Should Craft Units Become Separate Bargaining Units?

A craft unit is an organization of workers who perform skilled or semi-skilled labor such as electricians and carpenters. Craft units have their own unions, i.e. Carpenters Union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Plumbers & Pipefitters, etc. Non-craft units generally belong to unions like the Teamsters, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and UNITE HERE that include many different types of jobs from many different industries.

The National Labor Relations Board looks at the following six factors when determining whether a bargaining unit is a craft unit:

  1. Whether the proposed unit consists of a distinct and homogeneous unit of skilled craftsmen;
  2. The bargaining history, with an eye to stability;
  3. The extent to which the proposed unit had maintained a separate identity;
  4. The pattern of bargaining in the industry;
  5. The degree of integration in the employer’s production process; and
  6. The qualifications of the union seeking to represent the proposed unit.

The Board is usually hesitant to disrupt an established bargaining relationship unless the facts of the particular case warrant otherwise. Employers that want to establish craft units for separate representation are better off achieving this goal during initial organizing. While this decision rests on the factual nuances of each situation, it is generally less disruptive to separate units up front as opposed to separating them once a bargaining relationship has been established. Companies should consult with labor counsel when deciding whether to separate craft unit because different conclusions face different challenges and rewards.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio employment lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at 614.843.3041 or email him at