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What is a Union Bug?

Updated on September 27, 2015
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a promotional products expert and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business.


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A union bug is a little graphic that is printed on a product or used in communications to identify the unionized group of individuals who produced a product or service. The bug will show to what union the group belongs, as well as the local/regional group (usually referred to as a "local") in which it holds membership.

The bug is an announcement to the world that the organization offering these products or services participates in collective bargaining labor contracts with their workers. This assures buyers that workers are receiving fair negotiated wages and working conditions.

Similar to historical trade and craft guilds, unions may require members to meet various qualifications or go through apprentice training programs. For these types of work, a product with a union bug could also assure buyers that products and services were produced by people who have achieved a certain level of skill in the field.

Though unions can be international, unions are common in the United States since the country has a strong commitment to fair labor standards and worker protections.

So why is this important?

With horror stories of sweatshop labor and conditions hitting the news, buyers have heightened concerns that they may, by purchasing certain goods, be unknowingly supporting these unacceptable or unethical situations. This is especially problematic when it comes to promotional products or branded merchandise. So choosing a union produced good can provide some assurances that fair labor practices were employed.

For organizations with corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, using union produced goods and services can be one way to demonstrate their commitment to fair trade and fair labor.


Who Cares About a Union Bug?

Some of the groups who have traditionally been interested in purchasing and using union produced products and services include:

  • Unions (obviously!), union affiliated associations and their members.
  • Organizations, such as government agencies and the trades, which have union work forces.
  • Political organizations and candidates.
  • Nonprofits.
  • Vendors who serve unions and/or their members.

This is particularly the case when it comes to promotional products. For example, many political candidates will only use union made signs, buttons and other campaign promotional items in order to show support for their union constituents.

Did you know what a union bug was before reading this article?

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Union Bug Dos and Don'ts

In order to be eligible to apply a union bug to products or communications, a company's workers must vote in favor of and become members of a local union group. Then a labor contract is negotiated with the employing company. As one might expect, this is a major effort and is not taken lightly.

Once the company's workforce is unionized, the company will then be given permission to show its union affiliation by using the bug on the products and services it produces.

So using the union bug has some significant rules that must be observed:

  • Producers Only. The bug can only be used for goods and services that are produced, in some way, by a union shop. It cannot be used by the purchaser of a union made good or service; only the producer is allowed to use it.
  • Due Diligence. When purchasing union made promotional products, always verify the union status and local who made and/or imprinted them. If the vendor cannot provide or verify this information, look for another vendor who can.
  • The Proof in the Proof. Ask for a pre-production proof of final artwork showing the placement of the union bug on the finished piece. This proof should be prepared by the manufacturer for the product, NOT a promotional product distributor or graphic designer.

Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    FlourishAnyway, that's my mission... to help define the "thingies" in our world. :-D Have a wonderful Wednesday!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    I didn't know what the union "thingy" was called. Thanks for the education, as always.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello Mel Carriere! My hubby has been in multiple unions throughout his career in both facilities and teaching. As well, I work with several union and union association clients and have a huge amount of respect for what they do. While many unions have struggled of late, they are a much needed force in the workforce. I hope, too, that they find a way to stay relevant in today's economy. Thank you for reading and chiming in! Have a wonderful weekend!

  • Mel Carriere profile image

    Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

    Since corporations have pretty much succeeded now in convincing Americans that unions are evil and against their interests, I appreciate you bringing up this topic, and I hope the Union Bug can become more prominent. Great hub!