Union Label Rules: A Guide for Print Buyers and Designers

The contents of this article should not be considered legal advice. For legal questions, please contact your local legal counsel.

The union label is a mark that print buyers may request for a variety of reasons. However, no matter the reason, the print buyer or designer must understand that using the union label has very specific meaning and in almost all circumstances, only a limited number of print shops may print it.

Who requests the union label on printed material and why? The typical print buyer who requests the union label is usually a political organization, government agency, college or university, other labor unions, or insurance/benefit plans that cater to labor unions. The reason why these organizations request the union label typically boils down to a desire to show support for labor unions.

What does the union label mean? It means that all operations in the production of that piece of printing were done one hundred percent by members of a labor union that belong to a specific union or “Allied Printing Trades Council.” This includes prepress, press and bindery. The union label is always trademarked.

What is the “Allied Printing Trades Council?” It is an international body made up of regional councils throughout the United States and Canada. There are two unions that have many locals that comprise the Allied Printing Trades Council: the Graphic Communications Conference (GCC) and the printing, publishing and media sector locals of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

What is the GCC label? The GCC label is controlled exclusively by the Graphic Communications Conference (GCC) of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (formerly the Graphic Communications International Union, GCIU) in the United States and Canada. 

Are there any other national printing-specific union labels? Not really. However, during the election season, we often see the Painters and Allied Trades (aka Signs and Display Union Label) on poltical signs, buttons, etc.  Plus, there are some printing union labels created and controlled by independent unions in small geographic areas. If you use a union label other than the GCC or Allied Printing Trades Council, check with the union controlling that label first to determine if printing is the proper use for it and for a list of print shops who are authorized to print it.

Can any print shop print a union label? No, only a print shop that 1) has its production employees unionized (usually by the CWA or GCC) and 2) the print shop has a valid and curent union label license agreement.

Don’t all unionized printers have a union label license agreement? No. Not all union shops have all of their production departments unionized. Plus, even if a unionized print shop does have all of its production departments unionized, the company and the union (or trades council) may not have a signed union label license agreement. There are unionized print shops that don’t have all of their production departments organized by a union, but still have a union label license agreement. In these cases, the union label work is usually sent out to a union label licensed subcontractor to finish the job.

Can a nonunion print shop print the union label? No.

Can a nonunion prepress house work on a union label print job? No.

Can a nonunion bindery work on a union label print job? No. However, there have been cases in the past where the union (or allied trades print council) have given specific permission for a nonunion bindery to work on a union label job. This is usually due to the lack of a union bindery in close proximity to the printing plant.  This exception is very rare.

Do designers have to be unionized in order to create union label work? Generally, no. The GCC and the Allied Trades Print Council have not indicated that this is a requirement in the past. Sometimes, the design process is performed by the commercial print buyer internally.

Can a subcontractor print the union label? If a union label job is subcontracted, the subcontractor must also be authorized to work on the union label in question.  Otherwise, the subcontractor (and possibly the union label printer) could be sued by the union.

Can a print job have book covers with the union label, but the contents printed by a non-authorized union label printer? No, a print job that contains the union label means that the entire contents were made by a union label authorized print shop. However, it is possible to have two union label authorized print shops work on the same job (covers and inserts).

What happens if a non-authorized print shop prints the union label? That print shop may be sued by the trademark holder of that label.

Can a non-authorized print shop print on preprinted union label letterhead? Yes. There are lots of companies, charities and government agencies that have letterhead that contains the union label. It is generally understood that the person or entity who actually prints a letter on the letterhead is not part of the production process of that union label stock. Printing Industries of America is not aware of any union label cases under this specific circumstance. Printing on other kinds of stock material (other than letterhead) probably requires more investigation to determine legality.

Does the union label mean that work is of higher quality and/or that the employees who worked on it receive higher pay and benefits? No. Technically, the union label means that the employees who worked on the job are unionized and work for a company that has a union label license agreement. Print quality standards are not usually addressed in union label authorization agreements. The union label does not certify the level of pay and benefits relative to nonunion shops.

To find a union label licensed printer and for more information about the union labels for printing see http://www.gciu.org/ext/shop_search.asp, http://files.cwa-union.org/alliedlabel/, and  http://www.cwaprintshops.com. For Allied Label rules, see http://www.gcudistrictcouncil3.org/PDF/Allied2012.pdf 

Published on Monday, February 15, 2010 (updated 06/20/2016)

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