What’s a union and what’s a guild? In Washington they can be the same thing or entirely different depending on the structure of the organization.
Generally speaking, unions are entities that perform collective bargaining on behalf of theirmembers. They may be organized into “locals” referring to local units of the union. They may provide collective bargaining services such as forming a new contract with the employer concerning wages, hours and working conditions. In addition, they may provide additional services such as discounted medical programs which the union members may be able to use.
Independent Guilds are in many ways just that, independent. They are responsible for their own bargaining over their wages, hours and working conditions. Guilds provide more control to their members, but at a cost. The expenses of bargaining, grievances and benefits are paid directly on the local members.
Some local guilds have trouble building a reserve (war chest) to pay for things such as mediations and arbitrations, over their contract or grievances. With the cost of arbitrations frequently exceeding $15,000 to $30,000 arbitrations may be beyond the ability of many small guilds to bear. If a small guild is bargaining over the size of a wage increase, the cost of arbitration may easily exceed any anticipated wage increase.
Guilds may also lack the expertise to conduct their own bargaining. Guilds may elect to hire an attorney to conduct bargaining on their behalf.
Many guilds find it to their benefit to work though large labor organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). While the Guild is independent, they hire the FOP provide all labor services for a set fee per member per month. Any expenses for bargaining, arbitration and other expenses are covered by the FOP. All expenses for discipline, grievances, contract modifications etc are included in set per member fee. By contracting through the FOP, the guilds receive their services at a set rate, with no further burden on their members. In this manner, guilds retain control, and may bargain from a stronger position because they have support from thousands of other officers helping to cover their expenses for bargaining and arbitrations.
In addition, the FOP provides benefits that are not available to purely independent guilds such as free college education, banking and financial services, legal defense and more.
If guilds don’t like the services being provided, it is easier to discharge the attorney or the labor organization and swap to a new representative for bargaining services than to change from a union to another or from a union to a guild. A guild is responsible for representing the membership. If the guilds hire a new attorney or representative, such as the FOP, the guild simply needs to notify the employer that another entity will be their bargaining representative.
A Union is different than a guild. The union is the actual representative of the employee, rather than the employees representing themselves as in a guild. The union files a petition to be recognized as the bargaining agent for the employees. If the employees do not like the union and want to switch to another union or to a guild it is more difficult. To change requires a petition by 30% of the members and then a majority vote in an election to switch from one union to another or to a guild. There are also time limits on changes. A petition to change unions must be made with a very narrow period shortly before the union contract expires or after the contract expires, otherwise you cannot switch unions. Absent these windows, the members of a union may only vote to disband the union. They must then wait one year to file a petition to join another union or create a guild.