminatory employer actions.) Check out your employee handbook, and you’ll find a paragraph that says exactly this.  

However, once you and your co-workers unionize, you will no longer be “at-will” employees. Rocketship will be obligated to follow the disciplinary rules outlined in the negotiated grievance procedure in your contract. Employees will elect union stewards who, when requested, accompany their coworkers during disciplinary meetings.

A union contract provides for due process with specific actions that the employer must take before deciding to discipline workers. Rocketship will have to prove it has “just cause” when firing and disciplining workers. While this grievance procedure may not overturn Carmen’s decision (in case Carmen was justified and followed the proper
disciplinary procedures), it does provide workers with protection from unjust or unfair firings or discipline.


What will my dues be?
IAM monthly union dues are set and voted on by members at each Local Lodge. Rocketship staff will be a part of Lodge 66, District 10’s largest local in the Milwaukee area. Monthly dues for members of Lodge 66 are determined by a formula based on the average hourly wage of each represented workplace The current minimum monthly rate is $65.11.  As a point of reference, a member making $40,000/year would pay a monthly dues rate of $68.12.  Workers at newly organized workplaces do not pay dues until their first contract is ratified.  Also, members at lower wage shops can request a dues dispensation.


What will my dues pay for?
Every organization needs resources to be effective.  Dues secure all the benefits, rights, services and privileges that are negotiated through collectively bargained contracts. Dues enable the union to utilize our collective power to negotiate the best agreement possible by providing staff, training, legal resources, and strike benefits.  Dues are also used for arbitrations, when grievances can’t be resolved between the union and the company and must be resolved by an arbitrator. Dues provide benefits that the union offers, such as scholarships, free online college, group health plans, and more. Dues fund union staff and organizers who help unrepresented workers organize a union at their workplace.


How does the IAM ensure democracy and membership control of the union?

The IAM Constitution is the union member’s “bill of rights” and the fundamental law of the union. It guarantees the members’ right to nominate and elect their officers in secret ballot elections at every level of the union, from Local Lodge officers to the International President. It guarantees the members’ right to vote on contracts and to participate fully in every aspect of the life of their union. Changes to the constitution are made at the Grand Lodge Convention. Every four years a “convention call” is mailed to all Local Lodges. The members then nominate delegates and elect them in a secret ballot vote. Convention delegates, alone, have the power to amend the Constitution. The number of Convention delegates and votes assigned to a Local depends on the size of its membership.


How is the Money Monitored?

In every Local and District, at least six officers share responsibility for protecting the members’ dues money. Local Lodge funds must also be audited twice a year. The members nominate and elect auditors (Local Lodge officers may not serve as auditors) and three Trustees to review and verify the auditor’s reports. The reports must then be submitted for review by the Local membership and the General Secretary-Treasurer. As a further check, the International Union conducts periodic, unannounced audits of Local and District Lodge books. Likewise, the integrity of International Union finances are protected through annual audits by an independent firm of certified public accountants.


Will my dues money go to politics?
By law, dues money cannot go towards political candidates. Every dollar spent on political lobbying comes from
voluntary donations to the Machinists Non-Partisan Political League (MNPL), the IAM’s Political Action Committee.


Will I be able to speak with my supervisor after unionizing?
Yes! You can continue to communicate and speak with your supervisor after unionizing. Sometimes, people are worried
that having a union will keep them from talking to their supervisor directly. This is not the case. You can continue to
communicate with your supervisor and leadership as you always have. Improved communication between management and the workers is a major goal of unionizing, not a casualty of it. A union contract gives workers the right to request that a union steward be present at any meeting with management that they believe may lead to discipline. These Weingarten Rights are an added protection for workers, not a restriction on communication with management.


Will unionizing change my relationship with my supervisor?
Possibly – but if anything, unionizing will improve that relationship. Every contract looks a little different from every
other because every workplace and workforce is unique. Union contracts provide a standardized disciplinary
procedure for when there are issues between management and workers, so that there are no surprises or favorites.  Contracts give workers job security to question any work that they feel is unacceptable or unsafe. The purpose of a contract is to improve labor relations.  You will still be able to talk directly to your manager about problems if you so choose. But if you are called in for a potential discipline, you will have a right to request a union steward be present to defend you and be a witness to what is said and done in the meeting. Management will no longer have the last word.


I like my job / supervisor / principal; why should I support change with a union?
We are ALL passionate about our work and we want to be happy while working, but the reality is that without a union,
there is a power imbalance in the workplace. Employees can be overlooked by well-meaning management who may rush to meet a need by putting more burden on teachers and other staff. Supportive management may leave Rocketship and be replaced. A union doesn’t prevent good relationships with management, it ensures it. 

Additionally, each school and classroom is different. If your working relationship with your manager or coach is positive, it doesn’t mean that’s the case for all of us. By joining together in a union, every one of us will have a chance to build relationships of trust and respect with our managers. You can help by sharing what works for you and your manager—for the benefit of your fellow Rocketship co-workers.

