Forming a union at a non-union workplace

You have the right to join with coworkers to address conditions at work.

The National Labor Relations Act protects the right of employees to form or join a union or refrain from doing so. To protect this right, the NLRB conducts secret-ballot elections among employees to determine whether they wish to be represented by a union. If a union receives a majority of the votes cast in an election, it is certified as the employees’ bargaining representative and must be recognized by the employer as the exclusive bargaining agent for the employees in the relevant workgroup. Failure to bargain with the union at this point is an unfair labor practice.

To start the process, you must file an election petition with your local NLRB office. Along with the petition, you will need to show that at least 30% of the employees support your election petition, which is usually done with authorization cards or a petition signed by your co-workers. An NLRB agent will then make sure that an election in your particular workgroup is appropriate and take steps to set the time, date, and place of a secret-ballot election. Elections may be in-person, by mail, or a combination of both. If the union receives a majority of the votes cast at the election, the NLRB will certify the union as your exclusive collective-bargaining representative.

Basic steps to forming a union through voluntary recognition

We’re here to help.

The NLRB is a Federal agency that protects your right to join together with other employees to improve your wages and working conditions, with or without the help of a union. For assistance, please call:

1-844-762-NLRB (1-844-762-6572)

Spanish assistance is available.

Callers who are deaf or hard of hearing who wish to speak to an NLRB representative should send an email to An NLRB representative will email the requestor with instructions on how to schedule a relay service call.

In addition to NLRB-conducted elections, federal law provides employees a second path to choose a representative. You may persuade an employer to voluntarily recognize a union after showing majority support by signed authorization cards or other means. These agreements are made outside the NLRB process. However, after voluntary recognition, the employer and/or the union may notify the NLRB Regional Office that voluntary recognition has been granted.

Additional resources

Need more information?
The elaws (Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses) Advisors are a set of online tools developed by the U.S. Department of Labor to help employees and employers understand their rights and responsibilities under Federal employment laws.