Union contracts can be shaped to preserve the structure of the relationships that you and your managers have worked to create, regardless of future staffing changes. We all know that our coworkers come and go over time. A contract will
establish expectations of professional relationships that will endure despite changes in staffing.

If you like something about your work, secure it in a contract!  Make sure that positive workplace policies aren’t changed on a whim.  Supervisors can get transferred, promoted, or leave.  A contract guarantees some stability through these kinds of changes.


I’ve heard that unions reduce flexibility in a workplace, and that this would hurt a charter school’s ability to innovate. Is this true?

No. We strongly believe unionizing will help Rocketship.  Including teacher and support staff voices in workplace decisions doesn’t stifle creativity, if anything, it promotes it. When staff are given safe spaces to communicate, without fear of retaliation, their creativity is given space to flourish. 

Managers who say unions reduce flexibility are often concerned that they will lose their flexibility to hire and fire whomever they want, whenever they want, for whatever reason. Union contracts do not prevent managers from managing their workforce; rather, they promote accountability and workplace democracy by making sure that managers do their jobs fairly and in a way that gives workers due process, giving workers a say in how workplace changes will impact them. A union contract does not prevent managers from setting policy or nor does it discourage innovation.  

Workers who form a union are more satisfied and productive at work. By improving workplace conditions and benefits unions can reduce costly turnover and make the workplace safer and healthier. 

Rocketship staff are skilled, passionate professionals and advocates and Rocketship will benefit when they are listened to and are able to thrive. They deserve a voice in the decisions that impact our classrooms, livelihoods, and community.


My manager says that the union is an outside 3rd party and will disrupt Rocketship’s culture, is this true?
No!  The truth is that YOU are the union. YOU decide what issues you want to negotiate with your employer. YOU form your negotiating committee. YOU elect your local lodge, district lodge and International leadership. YOU vote on whether to accept or reject your negotiated collective bargaining agreement. The IAM will provide bargaining assistance and a host of other services, but ultimately your union will be as strong as you make it. 

Management’s primary objective is to paint the union as a third party. They will go out of their way to portray the IAM as a big business with fat cat executives. They will probably show graphs about the loss in union membership that only tell half the story. Then they’ll start talking about paying union dues and avoid talking about the salaries of their own chief executives. 


I heard that I could lose benefits during contract negotiations, is this true?
Anti-union consultants and managers go out of their way to say collective bargaining is a gamble. This is presented as bargaining from zero. Union busters will claim that nothing is guaranteed if you form a union, that your wages, benefits and more could improve, stay the same or get worse. They may instruct you to ask union organizers to make unrealistic promises. They are aiming to create doubt.   

The truth is that your employer is required by law to bargain in good faith. That means demonstrating a sincere effort to compromise on proposals put forth by you and your negotiating committee. It would be illegal for them to cut your wages or benefits in retaliation for voting for the union. Therefore, everything stays the same until you vote to approve a contract. And keep in mind—YOU vote on that contract. So, you don’t have to vote for anything you don’t want. 


Will we have to go out on strike?
Strikes get a lot of publicity, but the odds you will ever go on strike are slim. Every year, ninety-eight (98) percent of all
IAM contracts are negotiated without a strike, through businesslike, professional negotiations with the employer.
The IAM Constitution ensures no one in the IAM can order or force a majority of members to strike against their will.
During negotiations, members covered by the contract are notified and given the chance to vote on the proposed agreement and on whether to strike. It takes a simple majority (50%+ 1) of those voting to accept a contract, BUT it takes a two-thirds (66.66) majority to strike. With that said, sometimes union members do vote to strike. It’s a tactic and a source of power that employers respond to. Strikes are not taken lightly, however. That’s why it takes two-thirds of the membership at your worksite to vote to authorize a Strike.


I’m worried about job security; can I get fired for supporting a union?
No. U.S. law is clear: it is illegal for an employer to fire or retaliate against workers based on their support for unionizing.  Please see our YOUR RIGHTS webpage to find out more about your workplace rights under the National Labor Relations Act.


Why do employers almost always oppose their employees’ desire to form a union?
One word: power. Employers ignore the potential improvements that a union can bring to a workplace and instead
obsess over the fact that a union gives real power to workers and forces management to give up some of theirs. Many
employers believe they should have the power to make whatever decision they want, whenever they want, without
worker input. A union changes that balance of power in favor of the workers and requires employers to negotiate with
the workers about workplace policies. Employers spend huge amounts of money in order to scare their workers into
believing that joining a union is not in workers’ best interests.


I work in the office at Rocketship. Can I still join the union?
We hope to form a single wall-to-wall bargaining unit of teachers and support staff who are non-management at Rocketship.  However, if you are an office worker, by law you must organize a separate bargaining unit.  If you are interested in signing a Union Support Card and learning more about how to form a union, please contact IAM Organizer Anne Wiberg at 414-215-9728.


I’m not a teacher at Rocketship. Can I still join the union?
Teachers and support staff who are non-management at Rocketship can join the union. We hope to form a single wall-to-wall bargaining unit of all Rocketship staff. However, if you are an office worker, by law you must organize a separate bargaining unit.

× How can I help you?